Uganda vs East African Breweries International Ltd. July 2020, Tax Appeals Tribunal, Case no. 14 of 2017

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East African Breweries International Ltd (applicant) is a wholly owned subsidiary of East African Breweries Limited, and is incorporated in Kenya.

East African Breweries International Ltd was involved in developing the markets of the companies in countries that did not have manufacturing operations. The company did not carry out marketing services in Uganda but was marketing Ugandan products outside Uganda. After sourcing customers, they pay to the applicant. A portion is remitted to Uganda Breweries Limited and East African Breweries International Ltd then adds a markup on the products obtained from Uganda Breweries Limited sold to customers in other countries. East African Breweries International Ltd would pay a markup of 7.5 % to Uganda Breweries and then sell the items at a markup of 70 to 90%.

In July 2015 the tax authorities (respondent) audited Uganda Breweries Limited, also a subsidiary of East African Breweries Limited, and found information relating to transactions with the East African Breweries International Ltd for the period May 2008 to June 2015. The tax authorities issued an assessment of income tax of Shs. 9,780,243,983 for the period June 2009 to June 2015 on the ground that East African Breweries International Ltd was resident in Uganda for tax purposes.

An appeal was filed by East African Breweries International Ltd where the agreed issues were:

1. Whether the applicant is a taxable person in Uganda under the Income Tax Act?
2. Whether the applicant obtained income from Uganda for the period in issue?
3. What remedies are available to the parties?

Judgement of the Tax Appeals Tribunal

The tribunal dismissed the appeal of East African Breweries International Ltd and upheld the assessment issued by the tax authorities.

Excerpt

“From the invoices and dispatch notes tendered in as exhibits, it was not clear who the exporter of the goods was. There was no explanation why the names of the parties were crossed out and replaced with others in some of the invoices and dispatch notes. While the applicant did not have an office or presence in Uganda it was exporting goods. In the absence of satisfactory explanations, the Tribunal would not fault the Commissioner’s powers to re-characterize transactions where there is a tax avoidance scheme. The arrangement may not only be a tax avoidance scheme but also one where the form does not reflect the substance. The markup the applicant was paying Uganda Breweries was extraordinarily low compared to what the applicant was obtaining from its sale to third partied. Once again in the absence of good reasons, the form does not reflect the substance. If the Commissioner re-characterized such transactions, the Tribunal will not fault him or her. The Commissioner cannot be said to have acted grossly irrationally for the Tribunal to set aside the decision.
The Tribunal notes that the activities of the group companies were overlapping. It is not clear whether they were actually sharing TIN, premises and staff. The witness who came to testify on behalf of the applicant was from East African Breweries Limited. Despite the applicant selling goods to many countries it does not have an employee or officer to testify on its behalf. The markup of the sale of the goods by Uganda Breweries Limited to the applicant was far lower than that between the applicant and the final consumers in Sudan, Congo and Rwanda. While Uganda Breweries Limited was charging the applicant a markup of 7.5% the applicant was charging its customers 70 to 90%. This is part of a transfer pricing arrangement where the companies are dealing with each other not at arm’s length. The arm’s length principle requires inter-company transactions to conform to a level that would have applied had the transactions taking place between unrelated parties, all other factors remaining the same. Under. S. 90 of the Income Tax Act, in any transaction between associates, the commissioner may distribute, apportion or allocate income, deductions between the associates as is necessary to reflect the income realized by the taxpayer in an arm’s length transaction. An associate is defined in S. 3 of the Income Tax Act. In making any adjustments the commissioner may determine the source of income and the nature of any payment or loss. The transfer pricing arrangement originated in Uganda. The Commissioner apportion taxes according to the income received by the applicant. In Unilever Kenya Limited v CIT Income Tax Appeal No. 753/2003 (High Court of Kenya) Unilever Kenya Limited (UKL) and Unilever Uganda Limited (UUL) were both subsidiaries of Unilever PLC, a UK multinational group. Pursuant to a contract, UKL manufactured goods on behalf of and supplied them to UUL, at a price lower than UKL charged to unrelated parties in its domestic and export sales for identical goods. The Commissioner raised an assessment against UKL in respect of sales made by UKL to UUL on the basis that UKL’s sale to UUL were not at arm’s length prices. In that matter it was held that in the absence of guidelines under Kenya law, the taxpayer was entitled to apply OECD transfer pricing guidelines. In this application, the issue is not about which rules to apply. What the Tribunal can note is that the Commissioner has powers to apportion income on an intergroup company and issue an assessment. In this case the Commissioner chose the applicant over Uganda Breweries Limited. The Tribunal feels that the Commissioner was acting within his discretion and was justified to do so.
Taking all the above into consideration, the Tribunal finds that the applicant did not discharge the burden placed on it to prove the respondent ought to have made the decision differently.

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10178_EABLi_Vs_URA (1)

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