From time to time I think about and admire Western Culture, its systems and practices. Likewise, I also admire the goodness of Eastern Culture, its practices and way of life, where people having fewer material things still seem happier than the West. I have realised, harmony between these two poles can improve the quality of life. Here I would like to discuss this in the context of Nepal’s Tax Payer’s plight.
Many of us are aware that in the western world the public officers usually have good manners, attitude and aptitude. They are trained in dealing with the public in a way that can be a good example to us. Their day starts with: “Good morning Sir/Madam, how can I help you”? And usually ends with a “Thank you for your visit / business”. These are the words you hear most of the time in places where the public receives services from business establishments or the state. They know their job only exists due to the presence of the person who comes to receive the goods and, or services from them. Customer Service is the key word. This basic understanding is vital, correct, required, and definitely worth applying here in our country. Each and every person who walks into an establishment is a Customer and his/her money is the officer’s bread and butter. Here we rarely hear of an officer of xyz department or ministry being obliged, grateful, and saying thank you for visiting us. This seems quite impossible to them, here the vendor or officer thinks he looses status when saying thank you, which should be otherwise. It does not cost money to say thank you, but that thank you to their customer can bring many advantages.
In a country where Tax Payers get due respect, co-operation, facilities, and social security from the state, prosperity usually follows that nation. Where Tax Payers are not recognised but neglected, harassed, forgotten, and even abused, (let us not talk about the social security, as that does not even figure in their priority list), this type of country’s national coffers generally remain lean. However there is an irony that when the National coffers remain lean and thin, the revenue collectors seem to become “fat”. It has often been observed that the officers responsible for raising proper revenue and facilitating the Tax Payers’ contribution to the state are the same officers collaborating with the payer on tax evasion. In the Western world Public Servants, Customs and Excise officers, and Police officers generally have less wealth in comparison to other professional business people. In our country the above professionals seem pretty well off. A material prosperity that can be seen by the accumulation of the trappings of wealth, or by their living style, pomp and show that does not tally with an honest professional salary.
The games of our officers are simple. Instead of providing the right services, good guidance and cooperation, the first thing people have to face is harassment and confusion. Unnecessary questions, irrelevant thick paper work, non-cooperation, and arrogant behaviour are their operating tools. These are their greatest tricks/weapons to obtain money from the Tax Payer’s pocket. Forgetting their duties as a public servant they behave like public masters. Their whole attitude is towards confusing people as if they are the only ones having the entire knowledge of rules, regulations and laws. This is 21st Century, not the 19th Century, people are more aware than before, but our officer’s behaviour is still the same. The meaning of TAX our officers have understood and applied is very mathematical: Tax-payers = (Take tax or make them pay, and then minus (-) payers). Thus sums up the Tax Payers definition here. Simply forget (minus) Tax Payers afterwards.
Due to such obvious reasons, generally people do not like to go to government offices. There are many instances of business people being questioned and harassed by officers for submitting less income this year than the previous years, which is quite possible in business. Income varies annually and should be clearly shown in the audit report of each business. These officers do not have the full knowledge and capacity to verify the facts, so they try to stick on this one point and harassment starts. Business is a risk-taking venture. Income does not always come in the same ratio and formula every year. Our tax assessment needs to be revamped and our officers properly trained, as this tendency is a hindrance in raising government revenue. Most of the officers do not have good business sense or corporate knowledge; they only know how to become a boss when a Tax Payer arrives at their doorstep. They totally forget the fact that they are public servants, I repeat, they should be facilitators, and it is their duty to serve the people. I believe one of the reasons why some business houses evade tax is simply due to the behaviour and attitude of the officers.
Non-taxpayers in this country appear to be enjoying better facilities, honour and respect than the Tax Payers. On many occasions top tax evaders receive the highest awards, honour and respect. How can a country prosper in such a gloomy environment and continuous malpractices? A well-organised network and vicious circle works in our offices where people are compelled to bear such harassment and forced to pay unwillingly and silently under the table. This practice is totally wrong and must be eradicated.
The disastrous outcome of all these activities is obvious; the whole country suffers. There is an urgent need of revamping and implementing a check and balance system as well as transparent practices in our vital departments and offices where revenues are collected. A major campaign is necessary to screen for the right staff, they must be given the right training, skills and knowledge and always reminded that their duty is to SERVE, NOT to rule. I repeat again, they should always cooperate, facilitate, and respect Tax Payers. They cannot neglect, abuse and forget Tax Payers because their salary and other perks they receive every month comes from the Tax Payer’s money. Also the infrastructure and development of the Country depends on it. TAX PAYERS MUST BE REMEMBERED, NOT FORGOTTEN…