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Partners for real change: Cultivating a culture of accountability and integrity

Taxwise Or Otherwise By Glacy S. Tabirara
Posted on December 08, 2016 [ ]

In an attempt to generate a greater sense of accountability among tax officials conducting investigations and to ensure an effective feedback mechanism for taxpayers, two new tax issuances were recently released -- Revenue Memorandum Order Nos. 54-2016 and 61-2016.

Through RMO 54-2016, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) created a Special Disciplinary Committee for the purpose of investigating revenue officers over questionable tax audits and investigations. The committee was established for the expeditious investigation of revenue officers who failed the test of integrity, competence, and efficiency in the performance of their audit functions or in the conduct of tax investigations uncovered in the process of implementing Revenue Memorandum Circular (RMC) No. 70-2016. Readers may recall that RMC 70-2016 suspended all field audits and investigations including issuances of Letters of Authority subject to certain exceptions. Moreover, it ordered the inventory of existing tax investigations.
Additionally, the committee is tasked to investigate or hear cases of erring revenue officers as may be assigned by the Commissioner.

In the exercise of due process, a preliminary investigation will be conducted at the outset and will be triggered by the issuance of the Commissioner of a Notice/Memorandum to Explain to the revenue officer under investigation. The latter is given three days to submit a written explanation why no administrative case should be filed against him. Failure to submit a written explanation shall be considered a waiver of his right to do so and the preliminary investigation may ensue and be completed even without such explanation.

If the committee finds it necessary, it may summon the concerned revenue officer to a conference where questions may be propounded to further clarify the complaint against him. Within five days from the termination of the preliminary investigation, the committee shall submit an investigation report containing its recommendation and complete records to the Commissioner. The Commissioner will then decide whether there exists a prima facie case to warrant the issuance of a formal charge.

If the Commissioner issues a formal charge, the revenue officer shall be required to submit an answer within five days from receipt of the formal charge. Failure to do so will be considered as a waiver on the part of the revenue officer, and the case shall be decided based on available records. Immediately after the submission of the answer, a formal investigation/hearing shall be held within five to 10 days from receipt of the answer, or upon expiration of the five-day period to submit an answer. No motion for postponement shall be entertained to avoid any delays in the proceedings.

The Committee, acting as a collegial body, shall submit a written report of the investigation to the Commissioner for approval. The Commissioner has 15 days to review and decide whether to approve the Committee’s recommendation, in whole or in part. The aggrieved party may file a motion for reconsideration of the Commissioner’s decision within five days from receipt. If denied, the revenue officer may appeal to the appropriate administrative or judicial body or tribunal within the reglementary period, as may be allowed under existing rules and regulations.

While the creation of the committee will give taxpayers and other stakeholders a venue to air their grievances and uphold their right to due process, there should be measures to ensure that complaints are valid and will not be used to fabricate false or malicious charges against tax officials.

The second issuance (RMO 61-2016) establishes the standard taxpayer feedback system in compliance with the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007. The feedback system will also be used as a tool to gather information on the performance of the BIR officials in the delivery of frontline services which will serve as part of the evaluation of Revenue District Offices. It will also be used to provide inputs to BIR top management on the level of taxpayer satisfaction, their issues and concerns, and to resolve these matters. The feedback system also aims to develop the service-oriented image of the BIR.

How does the feedback system work? Traditional customer feedback mechanisms, such as the drop box and survey form, will be utilized in obtaining information from the taxpayers. A Customer Survey Form (CSF) shall be given to the taxpayer together with their queue number slip. Taxpayers will be reminded to accomplish the survey form at the end of their transactions and to drop the form in the drop box. The survey form should contain the name of the revenue officer who served the taxpayer, the queuing reference number, as well as the type of transaction availed.

In addition, there will be monitoring of compliance through unannounced auditor’s visits which shall include retrieval of the CSFs. The visiting auditor shall accomplish the “Standard Taxpayer Feedback System” report. The Client Support Services group through the Taxpayer Service Programs and Monitoring Division of the BIR shall collate and consolidate submitted reports from designated auditors and prepare a final report with data and analysis to the Commissioner or the Management Committee on a quarterly basis.

The value of the feedback system must not be underestimated as it is a powerful tool not only in measuring performance but also in identifying process improvements, including the root cause of issues, and in formulating solutions.

It is apparent that the two new issuances are aligned with the present administration’s drive toward restoring public confidence and trust in the government and establishing a more responsive public service through efficient and effective front liners. Based on the time-honored principle that a public office is a public trust, every government employee should serve with responsibility, integrity, and accountability.

Although the administrative measures might not swiftly put a stop to questionable tax practices in our country, there is a renewed optimism that the efforts to cleanse state bureaucracy will eventually generate genuine transformation, hopefully anchored on real cultural change.

Taxpayers should do their share in ensuring that there is zero tolerance for corruption. Integrity should be maintained at all levels of society even at the level of corporate governance. It should not be integrity by convenience; it should be observed at all times in all dealings with the government and its personnel. The taxpayer’s perception of the BIR, as seriously flawed with corruption, must radically change.

With progress towards transparency, accountability and integrity, government will be better equipped to collect taxes and to pass structural reforms.

Real change extends beyond palliative measures to curb corruption. It should start with a corrupt-free culture in the BIR and then reinforced by the cooperation of all stakeholders in ensuring that transactions with the BIR are above board. Only through a robust tripartite partnership between the state, revenue officials and taxpayers can real change be actualized.

The views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Isla Lipana & Co. The firm will not accept any liability arising from the article.

Glacy S. Tabirara a manager belonging to the tax services department of Isla Lipana & Co., the Philippine member firm of the PwC network.

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