Ramakrishna Mission v Comptroller of Property Tax and Another

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeGoh Joon Seng J
Judgment Date15 May 1998
Neutral Citation[1998] SGCA 32
Citation[1998] SGCA 32
Subject MatterWhether confined to territorial limits of Singapore,'Charitable purposes',Whether guest rooms used exclusively for charitable purposes,No exemption for guest rooms used by visiting monks or monks transiting Singapore,Property tax,Whether 'charitable purposes' confined to territorial limits of Singapore,s 6(5)(c) Property Tax Act (Cap 254, 1997 Ed),Revenue Law,Premises owned by charity registered under Charities Act,Words and Phrases
Date15 May 1998
Defendant CounselS Sharma and David Lim (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore)
Plaintiff CounselNK Pillai and Chua Hwee Ping (Niru & Co)
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 149 of 1997
Published date19 September 2003

Cur Adv Vult

(delivering the judgment of the court): Facts

The appellant, the Ramakrishna Mission, is a charity registered under the Charities Act, and owns the land and premises situate at 179 Bartley Road. The premises comprise a temple, a boys` home, a cultural centre, a kindergarten and other ancillary facilities. The cultural centre houses a library, a reading room, meeting rooms, an office, a counselling centre, a homeopathy centre and two guest rooms with attached bathrooms and furnished with beds and other bedroom fittings.

On 12 May 1994, the appellant was served with a notice issued by the respondents under the Property Tax Act (Cap 254, 1997 Ed) that the property was being included in the valuation list for the first time. The annual value of the premises was assessed in the sum of $296,000, and the respondents called for payment of the arrears of property tax for the calendar years from 1988 to 1993, amounting to $244,940. Concurrently, an exemption from property tax under s 6(5) of the Property Tax Act was granted to the appellant. The respondents accepted that the entire premises, with the exception of the two guest rooms, were used exclusively for the purposes of charity. The annual value was accordingly revised downwards to $4,100, representing the annual value of the two guest rooms. The property tax for the two rooms were backdated to the period from 1 January 1988 to 31 December 1993 and amounted to $5,289.

The appellant maintained that the two rooms subjected to property tax should have been exempted under paras (c) and (d) of s 6(5) of the Property Tax Act and, appealed to the Valuation Review Board. At the hearing before the Board, the respondents contended that the Board had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal and more particularly to determine the issue whether the two guest rooms were exempted under s 6(5) of the Act. The chairman of the Board therefore directed that the matter be referred to the High Court for a determination of the Board`s jurisdiction.

Decision below

The matter came before Judicial Commissioner Lim Teong Qwee, who held that the Board had no jurisdiction to determine that issue. He then went on to hear the parties on the issue whether the two guest rooms were exempted from property tax under s 6(5)(c) or (d) of the Property Tax Act. Evidence was adduced on behalf of the appellant that the guest rooms were used by visiting monks of senior rank who delivered lectures and spiritual discourses in Singapore, and also by monks who transited through Singapore en route to other destinations but who did not perform any duties here. Accordingly, it was argued on behalf of the appellant that the rooms were used exclusively for charitable purposes or for purposes conducive to social development in Singapore, notwithstanding that the monks using the rooms derived a personal benefit.

The learned judicial commissioner in his approach to the issue considered first the qualifying purpose under s 6(5) of the Act. He said in [para ] 9 of his grounds of judgment as follows:

Where a building is used for a qualifying purpose (for exemption under s 6(5) of the Act) and those engaged in carrying out that purpose have to reside in some part of it as part of their duty then the whole of the building including the part so occupied as a residence may be said to be used and used exclusively for the qualifying purpose. This is so notwithstanding that they derive a benefit incidentally. If they are not so required then their residence there would at least in part be for a purpose benefiting them and I may add even if the qualifying purpose is in part advanced.



He then turned to the evidence relating to the use of the two rooms by the visiting monks who transited through Singapore. He found that the work they had to do was not described; that their ultimate destination was not Singapore; and that it has not been shown that the monks were required to occupy the guest rooms as part of their duty. In the event, the learned judge held that the qualifying purpose was not met at all insofar as these monks were concerned. He said in [para ] 10:

in respect of the use by monks in transit it is my conclusion that the guest rooms have not been used for charitable purposes or for purposes conducive to social development in Singapore or for any other qualifying purpose.



It followed from this, though the learned judicial commissioner did not expressly say so, that the premises were not exclusively used for charitable purposes and he accordingly rejected the claim of the appellant. Against his decision, the appellant has now appealed.

The appeal

Section 6 of the Property Tax Act provides for the imposition of property tax and it is payable upon the assessed annual value of all houses, buildings, lands and tenements whatsoever included in the valuation list. Certain buildings or parts of a building are exempted from tax. Section 6(5) of the Property Tax Act provides as follows:

All buildings or parts of buildings used exclusively -

(a) as places for public religious worship;

(b) or public schools which are in receipt of grants-in-aid from the Government;

(c) for charitable purposes; and

(d) for purposes conducive to social development in Singapore

shall be exempted from payment of the tax or taxes:

Provided that the Minister may exempt, subject to such conditions as he may think fit, any premises or part or parts thereof from the payment of the tax or taxes.



Scope of s 6(5)(c)

This appeal concerns mainly with para (c) of s 6(5) of the Act. The first issue relates to the scope of the `charitable purposes`. The crux of the issue is whether, if the premises are used for charitable purposes, some of which purposes are pursued or are achieved only abroad, such user of the premises is considered as one `exclusively` for charitable purposes under s 6(5)(c) of the Act. In other words, the question is whether the `charitable purpose` under s 6(5)(c) are confined to the territorial limits of Singapore. If s 6(5)(c) requires the charitable purposes to be confined to the territorial limits of Singapore, then the two guest rooms would not fall within the exemption as the rooms are not exclusively used for charitable purposes in Singapore . If, on the other hand, it suffices for the purpose of s 6(5)(c) of the Act if the charitable purposes for which such premises are used are not confined to the territorial limits in Singapore, then we need to consider further the question whether the manner in which the rooms have been used qualifies them for property tax exemption.

It seems to us that the learned judicial commissioner gave a limited scope to the concept of charitable purposes under s 6(5)(c) of the Act. His conclusion that the guest rooms have not been exclusively used for charitable purposes was based on the use by the visiting monks who occasionally transited through Singapore to other destinations and who did not perform any work in Singapore. This, with respect, is too narrow an approach. There is nothing in that section which confines the charitable purposes to the territorial limits of Singapore. In our opinion, the scope of `charitable purposes` is much broader and is not necessarily confined to the territorial limits of Singapore.

In the case of Re Robinson [1931] 2 Ch 122, the testator by his will made in May 1927 devised and bequeathed his residuary estate `to the German Government for the time being for the benefit of its soldiers disabled in the late war` and it was held by Maugham J that the gift was not void either for uncertainty or as contrary to public policy but was a good and valid charitable gift, notwithstanding that the object of the gift was to persons abroad. The...

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