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Indonesia’s property tax delay: Sop to the rich?

BUMI SERPONG SHARES
Dimas Ardian | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Reforms of Indonesia's easily-sidestepped luxury property taxes may be on ice, but the taxman is likely still coming for the wealthy, analysts said.

"I don't think it's because of an income gap or anything like that," Wellian Wiranto, an economist at OCBC, said. The delay is to work out the economic impact and give the industry time to adjust, he said.

Others agree the change is coming.

Read More Indonesia bets on the taxman

"This is more being postponed because of pushback from property developers and the real estate association on discussion on specific clauses," said an analyst at a global investment bank who declined to be named. But he believes the government is determined to push through changes and broaden its tax collections.

Loopholes

The luxury property tax gets sidestepped fairly frequently and the government wants to change the calculation to one based on value rather than the current use of the apartment size.

"Any apartment beyond 150 meters square is counted as luxurious," noted Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro at the Credit Suisse Asian Investor Conference last month. "Luxurious is about value, not about the size," he said.

"What happened, is most apartments, in Jakarta especially, with all the No.1 imported materials… but with the size only 149.9 meters square just to avoid the luxury tax," Brodjonegoro said.

Drawing the line

The country aims for a 30 percent increase in its overall tax collections this year, mainly by targeting better collection of existing levies, an ambitious goal that many analysts expect it to miss.

At the moment, talks over the tax on luxury property appear to be stuck over where to draw the bright line between a value that's luxurious and one that isn't.

Read More Why Jakarta's property boom isn't a bubble

The government is pushing for a luxury tax on transactions valued at 2 billion rupiah ($154,000) or above, a level CIMB considers a "middle-class housing price." CIMB considers 4 billion rupiah or above a luxury price.

But after a lot of posturing, a deal will likely be reached "somewhere in between," the 10 billion rupiah level the industry wants and the government's target, the investment bank analyst said.

Developers on board?

Oddly, property developers may be on board with introducing some new property taxes.

The current tax only applies to the first purchase of a new unit, but not in the secondary market, the investment bank analyst noted. "We're going into a situation in Jakarta where apartments may be going into oversupply, so developers are worried," the investment bank analyst said. Since that could make buying in the secondary market preferable, developers are in favor of a new tax there, he noted.

To be sure, even that would be a mixed blessing, if the government pushes a capital gains tax on property.

"Given that around 50 percent of total property buyers in Indonesia are still dominated by speculators, a capital gains tax would likely have a large negative impact on the property market, which would likely then hurt property sales," Anthony Yunus, an analyst at Nomura, said in a note last week.

But Yunus is less concerned that developers would be hurt by a 2 billion rupiah threshold for the luxury tax. He expects they will continue marketing projects that come under those levels.

Clarification: The attribution of certain quotes has been updated.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1