Taxing times

After 4140[!] calls and 7 months later I’m finally done. I didn’t choose to stay so long but due to certain needs I had to drag myself awake at 6.30am everyday. Bar the usual bittersweet feelings that so many have felt, it was interesting engaging the taxpayers.

I have settled cases from paupers to princes and also a spectrum of professions-general workers to CEOs of renowned companies. Without revealing too much, incomes can range from zero to the millions. Taxpayers also come from all over the world–I have come across Senegalese, Venezuelans, Slovakians and Mongolians. One person even had no country attached to him! There are a plethora of scenarios as well-workers who have absconded, gotten into trouble and even passed away. I would say most calls are usually easy as they just want to check how much taxes are outstanding or whether we could expedite processing of cases. Yet like many of my colleagues we have our fair share of troublesome callers. There was an instance where a man demanded to speak to someone with a law degree for no apparent reason after we told him we couldn’t amend assessments for previous years. Most of the time these people tend to demand immediate attention. I have been left frustrated by some callers’ lack of comprehension even after explaining to them. Are they really so dense?! Usually, the employers or the finance department people will call in and more often that not they are middle-aged aunties. Sometimes, they are anxious/agitated because the worker has run away but all I could ask them to do was to file tax clearance.

At times, I have wondered how these people look like in real life. By hearing their voices, you could form a mental picture of the caller’s actions and feelings. Also, I have received calls from tax agents in the Big 4 companies. I had no ides that the Big 4 had tax consultancy services on top of accounting. Having manned the lines long enough, I have recognised certain numbers as belonging to tax agents eg. numbers starting with 6800 are from Deloitte, 6213 for KPMG, 6236 from PwC and 6718/6309 from EY. I have also seen EY tax agents calling from India, usually without any letter of authorization [bleh].

I’m not complaining about the knowledge I have gleaned from my stint. Filing taxes is actually quite simple and I learnt more about the reliefs available. I’m still unsure of the purpose of tax-on-tax calculations and filing of stock options gains and how it is done–they just go over my head. I hope there will not be a chance where I have to be nasty to the officer on the line since I feel their pain as well…having your KPI fall due to long calls is incredibly demoralising.

At times, I had to put up requests [work items] to advise the back-end staff to proceed. It ranged from expediting assessments to replying of emails/calls and there are actually different types of requests. I put up some 123 case refs, 56 ‘complex’ case callbacks [eg tax-on-tax and double taxation agreements], 106 enforcement actions and 5 memos for other matters.

For a country as small as SG, it sure has a lot of companies. They range from sole proprietors to large MNCs and even wholly foreign companies. Most frequently registration numbers are what we term ROC numbers, with the format yyyynnnnnA [year in front and letter at the back]. There are also UENO numbers [S/TyyAAnnnnA] which have a wide variety. Foreign coys have FC as the two middle alphabets, LLPs have LL, embassies have DP, clubs/associations have SS and even primary/secondary schools have GS. I was quite surprised when some schools were listed as limited companies–they must have a hell lot of assets. There are also this class of reg numbers called ASGD numbers [idk what it stands for though]. They are usually given to non-resident companies and individuals with the format AnnnnnnnB [always starts with A]. Yet I have seen the LKC School of Medicine being given this identity number too–it seems to be a placeholder identification.

 

Different formats of reg numbers

I wished some things could have ended better but then they were out of my control. I’m believe the taxation module in accountancy will be simple enough, I hope! It was good while it lasted but 7 months is way too long already.

The inevitable

I don’t really want to pen this, but with much talk of impending terrorist attacks close to home, someone must still give the bitter pill, no?

As some netizens have pointed out, all terror groups just need a radicalised local to set their plans in motion. Barring the reality of creating a bomb/smuggling weapons etc due to our no-nonsense laws, staging an attack isn’t that hard after all. Having lived here all my life, I can point out certain loopholes that these individuals can exploit.

Note that recent attacks have taken place in civilian areas, so naturally Changi airport is the biggest target due to the immense movement of people. As demonstrated in Belgium, devastating results can happen even with CCTVs and heightened vigilance from the authorities. I trust that the STs are competent enough, but will they be able to stop the threat from materialising if they were to know that a bomb was about to go off. Tight security will be a moot point if any Tom Dick or Harry could waltz in with explosives before anyone knows it.

Previously, we were able to uncover a plot to bomb Yishun MRT by JI, showing how public transport is also at risk. I need not mention the effects of an incendiary device left on a bus or train during the rush hour. Just recently, a bus in China caught fire, killing many and injuring more. Buses are especially favoured due to free movement of people-tracking potential perpetrators can be a headache. While leaving unattended bags can be too conspicuous, there are instances of pipe bombs used (Taiwan train explosion). I have seen empty water bottles left under the seats and someone of a twisted mind could certainly use that as a mode of attack.

These attackers actually need not target large crowds like those in Orchard Rd or Vivocity. If they can even pull off one in a heartland area, the damage would be done. Given the relative success of the Paris attacks, it is reasonable to expect multiple crises over a few hours or even days. Let’s assume an attack staged in a hawker centre during lunch time, in school during recess, even explosives hidden in a rubbish chute of a HDB flat. Such attacks are meant to strike fear and paranoia, even more so than those in more well-known places. If they can take down places literally close to your home, what else can they do?

Public events and religious places are also ripe shooting ducks for these people to act against. Besides the act of terror, there will also be ramifications on how the religious populace will react.

The challenge after such an attack has happened is how the people will react to it. Besides “pray for sg” hashtags, profile pictures with the flag and sppeches by the PM on how we have to be strong in the face of adversity, it will be interesting to see how people will react to this. There will certainly be an undercurrent of hate against the perpetrators’ race or religion or whatever and the government would also have to deal with speculation and blame, correct or otherwise. The economy will certainly be weakened, along with constant media attention for the next few months and also draconian laws imposed. Our impregnable fortress will be an utter joke. What if the perpetrators were people we didn’t expect? That will really turn society upside down since anyone can be the time bomb.

Of course I’m not hoping for something like that to happen, but it’s still advisable to be prepared for it. Better to be safe than sorry eh?