A couple of years ago, in the A/C-cold meeting room of my office, a taxpayer smirked at me, looked me deep in the eyes, and asked me cunningly, “Are you telling me to pay a half billion Rupiah in taxes only to be put into the personal pockets of those idiots in the Parliaments? There is no way! No way I will pay!” I was stunned for a few seconds seeing that taxpayer’s reaction. It was not as if I created that number out of a magic wand. The calculation was made using all the data, information, and documents that person provided to me and my team. And we also had scoured all the prevailing tax rules and regulations available at that time, looking for facilities that could be utilized for that taxpayer’s profile and circumstances. But unfortunately for that person, the amount of tax to be paid still did not want to budge. That half a billion Rupiah is the number after applying all those available facilities. It took my team and I almost one hour to patiently explain the calculation and the logic behind the number, and to influence that person until at last that person agreed to pay.
And not long before that head-spinning episode, another taxpayer also shouted at my staff and I on the phone, “What? Six million Rupiah? You want me to pay Six million Rupiah in tax? That’s too high! I’d better pay your Firm higher fee rather than giving my money away to those corruptors.” And both my staff and I could only look at each other, and shrug our shoulders. Again, it was not as if we came up with the number out of the blue. That taxpayer indeed owed Six million Rupiah to the Government. And that amount is not even 1/10 of that person’s total net worth for that year.
The one thing that always gives me a headache is when a taxpayer whom we assist complains about the amount of tax that he or she has to pay, and asks me that one-million-dollar question, “Why do I have to pay that amount? I do not want to give money for free to those corrupt Government officials in Senayan.” And regardless the amount, either only a few million Rupiah, a few tens of million Rupiah, or a few hundreds of million Rupiah, from time to time I always receive complaints. Then how? We work based on data, information, and documents provided to us. To amend them just for the sake of lowering the amount of tax payable is not merely unethical, but it screams against our conscience. We always make sure to utilize whatever tax facilities available for those taxpayers. We always consider the safest position for the taxpayers just in case the Tax Guys come to audit them. We cannot just blindly apply tax regulations only for the sake of lowering the amount of tax payable.
Then how should I answer that one-million-dollar question? Because if I answer it with those lame statements such as, “Well, your tax is used for developing this country’s infrastructure, to help millions of Indonesian students to have access to better education, and bla…bla…bla…,” those taxpayers will only be laughing so victoriously at me. So should I answer by saying, “Well, Mam, do you know that in this world there are only two things that are certain? They are death, and taxes.” Or should I go ahead and ask the taxpayer what his faith is? If he is a Muslim then I will quote in front of him, “Allah SWT instructs us to contribute our assets other than for Zakat” (QS.:177) and “The obligation of Muslims is to obey Allah SWT, His Rasul, and Ulil Amri amongst you” (QS.:59). If he is a Christian then I will quote to him, “So give back to Cesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Or if the taxpayer is a Buddhist, then I will read to him the passage from Kutadanta Sutta, where Gautama Buddha advised economic development rather than giving punishment to reduce crimes, where the Government should use existing resources to improve the country’s economic conditions, and in this case, taxes are the largest source of income to be used to carry out economic development and prevent crimes due to poverty. Will those faith-based answers be satisfactory enough? I have no idea.
Yet I do agree that wherever we go, there are only two things that are for certain, which are death and taxes. Regardless where we want to hide, at the end we cannot run away from taxes, just as we cannot run away from death. That is why I agree with the Directorate General of Taxes slogan, “Bayar pajaknya, awasi penggunaannya” (Pay the tax, and monitor its utilization). And I do believe Indonesian taxpayers and citizens can take an active part in the monitoring process of the utilization of their tax money. How? The first, easiest, most possible step is by using your voting right in the upcoming General Election on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. But before you use that voting right, there is a homework that you have to do. You have to diligently, patiently, and wisely study, and analyze the track records, the agendas, and the characters of both the presidential candidates, and the legislative candidates of your constituency. And one criterion that I would suggest for you to use when doing the screening is this:
This criterion is very important. Why? So that if someday in the future you and I end up sitting in my office meeting room, you will not smirk and shout at me at the top of your lungs, “Are you seriously telling me to pay that much tax money only to be given to those idiots in the Government?” Instead, I hope you will say, “I know it is still far from perfect. But I do now see where my tax money goes, and I can even enjoy it. In addition, I can now be rest-assured that at least the majority of my tax money is not utilized in vain.”
Happy Voting, Fellow Indonesians!