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 News and opinions on the situation in Venezuela

Increasing revenues and transparency: A win-win proposition for Venezuelans


Published: Monday, May 08, 2006

Bylined to: Oil Wars Blogspot

Oil Wars Blogspot: President Hugo Chavez Frias has announced that Venezuela is considering levying a new tax on oil companies called an “extraction” tax.

This new tax would be 33% … and at the same time it was announced that the existing income tax on oil companies would go from 34% to 50% … but no details were given on how the tax would work.

Calling it an “extraction” tax almost makes it sound like a “royalty” — i.e. a set fee on every barrel of oil extracted from the ground … but a tax per se is generally very different. For example: current income tax is charged on profits that the oil companies make.

Given that it’s unclear if this “tax” is more like a “royalty” or like an “income tax” (because details haven’t been given) I’ll take a minute to discuss why Venezuela would do much better to focus on getting royalties right and not worrying about taxes.

When it comes to collecting oil revenues, royalties are vastly superior to taxes. The main reason is that they are much easier to collect … a royalty is a fixed amount or percentage of each barrel of oil extracted so, calculating what it should be is much easier.

If the royalty is $40 per barrel, all you have to do is know how many barrels were extracted which can be easily done with meters on the well heads and then multiply that by $40 and you have the exact amount due the government.

Compare that to collecting an income tax … to collect that, one has to know how much profit the company made, and that is no easy matter. A company can easily hide profits through inflating expenses, using shell companies or simply keeping its finances as complex and opaque as possible.

So to collect taxes it takes teams of accountants and even with them there is no guarantee that the full amount of taxes owed will be collected.

For these reasons governments like Venezuela’s, who are interested in maximizing oil revenues should prioritize royalties and de-emphasize taxes.

Hence, I had mixed reactions to this new tax … if they wanted to increase their take and make sure the oil companies weren’t getting windfall profits at their expense, they should increase the royalties charged.

  • Not only would it increase revenues, but it would make the process of collecting those revenues much more transparent.

And increasing revenues and transparency is a win-win proposition for all Venezuelans

Oil Wars


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