From the Czar´s courier to the email address

Today there are still tax administrations where a number of officials are assigned the task of walking the streets of their towns and cities with an envelope in hand to deliver a tax notification. They may get lucky if they are in a country where the streets are properly named and there is a correct numbering of homes and premises to avoid wandering from one place to another to find taxpayers and economic activities in industrial areas, suburbs and the like –that in slang we call “scattered” -. Moreover, they will be fortunate if finally they find the taxpayer at home despite having to complete the workday or the economic activities.

However, if the taxpayer is not there, the embattled official will have to determine whether to leave the notification – God forbid that he be attended by a child under 14, and he will almost beg and pray that the person who receives him subscribe – or not – the blessed act of notification.
If nobody receives him, the official will have to walk the streets of the town or city –at a different time- to deliver the envelope and reliably fill the “acknowledgment receipt” with every one of its requirements.

The officer will perform this daily task always the same way, with the same routine and regardless whether the notification is for a fine of 50 currency units or notification of a determination of 50 million of these units. In addition, if all this fails, we have always the Legal Edicts, which nobody in his right mind will read.

All this recalls the misadventures, over 100 years ago, that suffered poor Miguel Strogoff, the czar’s courier. With the advantage that this is a literary fantasy, unlike the real nightmare of many officials, taxpayers and administrations.

The practice of notifications has been, and is still, one of the matters that has caused most litigation in our countries. Rivers of ink have been spilled in our courts, to set criteria that the administration should meet to ensure the effectiveness of its actions. I am sure that the budget for this chapter is not negligible. It is also clear that the taxpayer is entitled to receive with maximum speed and safety the notice of the acts affecting him or her.

Fortunately, today, in different countries of Latin America and Spain, we find highly relevant experiences in creating electronic mailboxes, typically electronic addresses enabled in the Virtual Office of the Administration, in which the notifications of administrative acts are made available to the recipients. These systems have the added advantage that they may be associated with a system of alerts or warnings, so that when a notification is deposited in the mailbox, a message is also sent to private emails (Gmail, Hotmail addresses etc.) or SMS to the recipient’s mobile phone – facilitating the access to the contents of the notified act.

The generalization of electronic mailboxes is a technologically simple alternative that involves a significant cost-savings and improves the efficiency in tax administration, while simultaneously ensures the full rights of the taxpayers.

It is true that the normative creating these services should address key issues such as the effectiveness of the notification if the mailbox or the notification itself is not accessed, the mandatory character or not of this system, the user identification and rules to ensure integrity, security and confidentiality of notifications. It is quite possible that elements of disagreement still appear between the administration and taxpayers in this area.

However, the benefits of these systems for both the administration and for the taxpayer, who usually want to be sure to receive notifications in tax matters-, are so huge that its generalization would be worthwhile.

For more information on these systems of electronic mail, a working document is available on the CIAT website, where we describe and analyze the emails systems of nine member countries and their features.

ELECTRONIC NOTIFICATIONS SYSTEM : Experiences in Latin America and Spain (spanish only)

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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