Waiting for a miracle

Posted by: root
Posted Date: Feb 12, 2006

By: Ramon J. Farolan, Inquirer
February 12, 2006 06:09:00

LAST month, the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov), in partnership with the Ateneo School of Government, conducted a forum on the subject of customs and internal revenue programs in the country. The guest speaker was Guillermo Parayno Jr., one of only two Filipinos who have headed the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs at different times during a long and distinguished career in public service. Incidentally, since he left government work several months ago-as a member of the Hyatt 10 who broke off from the Arroyo administration last July-Willy has been traveling to such exotic destinations as Kirghizia, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian Republics as a World Bank consultant on revenue matters, sharing with developing countries in the region the fruits of his experience in Philippine revenue work.

These days, one is never too sure about what the real state of revenue collections are. One day, the BIR or Customs comes up with a report on its collection performance, proudly stating that targets have been reached, only to be corrected by the national treasurer disputing the report, or qualifying it with terms like “non-cash revenues” which ought not to be taken up, or with some other statements to this effect. One can therefore appreciate the growing public skepticism about revenue performance reports.In his talk at the governance forum, Parayno made some disturbing observations-actually, he used the term “tragic.” He noted that we have known for a long time what ails our revenue agencies. Through the years we have been grappling with these issues of how to raise collections and how to improve law enforcement. World Bank technical assistance missions have provided diagnostics and all sorts of recommendations on tax policy and administration in 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Assessment and follow-up reports on these recommendations were undertaken in 2004 and 2005. Without mentioning what those recommendations were, suffice it to say that they have been recurrent and reflective of the features of modernization programs made by the revenue administrations of other countries.
Parayno says: “No revenue administration, past and present, will say that it does not know what is wrong and what must be done to improve efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, each administration can point to its own blueprint, corporate strategy or development plan for its program …. The thinking, analysis and proposals in these plans, while having similarities and overlaps with those provided by international experts, are in many respects a lot more comprehensive and detailed, clearly demonstrating that the BOC and the BIR and all those dealing with these agencies know what is wrong and what should be done.”

Parayno continues: “Year after year, administration after administration, the same tragic observations are made-that we have not improved our effectiveness and efficiency and continue to lag behind many of our neighbors. Clearly the issue is no longer whether or not we know what to do. The question is whether or not we have what it takes as a country and as a people to rise above our present difficulties.”

He defined the problem as a tendency to rely and expect too much on our government, on BIR and Customs in particular, to bring about the improvements needed. We tend to place all the responsibility on just one man-the Man at the Top, the commissioners-to fix the country’s primary Aegean stables.

He depicts our situation, relative to other country administrations, as not much different from being in a dragon boat race. While the competition has 50 rowers and only one barksman, our boat has one rower and 50 barksmen. (This reminds me of the revolving door policy in the Armed Forces, where there are several barksmen in a short period of time.) There is also the tendency to put all the blame for poor fiscal performance on the revenue agency workforce.

Parayno ended his talk by calling on former colleagues in the Department of Finance “not to waste any more time on problem definition and solutions identification but to focus instead on creating conditions that will unleash the power of the business community, civil society groups, the academe and other concerned sectors of our society towards the immediate implementation of solutions already identified.” He called upon friends in the private sector to “take matters into your own hands instead of waiting for a miracle to happen in government.”

* * *

From 1956 to 2006: Next week, 41 retired officers make the five-hour trek up Kennon Road or the Marcos Highway, all headed for Fort Del Pilar, home of the Philippine Military Academy. It is a route they have traveled many times over since 1952 when they first stepped foot at the portals of the Academy. From an original number of 80, the class of 1956 now stands at 41-still a good percentage for any group marking its Golden Jubilee. They will be honored by the cadet corps and will endeavor to troop the long gray line, something they have done for almost each year of the last 50 years, perhaps not as ramrod-straight as in previous occasions, perhaps not as sprightly as before, but with the same spirit and pride that have marked their careers in the military service.

Congratulations to the Class of 1956!

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