[EDITORIALS]Tax man, heal thyself!The National Tax Service is found to have sent employees on overseas trips with the financial sponsorship of suppliers from whom the agency purchased computing devices. Even more absurd, the Board of Audit and Inspection caught the illegal act but was lenient in punishing it.
According to the audit board, the tax service bought disks for its mainframe computer from a foreign manufacturer’s Korean branch in 1999, and had the company provide 65 million won ($54,000) so that it could send 12 employees for two weeks of training and study in the United States and Europe. From 1999 till the end of last year, the tax service sent 73 officials on similar overseas trips, thanks to the generosity of seven companies, to the tune of 344 million won. The agency explained that such trips are routine practice to learn the technology needed for new equipment, and the sponsorship is indicated in the purchase contract for the equipment.
The audit board pointed out, however, that even officials whose jobs are unrelated to using new equipment enjoyed free trips. Moreover, new disks for a mainframe computer simply expand the capacity of existing equipment and require no special training. Also, industry suppliers understand that their sponsorships send officials on free trips. If training tours were really necessary to acquire needed skills, the tax service should have used its own budget. The less transparent a government agency’s purchasing process is, the more tempted suppliers will be. An account book can be fabricated to cover up illegality in any size of transaction. This often becomes the beginning of a cozy relationship between the government and companies.
The tax service ostensibly has been eradicating tax-related corruption to achieve transparent corporate accounting. One prescription to stop tax evasion was to encourage companies to trim their enormous client-entertainment expense accounts. If the tax service itself has no shame in accepting favors from suppliers, we cannot expect its reform efforts to be effective. Strict and fair tax administration can be achieved only when the taxing authority’s own conduct is above reproach.