Editorial

Editorial: The filthy rich
tax officials

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati staked out her reputation by instituting a new policy last week, which authorizes her to check tax payment records, bank accounts and asset balance sheets of senior officials at her ministry, their spouses and children in light of verifying their wealth against their civil servant salaries.

She hoped this new policy would fill a loophole in tracking down corrupt officials, notably at the Taxation Directorate General, as it is now the officials, not the police nor public prosecutors, who must prove the legitimacy of their wealth.

This measure could also serve as a deterrent against malfeasance, keeping officials constantly on their toes.
It has long been common knowledge that many officials of the Taxation Directorate General and, to a certain extent, the Customs and Excise Directorate General can live comfortably way above their civil servant salaries.

Yet the public seems to accept such a trend as normal. No wonder no officials of the two directorate generals have had any problems with their annual income tax returns although we assume most have always understated their actual earnings.

Some 4,500 tax officials have been required by law to report their asset balance sheets to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) annually. But their filings seemed never to have been verified as they have not been taken to court to account for their unusually big bank accounts, luxury houses and high-power motor vehicles.

Just look at how former junior tax auditor Gayus Tambunan could have lived with more than $3.08 million in his bank accounts, in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of properties and vehicles, until former National Police detective chief Comr. Gen. Susno Duadji blew the whistle.

Likewise, former chief tax inspector for Jakarta Bahasyim Assifie and his wife and children together accumulated over $7 million in their bank accounts plus millions of dollars worth of luxury houses and vast tracks of land. They too would have been able to enjoy their filthy affluence without worry, had Yunus Husein, chief of the financial intelligence unit (PPATK) not blown the whistle.

Worse still, former taxation director general Hadi Purnomo (now chief of the Supreme Audit Agency) had conveniently reported to the KPK that more than 90 percent of his $3.9 million assets were derived from gifts from his parents and relatives.

Most people believe that Tambunan’s, Assifie’s and Purnomo’s questionable wealth is only the tip of the iceberg.

The lingering question though is how Mulyani will perform the examination and verification. The best way is for Mulyani to set up a special team of auditors she trusts at the Finance Ministry’s inspectorate general in charge of monitoring and verifying the bank accounts of tax officials against their asset balance sheets and their actual wealth.

The general public is waiting for concrete results soon. Heads should start to roll within the Taxation Directorate General with some more big corrupt officials, besides Tambunan and Assifie, being taken to court and their ill-gotten wealth confiscated for the state.

After all, checking the annual tax returns of officials against their bank accounts and the asset balance sheets they file annually with the KPK is not so highly complex an auditing process.

The credibility of both her bureaucratic reform and  the national tax campaign will be put in jeopardy if Mulyani, already empowered to take such draconian measures, still fails to catch several big corrupt officials within the next few weeks.

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