It may sound bizarre but there are lessons that can be learned on how taxes are raised by the Talibans. It was reported that they raise US$195,000 per day, P9.75 million per day or P3.56 billion per year from tolls in a major highway that connects Kabul to the city of Herat (Abed and Zuchinno). Upon entrance to the highway, a box is tossed to the driver where he places 5,000 afghanis (P3,250) without any questions asked. What is interesting is that the driver is issued a receipt, a proof of payment that is accepted in all Taliban checkpoints. The Taliban principle is followed —“Once you pay the tax, your receipt works all over the country.” Apparently, the Talibans do not practice double taxation. They are also several steps ahead of our corrupt government officials who do not issue receipts for bribes and commissions.
There is also some degree of sophistication in the Taliban system. Taxes are differentiated depending on the nature of business. Militants operate checkpoints in areas where imported goods from Central Asia are ferried. Custom fees of $400 to $660 are collected per truck. In Baghlan province alone, collection amounts to $200,000 per day, $73 million a year or P3.65 billion.
The fear factor can certainly trigger compliance. But there is also some semblance of a “fair deal” or payment in exchange for delivery of a service. It was reported that areas controlled by the Talibans are largely free of crime. In contrast, there are robberies in areas controlled by government.
Without much effort, it is easy to compare a similar system. From the movie, “The Godfather” we were shown how the Corleone family generates funding and loyalty. It is easy to deal with such handsome leaders like De Niro and Pacino. But in all seriousness, money is paid in exchange for protection and favors. The patronage extended by the Corleone family is carried out to great limits. We recall how an uncooperative movie producer woke up beside the head of his slain horse.
Lessons to be learned come to mind. First, taxpayers must be able to see the equivalent benefits that their tax money finances. Second, taxpayers must be convinced that that those who violate laws are caught and punished. Third, the taxpayers must be favored instead of patronage being rendered to friends and supporters of political leaders.
We see the opposite being practiced by government. Taxpayers are given a raw deal in many instances– overpricing of contracts, tolerance of inefficient public officials; absence of accountability; spending of public funds for personal gains; protection of allies and friends, absence of the rule of law, misaligned priorities, and violation of human rights, among the many others. Fortunately for government, most of our taxes are withheld or collected at source. The income tax is automatically deducted from our salaries. Other taxes such as the VAT and excise tax are added to prices. Without a withholding system, a furious citizenry would refuse to pay taxes to express their disgust. But we have become powerless on how public funds are spent with the capture of institutions by officials without conscience. We can only grit our teeth as we listen to stories of corruption and dishonesty. The best we can do is to support courage and analytical thinking among our lawmakers.
Good governance is an integral part of public finance. The collection and spending of taxes have to be built on integrity. Citizens need to take part in deciding the shape of public policies so that they are reflective of their goals and value system. And finally, resources should be managed well so that every peso is spent without waste to promote every citizen’s welfare.
It may be a bit late for this government to learn. But these lessons can serve us well in choosing the next leaders of our government. They do not only need a heart and a popular base. Secretary Jesse Robredo with an outstanding legacy of public service reminds us — “Hindi lamang dapat matino. Kailangan marangal at mahusay.” The leaders we deserve do not only need to be intelligent. They should be effective and honorable.