World

Indonesian tax amnesty nets whopping $461 billion

JAKARTA:  South-east Asia's biggest economy this month is winding up one of the world's most successful tax amnesties, with at least 745,000 taxpayers declaring more than US$330 billion (S$461 billion) of assets so far.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has cited higher tax revenue as the key to boosting infrastructure spending and growth.

But if the amnesty is to avoid being just a one-off windfall, Indonesia needs to improve a tax collection ratio well below many of its peers, international agencies and local officials have said.

To that end, Indonesia's Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has set up a special tax reform team to boost collection.

It faces an immense task in a country where tens of millions of people - both the wealthy and the poor - remain outside the tax system.

Parliament is considering draft legislation that would overhaul an institution the public views as one of Indonesia's most corrupt, according to global corruption watchdog Transparency International.

"People don't pay taxes because they believe they won't get caught," said Mr Darussalam, a partner at consultancy Danny Darussalam Tax Centre.

The amnesty has provided the government with more revenue than similar plans in countries such as India, Chile or Italy, said Ms Sri Mulyani.

The amnesty has been criticised for benefiting mostly the rich.

The World Bank blames poor tax compliance among high-income earners in Indonesia for hampering poverty reduction and maintaining inequality.

The richest 1 per cent of Indonesia's 250 million people control nearly half the wealth, charity organisation Oxfam said.

The tax bureau as of last year employed about 38,000 people to collect taxes from a workforce of 118.41 million.

Less than a third of the workforce is registered at the tax office and even fewer file annual tax reports.

CHALLENGE

A visit to the tax office in Jakarta provided a window into the challenges the government faces.

Tax inspector Jeffry Martino sometimes works a 12-hour day just to keep tabs on a small portion of the hundreds of companies under his watch.

He has 661 taxpayers under his watch but focuses on the biggest 100 companies that contribute the most to his target of collecting 495 billion rupiah (S$52 million) this year.

"We are the spearhead of state revenue collection," said Mr Jeffry, at his temporary office with a misfiring air-conditioner.

His job would be easier if tax auditors had far fewer clients and more access to third-party data, such as banking information, he said.

He might get that wish under proposed legislation to reform the tax system.

Mr Joko has vowed to bypass Parliament, if necessary, by issuing an emergency regulation before mid-year, giving the tax office access to bank data.

In the meantime, the tax reform team aims to increase the tax ratio to 15 per cent of gross domestic product in 2020 from about 11 per cent now.

That compares with a global average of 14.8 per cent in 2014, according to the World Bank. 
- REUTERS

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