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Operational Recommendations - Lidija Rangelovska

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Operational Recommendations

The implementation of these recommendations and reforms should be obliged to be GRADUAL. The informal economy is an important pressure valve for the release of social pressures, it ameliorates the social costs inherent to the period of transition and it constitutes an important part of the private sector.

As we said in the body of our report, these are the reasons for the existence of an informal economy and they should be obliged to all be tackled:

  • High taxation level (in Macedonia, high payroll taxes);

  • Onerous labour market regulations;

  • Red tape and bureaucracy (which often leads to corruption);

  • Complexity and unpredictability of the tax system.

Reporting Requirements and Transparency



  • All banks should be obliged to report foreign exchange transactions of more than 10,000 DM (whether in one transaction or cumulatively by the same legal entity). The daily report should be submitted to the Central Bank. In extreme cases, the transactions should be investigated.

  • All the ZPP account numbers of all the firms in Macedonia should be publicly available through the Internet and in printed form.

  • Firms should be obliged by law to make a list of all their bank accounts available to the ZPP, to the courts and to plaintiffs in lawsuits.

  • All citizens should be obliged to file annual, personal tax returns (universal tax returns, like in the USA). This way, discrepancies between personal tax returns and other information can lead to investigations and discoveries of tax evasion and criminal activities.

  • All citizens should be obliged to file bi-annual declarations of personal wealth and assets (including real estate, vehicles, movables, inventory of business owned or controlled by the individual, financial assets, income from all sources, shares in companies, etc.).

  • All retail outlets and places of business should be required to install – over a period of 3 years – cash registers with "fiscal brains". These are cash registers with an embedded chip. The chips are built to save a trail (detailed list) of all the transactions in the place of business. Tax inspectors can pick the chip at random, download its contents to the tax computers and use it to issue tax assessments. The information thus gathered can also be crossed with and compared to information from other sources (see: "Databases and Information Gathering"). This can be done only after the full implementation of the recommendations in the section titled "Databases and Information Gathering". I do not regard it as an effective measure. While it increases business costs – it is not likely to prevent cash or otherwise unreported transactions.

  • All taxis should be equipped with taximeters, which include a printer. This should be a licencing condition.

  • Industrial norms (for instance, the amount of sugar needed to manufacture a weight unit of chocolate, or juice) should be revamped. Norms should NOT be determined according to statements provided by the factory - but by a panel of experts. Each norm should be signed by three people, of which at least one is an expert engineer or another expert in the relevant field. Thought should be dedicated to the possibility of employing independent laboratories to determine norms and supervise them.

  • Payments in wholesale markets should be done through a ZPP counter or branch in the wholesale market itself. Release of the goods and exiting the physical location of the wholesale market should be allowed only against presentation of a ZPP payment slip.

Reduction of Cash Transactions



  • Cash transactions are the lifeblood of the informal economy. Their reduction and minimization is absolutely essential in the effort to contain it. One way of doing it is by issuing ZPP payment (debit) cards to businesses, firm and professionals. Use of the payment cards should be mandatory in certain business-to-business transactions.

  • All exchange offices should be obliged to issue receipt for every cash transaction above 100 DM and to report to the Central Bank all transactions above 1000 DM. Suspicious transactions (for instance, transactions which exceed the financial wherewithal of the client involved) should be duly investigated.

  • The government can reduce payroll taxes if the salary is not paid in cash (for instance, by a transfer to the bank account of the employee). The difference between payroll taxes collected on cash salaries and lower payroll taxes collected on noncash salaries – should be recovered by imposing a levy on all cash withdrawals from banks. The banks can withhold the tax and transfer it to the state monthly.

  • Currently, checks issued to account-holders by banks are virtually guaranteed by the issuing banks. This transforms checks into a kind of cash and checks are used as cash in the economy. To prevent this situation, it is recommended that all checks will be payable to the beneficiary only. The account-holder will be obliged to furnish the bank with a monthly list of checks he or she issued and their details (to whom, date, etc.). Checks should be valid for 5 working days only.

  • An obligation can be imposed to oblige businesses to effect payments only through their accounts (from account to account) or using their debit cards. Cash withdrawals should be subject to a withholding tax deducted by the bank. The same withholding tax should be applied to credits given against cash balances or to savings houses (stedilnicas). Alternatively, stedilnicas should also be obliged to deduct, collect and transfer the cash withdrawal withholding tax.

  • In the extreme and if all other measures fail after a reasonable period of time, all foreign trade related payments should be conducted through the Central Bank. But this is really a highly irregular, emergency measure, which I do not recommend at this stage.

  • The interest paid on cash balances and savings accounts in the banks should be increased (starting with bank reserves and deposits in the central bank).

  • The issuance of checkbook should be made easy and convenient. Every branch should issue checkbooks. All the banks and the post office should respect and accept each other's checks.

  • A Real Time Gross Settlement System should be established to minimize float and facilitate interbank transfers.

Government Tenders



  • Firms competing for government tenders should be obliged to acquire a certificate from the tax authorities that they owe no back-taxes. Otherwise, they should be barred from bidding in government tenders and RFPs (Requests for Proposals).

Databases and Information Gathering



  • Estimating the informal economy should be a priority objective of the Bureau of Statistics, which should devote considerable resources to this effort. In doing so, the Bureau of Statistics should coordinate closely with a wide variety of relevant ministries and committees that oversee various sectors of the economy.

  • All registrars should be computerized: land, real estate, motor vehicles, share ownership, companies registration, tax filings, import and export related documentation (customs), VAT, permits and licences, records of flights abroad, ownership of mobile phones and so on. The tax authorities and the Public Revenue Office (PRO) should have unrestricted access to ALL the registers of all the registrars. Thus, they should be able to find tax evasion easily (ask for sources of wealth- how did you build this house and buy a new car if you are earning 500 DM monthly according to your tax return?).

  • The PRO should have complete access to the computers of the ZPP and to all its computerized and non-computerized records.

  • The computer system should constantly compare VAT records and records and statements related to other taxes in order to find discrepancies between them.

  • Gradually, submissions of financial statements, tax returns and wealth declarations should be computerized and done even on a monthly basis (for instance, VAT statements).

  • A system of informants and informant rewards should be established, including anonymous phone calls. Up to 10% of the intake or seizure value related to the information provided by the informant should go to the informant.

Law Enforcement



  • Tax inspectors and customs officials should receive police powers and much higher salaries (including a percentage of tax revenues). The salaries of all tax inspectors – regardless of their original place of employment – should be equalized (of course, taking into consideration tenure, education, rank, etc.).

  • Judges should be trained and educated in matters pertaining to the informal economy. Special courts for taxes, for instance, are a good idea (see recommendation below). Judges have to be trained in tax laws and the state tax authorities should provide BINDING opinions to entrepreneurs, businessmen and investors regarding the tax implications of their decisions and actions.

  • It is recommended to assign tax inspectors to the public prosecutors' office to work as teams on complex or big cases.

  • To establish an independent Financial and Tax Police with representatives from all relevant ministries but under the exclusive jurisdiction of the PRO. The remit of this Police should include all matters financial (including foreign exchange transactions, property and real estate transactions, payroll issues, etc.).

  • Hiring and firing procedures in all the branches of the tax administration should be simplified. The number of administrative posts should be reduced and the number of tax inspectors and field agents increased.

  • Tax arrears and especially the interest accruing thereof should be the first priority of the ZPP, before all other payments.

  • All manufacturers and sellers of food products (including soft drinks, sweetmeats and candy, meat products, snacks) should purchase a licence from the state and be subjected to periodic and rigorous inspections.

  • All contracts between firms should be registered in the courts and stamped to become valid. Contracts thus evidenced should be accompanied by the registration documents (registrar extract) of the contracting parties. Many "firms" doing business in Macedonia are not even legally registered.

Reforms and Amnesty



  • A special inter-ministerial committee with MINISTER-MEMBERS and headed by the PM should be established. Its roles: to reduce bureaucracy, to suggest appropriate new legislation and to investigate corruption.

  • Bureaucracy should be pared down drastically. The more permits, licences, tolls, fees and documents needed – the more corruption. Less power to state officials means less corruption. The One Stop Shop concept should be implemented everywhere.

  • A general amnesty should be declared. Citizens declaring their illegal wealth should be pardoned BY LAW and either not taxed or taxed at a low rate once and forever on the hitherto undeclared wealth.

The Tax Code



  • To impose a VAT system. VAT is one the best instruments against the informal economy because it tracks the production process throughout a chain of value added suppliers and manufacturers.

  • The Tax code needs to be simplified. Emphasis should be placed on VAT, consumption taxes, customs and excise taxes, fees and duties. To restore progressivity, the government should directly compensate the poor for the excess relative burden.

  • After revising the tax code in a major way, the government should declare a moratorium on any further changes for at least four years.

  • The self-employed and people whose main employment is directorship in companies should be given the choice between paying a fixed % of the market value of their assets (including financial assets) or income tax.

  • All property rental contracts should be registered with the courts. Lack of registration in the courts and payment of a stamp tax should render the contract invalid. The courts should be allowed to evidence and stamp a contract only after it carries the stamp of the Public Revenue Office (PRO). The PRO should register the contract and issue an immediate tax assessment. Contracts, which are for less than 75% of the market prices, should be subject to tax assessment at market prices. Market prices should be determined as the moving average of the last 100 rental contracts from the same region registered by the PRO.

  • Filing of tax returns – including for the self-employed – should be only with the PRO and not with any other body (such as the ZPP).

Legal Issues



  • The burden of proof in tax court cases should shift from the tax authorities to the person or firm assessed.

  • Special tax courts should be established within the existing courts. They should be staffed by specifically trained judges. Their decisions should be appealed to the Supreme Court. They should render their decisions within 180 days. All other juridical and appeal instances should be cancelled – except for an appeal instance within the PRO. Thus, the process of tax collection should be greatly simplified. A tax assessment should be issued by the tax authorities, appealed internally (within the PRO), taken to a tax court session (by a plaintiff) and, finally, appealed to the Supreme Court (in very rare cases).

  • The law should allow for greater fines, prison terms and for the speedier and longer closure of delinquent businesses.

  • Seizure and sale procedures should be specified in all the tax laws and not merely by way of reference to the Income Tax Law. Enforcement provisions should be incorporated in all the tax laws.

  • To amend the Law on Tax Administration, the Law on Personal Income Tax and the Law on Profits Tax as per the recommendations of the IRS experts (1997-9).

Customs and Duties



  • Ideally, the customs service should be put under foreign contract managers. If this is politically too sensitive, the customs personnel should be entitled to receive a percentage of customs and duties revenues, on a departmental incentive basis. In any case, the customs should be subjected to outside inspection by expert inspectors who should be rewarded with a percentage of the corruption and lost revenues that they expose.

  • In the case of imports or payments abroad, invoices, which include a price of more than 5% above the list price of a product, should be rejected and assessment for the purposes of paying customs duties and other taxes should be issued at the list price.

  • In the case of exports or payments from abroad, invoices which include a discount of more than 25% on the list price of a product should be rejected and assessment for the purposes of paying customs duties and other taxes should be issued at the list price.

  • The numbers of tax inspectors should be substantially increased and their pay considerably enhanced. A departmental incentive system should be instituted involving a percentage of the intake (monetary fines levied, goods confiscated, etc.).

  • The computerized database system (see "Databases and Information Gathering") should be used to compare imports of raw materials for the purposes of re-export and actual exports (using invoices and customs declarations). Where there are disparities and discrepancies, severe and immediate penal actions should be taken. Anti-dumping levies and measures, fines and criminal charges should be adopted against exporters colluding with importers in hiding imported goods or reducing their value.

  • Often final products are imported and declared to the customs as raw materials (to minimize customs duties paid). Later these raw materials are either sold outright in the domestic or international markets or bartered for finished products (for example: paints and lacquers against furniture or sugar against chocolate). This should be a major focus of the fight against the informal economy. I follow with an analysis of two products, which are often abused in this manner.

  • I study two examples (white sugar and cooking oil) though virtually all raw materials and foods are subject to the aforementioned abuse.

  • White Sugar is often imported as brown sugar. One way to prevent this is to place sugar on the list of LB (import licence required) list, to limit the effective period of each licence issued, to connect each transaction of imported brown sugar to a transaction of export, to apply the world price of sugar to customs duties, to demand payment of customs duties in the first customs terminal, to demand a forwarder's as well as an importer's guarantee and to require a certificate of origin. The same goes for Cooking Oil (which – when it is imported packaged – is often declared as some other goods).

  • All payments to the customs should be made only through the ZPP. Customs and tax inspectors should inspect these receipts periodically.

  • All goods should be kept in the customs terminal until full payment of the customs duties, as evidenced by a ZPP receipt, is effected.

Public Campaign



  • The government should embark on a massive Public Relations and Information campaign. The citizens should be made to understand what is a budget, how the taxes are collected, how they are used. They should begin to view tax evaders as criminals. "He who does not pay his taxes – is stealing from you and from your children", "Why should YOU pay for HIM?" "If we all did not pay taxes- there would be no roads, bridges, schools, or hospitals" (using video to show disappearing roads, bridges, suffering patients and students without classes), "Our country is a partnership – and the tax-evader is stealing from the till (kasa)" and so on.

  • The phrase "Gray Economy" should be replaced by the more accurate phrases "Black Economy" or "Criminal Economy".

Return

Public Procurement and Very Private Benefits

In every national budget, there is a part called "Public Procurement". This is the portion of the budget allocated to purchasing services and goods for the various ministries, authorities and other arms of the executive branch. It was the famous management consultant, Parkinson, who once wrote that government officials are likely to approve a multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant much more speedily that they are likely to authorize a hundred dollar expenditure on a bicycle parking device. This is because everyone came across 100 dollar situations in real life - but precious few had the fortune to expend with billions of USD.

This, precisely, is the problem with public procurement: people are too acquainted with the purchased items. They tend to confuse their daily, household-type, decisions with the processes and considerations which should permeate governmental decision making. They label perfectly legitimate decisions as "corrupt" - and totally corrupt procedures as "legal" or merely "legitimate", because this is what was decreed by the statal mechanisms, or because "this is the law".

Procurement is divided to defence and non-defence spending. In both these categories - but, especially in the former - there are grave, well founded, concerns that things might not be all what they seem to be.

Government - from India's to Sweden's to Belgium's - fell because of procurement scandals which involved bribes paid by manufacturers or service providers either to individual in the service of the state or to political parties. Other, lesser cases, litter the press daily. In the last few years only, the burgeoning defence sector in Israel saw two such big scandals: the developer of Israel's missiles was involved in one (and currently is serving a jail sentence) and Israel's military attache to Washington was implicated - though, never convicted - in yet another.

But the picture is not that grim. Most governments in the West succeeded in reigning in and fully controlling this particular budget item. In the USA, this part of the budget remained constant in the last 35(!) years at 20% of the GDP.

There are many problems with public procurement. It is an obscure area of state activity, agreed upon in "customized" tenders and in dark rooms through a series of undisclosed agreements. At least, this is the public image of these expenditures.

The truth is completely different.

True, some ministers use public money to build their private "empires". It could be a private business empire, catering to the financial future of the minister, his cronies and his relatives. These two plagues - cronyism and nepotism - haunt public procurement. The spectre of government official using public money to benefit their political allies or their family members - haunts public imagination and provokes public indignation.

Then, there are problems of plain corruption: bribes or commissions paid to decision makers in return for winning tenders or awarding of economic benefits financed by the public money. Again, sometimes these moneys end in secret bank accounts in Switzerland or in Luxembourg. At other times, they finance political activities of political parties. This was rampantly abundant in Italy and has its place in France. The USA, which was considered to be immune from such behaviours - has proven to be less so, lately, with the Bill Clinton alleged election financing transgressions.

But, these, with all due respect to "clean hands" operations and principles, are not the main problems of public procurement.

The first order problem is the allocation of scarce resources. In other words, prioritizing. The needs are enormous and ever growing. The US government purchases hundreds of thousands of separate items from outside suppliers. Just the list of these goods - not to mention their technical specifications and the documentation which accompanies the transactions - occupies tens of thick volumes. Supercomputers are used to manage all these - and, even so, it is getting way out of hand. How to allocate ever scarcer resources amongst these items is a daunting - close to impossible - task. It also, of course, has a political dimension. A procurement decision reflects a political preference and priority. But the decision itself is not always motivated by rational - let alone noble - arguments. More often, it is the by product and end result of lobbying, political hand bending and extortionist muscle. This raises a lot of hackles among those who feel that were kept out of the pork barrel. They feel underprivileged and discriminated against. They fight back and the whole system finds itself in a quagmire, a nightmare of conflicting interests. Last year, the whole budget in the USA was stuck - not approved by Congress - because of these reactions and counter-reactions.

The second problem is the supervision, auditing and control of actual spending. This has two dimensions:



  1. How to make sure that the expenditures match and do not exceed the budgetary items. In some countries, this is a mere ritual formality and government departments are positively expected to overstep their procurement budgets. In others, this constitutes a criminal offence.

  1. How to prevent the criminally corrupt activities that we have described above - or even the non criminal incompetent acts which government officials are prone to do.

The most widespread method is the public, competitive, tender for the purchases of goods and services.

But, this is not as simple as it sounds.

Some countries publish international tenders, striving to secure the best quality in the cheapest price - no matter what is its geographical or political source. Other countries are much more protectionist (notably: Japan and France) and they publish only domestic tenders, in most cases. A domestic tender is open only to domestic bidders. Yet other countries limit participation in the tenders on various backgrounds:

the size of the competing company, its track record, its ownership structure, its human rights or environmental record and so on. Some countries publish the minutes of the tender committee (which has to explain WHY it selected this or that supplier). Others keep it a closely guarded secret ("to protect commercial interests and secrets").

But all countries state in advance that they have no obligation to accept any kind of offer - even if it is the cheapest. This is a needed provision: the cheapest is not necessarily the best. The cheapest offer could be coming from a very unreliable supplier with a bad past performance or a criminal record or from a supplier who offers goods of shoddy quality.

The tendering policies of most of the countries in the world also incorporates a second principle: that of "minimum size". The cost of running a tender is prohibitive in the cases of purchases in small amounts.

Even if there is corruption in such purchases it is bound to cause less damage to the public purse than the costs of the tender which is supposed to prevent it!

So, in most countries, small purchases can be authorized by government officials - larger amounts go through a tedious, multi-phase tendering process. Public competitive bidding is not corruption-proof: many times officials and bidders collude and conspire to award the contract against bribes and other, noncash, benefits. But we still know of no better way to minimize the effects of human greed.

Procurement policies, procedures and tenders are supervised by state auditing authorities. The most famous is, probably, the General Accounting Office, known by its acronym: the GAO.

It is an unrelenting, very thorough and dangerous watchdog of the administration. It is considered to be highly effective in reducing procurement - related irregularities and crimes. Another such institutions the Israeli State Reviser. What is common to both these organs of the state is that they have very broad authority. They possess (by law) judicial and criminal prosecution powers and they exercise it without any hesitation. They have the legal obligation to review the operations and financial transactions of all the other organs of the executive branch. Their teams select, each year, the organs to be reviewed and audited. They collect all pertinent documents and correspondence. They cross the information that they receive from elsewhere. They ask very embarrassing questions and they do it under the threat of perjury prosecutions. They summon witnesses and they publish damning reports which, in many cases, lead to criminal prosecutions.

Another form of review of public procurement is through powers granted to the legislative arm of the state (Congress, Parliament, Bundestag, or Knesset). In almost every country in the world, the elected body has its own procurement oversight committee. It supervises the expenditures of the executive branch and makes sure that they conform to the budget. The difference between such supervisory, parliamentary, bodies and their executive branch counterparts - is that they feel free to criticize public procurement not only in the context of its adherence to budget constraints or its cleanliness - but also in a political context. In other words, these committees do not limit themselves to asking HOW - but also engage in asking WHY. Why this specific expense in this given time and location - and not that expense, somewhere else or some other time. These elected bodies feel at liberty - and often do - intervene in the very decision making process and in the order of priorities. They have the propensity to alter both quite often.

The most famous such committee is, arguably, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It is famous because it is non-partisan and technocratic in nature. It is really made of experts which staff its offices.

Its apparent - and real - neutrality makes its judgements and recommendations a commandment not to be avoided and, almost universally, to be obeyed. The CBO operates for and on behalf of the American Congress and is, really, the research arm of that venerable parliament. Parallelly, the executive part of the American system - the Administration - has its own guard against waste and worse: the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Both bodies produce learned, thickset, analyses, reports, criticism, opinions and recommendations. Despite quite a prodigious annual output of verbiage - they are so highly regarded, that virtually anything that they say (or write) is minutely analysed and implemented to the last letter with an air of awe.

Only a few other parliaments have committees that carry such weight. The Israeli Knesset have the extremely powerful Finance Committee which is in charge of all matters financial, from appropriations to procurement. Another parliament renowned for its tight scrutiny is the French Parliament - though it retains very few real powers.

But not all countries chose the option of legislative supervision. Some of them relegated parts or all of these functions to the executive arm.

In Japan, the Ministry of Finance still scrutinizes (and has to authorize) the smallest expense, using an army of clerks. These clerks became so powerful that they have the theoretical potential to secure and extort benefits stemming from the very position that they hold. Many of them suspiciously join companies and organizations which they supervised or to which they awarded contracts - immediately after they leave their previous, government, positions. The Ministry of Finance is subject to a major reform in the reform-bent government of Prime Minister Hashimoto. The Japanese establishment finally realized that too much supervision, control, auditing and prosecution powers might be a Pyrrhic victory: it might encourage corruption - rather than discourage it.

Britain opted to keep the discretion to use public funds and the clout that comes with it in the hands of the political level. This is a lot like the relationship between the butter and the cat left to guard it. Still, this idiosyncratic British arrangement works surprisingly well. All public procurement and expenditure items are approved by the EDX Committee of the British Cabinet (=inner, influential, circle of government) which is headed by the Ministry of Finance. Even this did not prove enough to restrain the appetites of Ministers, especially as quid pro quo deals quickly developed. So, now the word is that the new Labour Prime Minister will chair it- enabling him to exert his personal authority on matters of public money.

Britain, under the previous, Tory, government also pioneered an interesting and controversial incentive system for its public servants as top government officials are euphemistically called there. They receive, added to their salaries, a portion of the savings that they effect in their departmental budgets. This means that they get a small fraction of the end of the fiscal year difference between their budget allowances and what they actually spent. This is very useful in certain segments of government activity - but could prove very problematic in others. Imagine health officials saving on medicines, or others saving on road maintenance or educational consumables. This, naturally, will not do.

Needless to say that no country officially approves of the payment of bribes or commission to officials in charge of public spending, however remote the connection is between the payment and the actions.

Yet, law aside many countries accept the intertwining of elites - business and political - as a fact of life, albeit a sad one. Many judicial systems in the world even make a difference between a payment which is not connected to an identifiable or discernible benefit and those that are. The latter - and only the latter - are labelled "bribery".

Where there is money - there is wrongdoing. Humans are humans - and sometimes not even that.

But these unfortunate derivatives of social activity can be minimized by the adoption of clear procurement policies, transparent and public decision making processes and the right mix of supervision, auditing and prosecution. Even then the result is bound to be dubious, at best.

Crisis of the Bookkeepers

The Future of the Accounting Profession

Interview with David Jones

On May 31, 2005, the US Supreme Court overturned the conviction of accounting firm Arthur Anderson on charges related to its handling of the books of the now defunct energy concern, Enron. It was only the latest scene in a drama which unfolded at the height of the wave of corporate malfeasance in the USA.

David C. Jones is a part-time research fellow at the Center for Urban Development Studies of the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. He has been associated with the University since 1987 when he retired from the World Bank, where he served as financial adviser for water supply and urban development.

He had joined the World Bank, as a senior financial analyst, in 1970, after working as a technical assistance advisor for the British Government in East Africa. He began his career in British local government. He is a Chartered Public Finance Accountant and a Chartered Certified Accountant (UK). He is the author of "Municipal Accounting for Developing Countries" originally published by the World Bank and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (UK) in 1982.


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