Public accountant, an option: Public writer or authenticator of economic reality

I am a certified public accountant licensed in administration, with some tax sociology studies, my professional life has been dedicated to the development and implementation of information systems and tax control in tax administration and I have been, for many years, working in Latin American countries in massive programs of deterrence to control the informal economy.

In my long professional life, I have contemplated the degradation of tax morality in legal entities and prominent figures recognized in society, for their personal arts or for businesses assisted by important accounting legal studies, through the concealment of formal accounting information; or the appropriation of withholdings made to workers or consumption taxes collected.

I have seen flowing from studies endless appeals to the terms of laws whose loopholes, born from professional builders of the tax order, offered entrepreneurs the opportunity for endless discussions to circumvent their obligations.

I was able to gather testimonies, which show that while there are those who, shielded by Professional Studies, enjoy the cash flow derived from their breaches and expect the implementation of their amnesties and moratoriums that facilitate the atonement of their sins, the tax burden of the State falls on others who live on the meager income of their personal work, suffering withholding in their wages or paying taxes on their consumption.

The social consciousness that results from the situation that I have known does not contribute to the harmonic coexistence between those who support the State with their humble and forced contribution, subjected to regressive taxation, and those resting on exemptions that benefit them, and in transfers of funds withheld or collected from the less well-off, their non-compliance being supported by professionals that “giving public faith of the information available to them”, legalize the absence of compliance.

Carlos Muñoz in his “Reflections on the social function of Public Accounting“, stressed that public accounting had undergone a profound mutation since its effectiveness as a guarantee of public integrity, weakening, for various reasons, the public trust. For its justification it could appeal to the lack of social awareness, the absence of the most minimal canons of ethics, the lack of sufficient training, lack of real support from the State and an essential aspect that is relative to the “lack of concern” on the part of the profession and its governing bodies, of the need for a real professional independence that should be developed from some structural conditions.

A contemplative State does not react to the deterioration of the social conditions, tax morale and growing distrust of the public faith that increases the injustice. Then the informal economy is the ideal scope for its development and large investments emerge openly on invaded lands  bordered by substandard housing that protect the area where they sold goods of illicit origin are sold, and the society re-creates the belief that the “survival economy is above everything,” which allows enjoying low prices – resulting from the omission of charges, municipal taxes, the theft of electricity and water, or omission of rentals fees for the spaces they occupy illegally – prices substantially cheaper than the market.

For the intervention of such markets, some tax administrations have installed with my assistance units known as “fedatarios” “faith-givers”, composed of personnel trained for risky operations, with empowerment to verify the illegal sales that they catch red-handed, justifying the legal closures and seizures of goods.

Entering the areas of operations was entering in a conflict situation, the instructions of reserve officers that I had received in my military service was more necessary than the one received at the University. At first glance: contraband goods, products coming from crimes against property and products of “formal” companies that presented regular balance sheets subscribed by “professionals”.

The opposition to the control actions was permanent, I have experienced the aggression and death threat to the professional inspectors, the violent eviction of the teams and other forms of resistance to the work order. I had to leave the territory of my activities several times with my life ad risk, my teams always needed political decision of the authorities and permanent support of security forces, both to control the areas affected by crime and terrorism, and to protect the operations in less dangerous areas.

Such resistance to the dissuasive action of my work is only explained in a situation of social anomy, preventing the improvement of the redistributive conditions of the economy, distrusting the professionals who endorse them and whose results are weakened, as Muñoz says, but weakened why? Weakened by a perverse policy that burdens the social cost on the poorest, weakened by inefficient business groups whose usefulness derive from illicit enrichment and low social contribution, and weakened also by the indifferent behavior of the professionals themselves, whose opinions omit the illicit behavior of the companies that they assist, because the information that mathematically supports them fits and it is what “they can access”.

I am a teacher and transmit my experiences to young professionals applied to the department of accounting and business legal studies… and some that perform functions in the tax administration, in my classes I can investigate what they consider to be sources of professional conducts that are so opposite to the ideals with which we have been trained.

To a question like ” If you had the opportunity to do it, would you evade your tax obligations?? Many of the young people dismiss it flatly; to another as… would you pay a bribe if this would bring you a benefit? They respond equally with displeasure and reject it…

However, I read doubts on the faces of many of my students, professionals, in the answers to my questions… when I ask questions on their shopping in informal centers, those that responded negatively the first questions do not deny the participation in long technical and legal discussions to delay the fulfillment of obligations, nor the possession or professional assistance for a unit of informal trade, or going shopping at such centers, or the acceptance of transactions without invoices documenting them, neither the delay of the processes intended to repair the credit owed to the State.

All usually deny co-responsibility with their employers in the construction of the illegality of their tax behavior….

Coming back to the beginning, I am a public accountant, I was trained to assist in the transparency of the economy, giving public support to the validity of financial statements that can be used to sustain credit and I have put my professional capacity at the service of the state in accordance with the social function of my profession.

I have proven that a large part of the tax evasion of countries is in plain sight and you do not have to go too deep to find it, as its most significant part is still hidden in complicated legal-accounting techniques, in a frozen state, waiting for the opportunity to be declared in some money laundering scheme with lower taxes…. or the statute of limitations that deal with it, if left undetected by a prosecutor, in which case another alternative will still be open: the tax courts where it can sleep a few more years.

Public accountants cannot and should not ignore the rights of the state that entrusts them, making them guardians of microeconomics transparency, making them responsible of the veracity of the information that they endorse with their informed opinion and the veracity of their economic reality.

The reasonable argument that their opinion is supported by the information available, technology has solved the forecasts for a “selective” review of the accounting information and the mathematical validation of the results that support their opinions.

However, the professional training of accountants includes the use of accounting instruments that allow them to infer in the “grey areas” of the economic activity, and which can be reported relatively easily by information crossings, which taxation regimes and technological advances facilitate by affecting their responsibility.

To all this: where is now the social function of the accountant that has been assigned as the purpose of his profession? Perhaps social norms lead them to emulate the behaviors of other professionals, perhaps the inequity of the tax system makes them part of the bad business practices, perhaps their economic needs or aspirations force them to forget the principles that were taught to them.

The invalid statements that are supported by the accountants’ opinions affect the wider society that both legitimized the public faith entrusted to them and allow taking advantage from the social objectives that were granted to the companies they serve.

I would not like to dwell more on this field of my dissents, after all, only one purpose guides me with these comments, to highlight the need to review some ethical concepts of my profession to reinforce the responsibility of giving public evidence of the acts supported by expert opinions and remind the new professionals of their complicity when the information they produce does not support the economic reality.

I want to remind colleagues who are just starting their career of the shameful stigma that for the profession means contributing to tax fraud crimes derived from the information they endorse and their possible co-responsibility and subsequent imprisonment if they are caught.

We live in an “economic reality” that is expressed in a fictional way and is based on sociocultural and economic conditions arising from decisions in which, one way or another, we have all participated… today the technology and robotics solve the problems derived from collecting information with high efficiency… it depends on the INTEGRITY of new professionals to ensure a framework suitable to the economic reality that makes it reliable….

I am already close to retirement and I do not regret the “fighting chickens” that I have trained in my professional life so that they continue to be faithful to their social function…

“Oh, If the young could know, and if the elderly could act”. (old French saying: Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait…)


Disclaimer. Readers are informed that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, organization, committee or other group the author might be associated with, nor to the Executive Secretariat of CIAT. The author is also responsible for the precision and accuracy of data and sources.

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