Even before we learned that a low-ranking tax officer named Gayus H. Tambunan had swiped a significant chunk of cash from our tax kitty, we were resolute in our intention to shirk from paying taxes.
The oft-cited slogan from the government is that our taxes pay for services that only the state can provide, such as security, public transportation, infrastructures as well as administrative services.
But every time we are forced to shell out more on security guards in our housing complex, every time we drive on dimly lit pothole-plagued roads, or when we have to bribe middlemen when renewing our passports, we realize that we were right all along not to pay taxes.
And if we believe that in a democracy a no-taxation policy is justified if there is no accountability from the government, then why should we care that nobody would be left at the tax office to decide that cigarette makers should pay less tax than breweries? Is it really justifiable that members of the middle class must pay hefty taxes when big businesses are benefiting from tax cuts?
The United States, a country that whole-heartedly rejects the notion of taxation without accountability, is home to many taxpayers angry enough to protest vehemently against their state.
Last February, a pilot furious with the Internal Revenue Service, crashed his small plane into an office building in Austin, Texas, where nearly 200 federal tax employees worked.
In Indonesia, disgruntled taxpayers are resorting to a more benign approach — rallying support against paying taxes on social networking site Facebook; a movement that has become all the rage.
Soon after taxpayers had pledged their commitment on Facebook to reject taxes, the country’s airwaves became saturated with coverage of the Gayus Tambunan scandal. The timing could not have been better.
News of Gayus’ ill-gotten fortune of Rp 28 billion (US$3.08 million) received wide media coverage in the lead up to the March 31 deadline for taxpayers to submit their tax forms. On Facebook and on the streets people were talking gleefully about not filing their tax returns.
However, the swelling of the Facebook group showed just how severe the situation was.
Nasikhin Ahsanto, administrator for Facebook group Gerakan Tolak Bayar Pajak (Movement against Paying Taxes), said the campaign rejected almost all forms of government taxation.
“If you want to make money in this country, you must pay taxes.
If you already have money and want to buy a car, you must pay tax. If you already have a car and want to drive the car, you must pay tax, and the list goes on and on and on,” he said.
Nashikin argues that the government has come up with a sophisticated political and philosophical mechanism to defend their policy of levying excessive taxes against its citizens under the banner that taxes will help create justice and equality.
“If this is true, citizens who pay their dues should have rights. But do we have such rights? Do we know how many government officials are evading taxes?” he said.
In defense of his Facebook movement, Nashikin said that the group had nothing to do with the Gayus case, citing that he had initiated the petition long before the scandal hit the news.
He said the government’s poor management of tax revenue had been reason enough to launch the movement.
The movement suggests two ways for taxpayers to avoid their obligation: Evading taxes or avoiding them.
“If you are an employee and your office pays your tax, you will still have to submit an annual tax form. If you don’t submit the form then you are considered to not be paying your taxes. How can you avoid this from happening? Just say that you will pay it yourself and you do your own math,” he said.
Many who have not joined the public disobedience movement share the group’s resentment.
Andhika Septarangga, an architect, said the government had failed to uphold the principle of transparency in managing tax revenue.
“I gather that revenue from tax is in excess of Rp 100 billion. We could do a lot with the amount of money. Imagine how much we could get in terms of education, health and public transport. It
could certainly pay for the construction of a better public transportation system in the city. That would be way better than shopping malls” he said.
Andhika said that the government should look to the example set by operators of mosques in the city.
“I think the government should publicly disclose how much money they get from taxes, just like at the mosque which on Fridays regularly announces how much it has received and how much it has spent,” he said.
Some taxpayers have taken the more extreme approach of not submitting their tax forms, choosing to remain undaunted by the prospect of having to pay a hefty fine for this infraction.
One such person is Wellie, a health therapist, who only gave her first name. She refused to submit her tax form.
“I’m very disappointed with the government. The government often says that this country makes so much revenue from taxes, but where does all the money go?” she told The Jakarta Post recently.
In fact, she feels cheated by the government.
“So far, I feel like I am not benefiting in any way from tax that I’ve paid. The government has promised to provide free education for all, but in reality, is it really free? I don’t think so, parents still have to pay for expensive education.”
Wellie said she was not afraid of the consequences of her actions as she believed there were just too many people who shared her conviction.
“I will only pay my taxes if the government really manages the tax well, and punishes officials who misuse the money,” added the 40-something woman.
Another taxpayer decided to place the blame on corrupt tax officials like Gayus.
“I work so hard to earn my money and some stranger conveniently steals that from me,” Tia, an employee of a private company, told the Post.
(Tifa Asrianti and Triwik Kurniasari contributed to this report)