While theoretically the amount of revenue collected through VAT is equivalent to sales tax collections at a similar rate, in practice VAT is likely to generate more revenue for government than sales tax since it is administered on various stages on the production – distribution chain. With sales tax, if final sales are not covered by the tax system e.g. due to difficulty of covering all the retailers, particular commodities may not yield any tax. However, with VAT some revenue would have been collected through taxation of earlier transactions, even if final retailers evade the tax net.
There is also in-built pressure for compliance and auditing under VAT since it will be in the interest of all who pay taxes to ensure that their eligibility for tax credits can be demonstrated. VAT is also a fairer tax than sales tax as it minimizes or eliminates the problem of tax cascading, which often occurs with sales tax. These are facilitated by the fact that VAT operates through a credit system so that tax is only applied on value added at each stage in the production – distribution chain. At each intermediate stage credit will be given for taxes paid on purchases to set against taxes due on sales. Only at consumption stage where there are no further transactions will there be no tax credits. Lack of input credit facility in sales tax often results in tax on inputs becoming a cost to businesses which are often passed on to consumers. Sales tax is often applied again to the sales tax element of the cost, thus there is a problem of tax on tax. This is not the case with VAT, which makes it a neutral tax as it provides the least disturbance to patterns of production and the generation and use of income.
In addition, the audit trail that exists under the VAT system makes it a more effective tax in administration terms than sales tax as it helps with the verification of VAT amounts declared as due. This is made possible by the fact that one person’s output is another’s input. As with sales tax imports are treated the same way as local goods while exports are zero- rated to avoid anti-export bias.
Not withstanding the advantages mentioned above, it is worth noting that VAT is a considerably complex tax to administer compared with sales tax. It may be difficult to apply to small companies due to difficulties of record keeping and its coverage in agriculture and the services sector may be limited. To cover the high administration costs, VAT rates of 10-20 per cent are generally recommended. The equity impact of the relatively high rates have been a cause for concern as it is possible that the poor spend relatively high proportions of their incomes on goods subject to VAT. Thus the concept of zero VAT rate on some items has been introduced.