The Study of the Tax Ecosystem and Practices in Singapore (STEPS)

In 2016, IRAS commissioned the Study of the Tax Ecosystem and Practices in Singapore (“STEPS”), in light of the rapid developments and increased complexity in the global tax scene. The objective of the STEPS was to conduct a holistic review of the tax ecosystem and recommend strategies to achieve the following goals:

  • Grow Singapore as a leading provider of tax services
  • Develop Singapore into a thought leader, and a valued location for education and research for taxation
  • Position Singapore as an advocate of fair and ethical taxation

The industry-led STEPS Committee consulted many stakeholders and recommended strategies focused on building a robust and vibrant tax ecosystem that would better serve the current and future needs of Singapore:

  • A forward-looking and agile tax ecosystem that can respond to emerging challenges, especially those in the international arena
  • Taxpayers, especially businesses, are supported by deep tax expertise to manage their tax obligations in Singapore and foreign jurisdictions
  • An environment that can attract, nurture and retain tax talent

Following IRAS ’acceptance of the recommendations of the STEPS Committee (228KB), the industry-led STEPS Implementation Committee (“STEPS IC”) (152KB) implemented the recommendations between 2017 and 2019.

The implementation of the recommendations has brought the tax ecosystem closer to the objectives of STEPS. The key recommendations and outcomes of implementation are as follows:

Recommendation Outcomes of Implementation
Advance Singapore’s standing as a responsible global player and a leading centre for thought leadership in taxation

Enhance the development of the independent tax research scene in Singapore and promote robust debate amongst stakeholders

The STEPS IC recommended that the Tax Academy continue to look for another research institute as it can contribute to Singapore’s global influence in tax.

Explore Singapore’s role in facilitating the resolution of cross-border disputes

Tax arbitration as a means for tax dispute resolution is a relatively new concept. The STEPS IC recommended to closely monitor external developments, and to identify areas where Singapore can value-add.

Enhance the clarity of the tax environment

Improve the certainty and administrative transparency of Singapore’s tax regime

1. To enhance taxpayers’ understanding of IRAS’ interpretation and application of tax laws in specific scenarios, IRAS has implemented a framework on the Publication of Income Tax Advance Rulings.

2. The relevant public sector agencies had provided more information on their website on tax incentives. IRAS would continue with regular reviews on the level of information published to maintain tax transparency.

3. To raise awareness of Singapore’s efforts to resolve cross-border tax disputes, IRAS has published more information on Singapore’s efforts in resolving cross-border tax disputes, including its Mutual Agreement Procedure (“MAP”) profile.

4. IRAS would regularly review inter-agency processes and arrangements to enhance collaboration on tax matters within the government. 

 Transform industry and business practices to be future-ready

Adopt a targeted and industry-focused approach to drive productivity improvements, through the adoption of technology and movement across the tax service value chain

The STEPS IC had spearheaded efforts to provide the support and nudged the tax service providers, especially the small and medium ones, towards transforming and digitalising their business processes. SIATP, IRAS and other key stakeholders would continue to encourage tax service providers to adopt technology and be future-ready.                

Facilitate tax practitioners in building new capabilities and acquiring new skillsets

A revised Professional Development (“PD”) roadmap for tax practitioners had been developed, to provide clarity on the skills and competencies, and the corresponding training programmes for tax practitioners to continually develop and upkeep the competencies and capabilities.

Enhance the standing of tax as a distinctive and reputable profession

Strengthen the accreditation framework for tax practitioners to support continual upgrading and adherence to high standards of practice

An enhanced accreditation framework had been developed to drive holistic and continuous development of tax practitioners. The enhanced accreditation framework, when implemented, would contribute to the uplift of the standards of practice and conduct in the tax profession.

Improve the existing structures and bodies to strengthen the standing of the tax profession

A set of measures had been implemented to encourage voluntary registration with the professional body. SIATP and IRAS will continue the efforts to strengthen the value proposition of the professional membership and attract more tax professionals to be registered. SIATP has set up a pro-tem committee to study the re-organisation of the professional body to better represent interests of tax professionals.