Correction over collection

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Secretary Ralph Recto has reportedly “ordered” the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs to work together in order to achieve the revenue collection target of P4 trillion-plus for 2024.

This combined effort or teamwork between the BIR and the BOC reminds me of the two-man teams running in a three-legged race where the runners are tied to each other on one leg. But to make things worse, one of the runners has so much baggage on his back.

As far as public impressions go, the BIR certainly enjoys an advantage over the BOC. Through the years, the BIR has simplified its system, even setting up fast lanes for registry, invested in computerization and digitalization and made efforts to educate the public regarding their role and duty to pay taxes. Best of all, the BIR has worked with Congress towards passing laws to reform outdated and burdensome tax rates, particularly for estate taxes, etc. As a result, people and businesses are now more willing to file and pay their tax obligations.

By listening and responding to taxpayers’ complaints, the BIR has even reduced the “fear,” mistrust and contempt traditionally held by the general public towards them. But in the case of the Bureau of Customs, to this day, I constantly hear complaints about corruption, intentional delays in order to solicit or extort grease money, especially from businesses that have time-sensitive importations.

Twice in one month, just before the Christmas holidays, I heard business owners declare that they will no longer engage in businesses that require importation of products or materials because of the shameless extortions that they experience at the BOC. Other individuals have told me that if the country is suffering from food inflation and high retail prices, it is because importers and sellers have to “pass-on” the cost of doing illegal business with corrupt people at the BOC.

This is the correction part I was referring to in today’s title, “Correction over collection.” Secretary-congressman Ralph Recto must make the necessary organizational correction at the Bureau of Customs if he really wants to hit revenue targets. It is not just a matter of collecting duties and taxes, the DOF Secretary needs to establish a pro-business and pro-government environment that is corruption-free and easy for the public to work through, without the need to hire “brokers” for the smallest of items.

Corruption at any level is unacceptable but when “players” at the BOC get more money than government in certain deals, when legitimate customs brokerage firms raise their hands in surrender over “no receipt collections” or when corrupt BOC officials make more money from the legal transactions of businessmen, then you have to wonder who is in control at the Bureau of Customs.

I already wrote about complaints of car importers allegedly being charged P2 million to P2.5 million “for the people upstairs” last year. Well, just this week, I learned about concerned customs employees who filed an anonymous complaint against a director at the Bureau of Customs with the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the President. That is certainly a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

How bad or unpopular do you have to be for people to actually label you corrupt inside the “den of thieves?” To the dismay of the anonymous complainants, the Office of the Ombudsman has referred the matter to the NBI for further investigation instead of immediately looking into the matter. That legal dribble or bureaucratic pass-on comes as a surprise to observers because the Office of the Ombudsman has acted faster than a speeding bullet in other cases.

Let’s all hope and pray that Secretary-congressman Ralph Recto will make the necessary corrections so that the DOF’s efforts will not just be about collecting taxes but also stimulating the growth of business or truly making sure that there is “ease of doing business” at the Bureau of Customs and not the perpetual monkey business.

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Speaking of stimulating business, DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos recently announced how the Ease of Doing Business law has stimulated the growth and registry of businesses all over the country and how this development gives the DILG more reason to reach out to island LGUs and remote areas.

I personally supported and worked with people at the DTI to push for passage of the law on Ease of Doing Business, but I am concerned that the focus of leaders and authorities is on business registration and barely on other concerns that get in the way of doing business in the Philippines.

A former DILG undersecretary pointed out how local governments have attached themselves to everything or every chance where they can collect money, even on national government matters, and end up causing red tape, delays and added costs.

People in the tourism sector and foreign tourists themselves have said that if local governments want their pound of flesh or cut from the pie, the least that officials can do is to integrate everything into a one-time fee. If there are local taxes, environmental fees, terminal fees to be collected, then collect them all in one go and not punish customers by sending them from one window to another or, even worse, one building to another.

As a former mayor, Secretary Abalos surely knows that this is a common complaint of constituents who have to go back and forth, up and down buildings just to register, get clearances, pay local fees, etc. What is the point of buying computers when there are no decent internet services or inter-office connectivity.

Secretary Abalos would do all of us a great favor if he also audited all LGUs that charge a lot of money for “Special Purpose Permits,” barangay permits on agriculture-related businesses and transactions. An audit will surely show that Ease of Doing Business is more law than reality.

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