Tax education for the revenue staff
If plans do not miscarry, a government-sponsored tax academy will start offering courses next year for the continuing education and training of the staff of the two government offices that generate the bulk of the country’s revenues—the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Bureau of Customs (BOC).
A joint project of the Departments of Finance and Budget and Management, the proposed Philippine Tax Academy aims to improve the tax collection competence and efficiency of BIR and BOC personnel, including those of the Bureau of Local Government Finance.
Republic Act 10143, which was enacted in 2010, authorized the establishment of this facility “to train, mold, enhance and develop capabilities of tax collectors and administrators to help improve their tax collection efficiency and to become competent and effective public servants for the national interest.”
The scheme is similar to the mandatory continuing legal education that the Supreme Court requires of lawyers who are in the active practice of law, and the Board of Accountancy’s continuing professional development program for certified public accountants which are prerequisites for their continued engagement in their professions.
These programs keep lawyers and accountants abreast of recent developments in law and accountancy, respectively, so they can maintain their professional competency and provide quality services to their clients.
Properly administered, the tax academy would be beneficial to its “students” and the people who will transact business with them.
The lectures would be particularly helpful to BIR and BOC personnel of long standing who rely on stock knowledge (or what they have been told or heard) about the tax and customs regulations they enforce or implement.
Tax and customs laws are hieroglyphics to the uninitiated or to those who do not specialize in them. They require keen comprehension of their meaning and application.
Thus, it is essential that government employees tasked to enforce them be knowledgeable not only with their written provisions, but also their objectives, interpretation and the procedures to be followed to ensure faithful compliance with them.
When a BIR or BOC employee cannot explain clearly to the person he is dealing with the tax or customs regulations he is implementing, the impression is created on the other party that he is out to make life difficult for him and that the only way forward is to come across with grease money or, to use BOC lingo, give “tara.”
The rules and regulations on the operation of the tax academy are still on the drawing board. This early, the people who will be tasked to prepare them should take a leaf from the experience of the organizations that conduct similar programs for lawyers and accountants.
It’s not enough that completion of the tax courses be made compulsory or a prerequisite for future promotion, the program should be structured in a way that will encourage attendance and meaningful participation by the attendees.
It has been observed in some of the education activities for lawyers and accountants that many of them are physically present but mentally absent.
If a lecturer does not have the right credentials or gravitas to discuss his assigned topic, or delivers his piece in a manner that can put an insomniac to sleep, or uses his time to promote himself and his business, the attendees cannot be faulted for catching up with their work or maintaining their love affair with their smartphones during classes.
No doubt, continuing education on the intricacies of the rules and regulations on taxation and customs administration would redound to the benefit of their intended beneficiaries.
But if the people behind this program really want to meet its objective within the ranks of the employees of the reputedly most graft-ridden government offices, they should also include courses in values formation.
At the end of the day, the efficient collection of taxes and customs duties depends on the moral fiber of the people tasked to collect them.
If they do not look at public service as a public trust, but a source for their personal trust fund, the tax academy may become another exercise in futility on government reform.
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