The Ethical Dimension of Computerization

Since its establishment, the Inter-American Center of Tax Administrations – CIAT has been aware of the importance for the tax administrations to count on high levels of integrity in carrying out its functions.

Because of said concern, the organization has been working in the preparation and approval of theoretical-conceptual documents and practical diagnostic tools for the promotion of ethics and integrity.

The Declaration on the Promotion of Ethics in the Tax Administration, approved at the 2005 Buenos Aires General Assembly is a fundamental document which states that “political will and a commitment to fight corruption should be a priority for all governments”. Likewise, the document states that “that the promotion of ethics should be at the heart of all policies of the tax administration”.

From the different dimensions of this promotion – leadership and commitment, legal framework, equity of the system, institutional autonomy, control mechanisms, codes of conduct and HR management practices, we would like to highlight in this brief analysis the importance and scope of computerization.

In relation to this aspect, the Declaration states that:

Computerization of the tax functions, in addition to contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of the tax administration, increases the ability to identify inappropriate access and use of tax information.Information systems must include strict security rules to avoid unauthorized manipulation of the information.”

The Self-Assessment Guide for the Tax Administrations, practical tool designed by CIAT for the self-diagnosis in relation to the promotion of ethics, considers this aspect in greater depth indicating, by way of a breakdown analysis, that computerization of the system produces:

 

  1. The improved efficiency and effectiveness of the tax administrations and, if used correctly may eliminate many opportunities for the emergence of irregular behaviors.
  2. There is a series of elements to be considered when evaluating computerization in a tax administration:
  • The existence of security controls to avoid manipulation from within or outside of the organization, for example:

    • –  When storing sensitive data audit trails should be established to protect the information and identify possible infringers.
    • – Rules regulating access to tax information should be established  and all officials as of the time of their selection and during their professional life should be aware of the limitations of use thereof.
    • – Access profiles should be established and periodically controlled.
  • Supervision and responsibility systems should be established and applied.

  • Entities or those responsible for managing computerization security should  be determined.

  • A sanctioning system should be established for cases of undue use of computerized resources in general and inappropriate access to sensitive or critical information. All the officials should know this system.

The Self-Assessment Guide endeavors to be a useful and practical instrument, which establishes the guidelines to be followed in the definition, execution and revision of the effectiveness of the strategies used by the different tax administrations in the development and promotion of ethical values.

The methodology designed, the self-assessment or self-diagnosis by means of a questionnaire, allows for detecting the strong points and areas capable of improvement within the tax administrations.

It should be noted that the computerization area, because of its technical and eminently technological nature, appears to be in no way linked to ethics or not capable of integrity gaps. However, there is nothing further off from reality. The tax administrations manage an excessively delicate and sensitive information that should be protected from any misuse. Therefore, the incorporation of computerization as a key aspect in the promotion of ethics and integrity is a sensible conceptual choice on the part of CIAT.

The analysis process through the self-diagnosis methodology allows for highlighting some aspects wherein, from the dimension of computerization, the organization’s ethics and integrity may be compromised.

From the practical perspective, the Self-Diagnosis Guide has been fully implemented in a tax administration with specific results. This allows us then to recommend to the tax administrations of the member countries to incorporate the self-diagnosis process –in the dimension herein analyzed- as support tool in the management of its technological services. This would be particularly so, in new projects involving cloud services or the outsourcing of services.

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