Thursday, March 15, 2007

How corrupt officials operate

I had a hands on feel on how corrupt officers operate. I did not take the bait but I saw how they fish. I had to go to the local Sales Tax Office to file my VAT returns. I had a few months pending returns. I had been under the impression that I had to file my returns only once every year like we do with our Income Taxes.

Initially I was doing my own accounts but when I engaged an accountant I got the information from him that I had to file monthly returns on Form 10. He had an associate who could help me with my returns. So I gave him all my previous months sales and purchase information and he prepared the returns for all the months till February. I did not have any pending VAT payments as I had been maintaining around stock for around Rs 150,000 which would correspond to a VAT credit of approximately Rs 6000 (all but few of the items I carry fall in Schedule III with 4% tax rates).

I prepared all the returns and went to this Sales Tax Officer. He asked me to sit. I sat down and gave him the returns. He told me with a wicked smile that there is a big problem and that I would have to pay a penalty. He then asked my why I filed the returns personally and why I did not engage a consultant. When told that I have a consultant he asked me to call him up to explain the situation. I tried my consultant and thankfully was not able to reach him. I then asked the officer 'how much would the fine be' and got a vague reply 'around 16000 rupees'. I told him that it is my first return and that I was not aware of the regulation. When asked if I could file an appeal in front of higher authorities he got irritated. He illustrated with an example, of a landlord who had every authority to make any tenant stay in his house or to evict any tenant from his house, that he had every power to cancel the fine. I acted as if I did not understand the deal. Another officer came in and he asked me to go out with him for him to explain how things operate there. I ignored that person. The sales tax officer then made some witty remarks about me not accustomed with the operations in a sales tax office. A sycophant tax consultant was sitting in the office at the same time and was trying to make funny remarks himself. I took it all in my stride and tried to reason with the officer.

I then boldly asked the officer to give it to me in writing that he is fining me for the offense so that I can file an appeal with a higher officer. This I think hit the wrong note and the officer immediately told me that he was going to cancel my registration and I could then go ahead and file any appeal with any higher officer or even in the court. I tried to reason with him that I am willing to pay the fine but he was not budging. All this long I never even gave any hint that I understood the whole script. The other officer who had earlier requested me to go outside to discuss came in and felt some sympathy for me and requested the Sales Tax Officer to reduce the fine. He started of with 2000 and then I grabbed the deal. The officer then advised me that it would be impossible for me to file the returns on my own and I should hire a consultant like the one sitting in his room to handle my returns. I told him that it would not be possible with the kind of rates they charge.

So my first experience in a sales tax office was tough but I came out unscathed though Rs.2000 lighter. I think I could have escaped the fine by parting with around Rs.200 as 'processing charges' for the officer and his aides. I am happy that atleast that Rs.2000 is going into 'My' government's coffers.

1 comment:

  1. Hei minking man,
    You have clearly pointed out how corruption takes place in our society.Even i had a small instance in my life when i had to bribe the policeman who came for verification process involved in isuing of a new passport. But just think in your place if it was a small business man he won't even have Rs 200/- to shell out..Finally it is the society who have allowed this necessary evil to fourish.If people begin to react in groups against this in every govt dept/organisation we can bring an end to this.But that requires a change in attitude of our society.Now the system is such that poor people will become poorer and rich richer!