Despite negative perceptions, the taxman has an exciting job
Working for the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) holds a charm among accountants looking for ways to serve the community. It isn't easy being the Hong Kong government's money collector, but the advanced services and facilities that the government is able to provide for us can be assured, thanks to the hard work and professionalism of staff across the department.
Last year, taxes collected by the IRD amounted to more than 70 per cent of the government's general revenue. Most of these taxes were derived from profits and salaries taxes, and indirect taxes such as stamp and betting duties.
Despite those figures, the perception of the IRD isn't always pleasant. Tam Kuen-chong, deputy commissioner of operations at the IRD, said: 'To most people, paying tax is the last thing they would like to do. This is understandable, as they cannot immediately identify the public services they enjoy or are to enjoy with the payment.'
Aside from collecting taxes, the IRD has been committed to educating the public on its civic responsibilities by providing clear-cut information on its website and distributing publicity materials.
'To enhance the fairness and equity in the tax system, we commit to collecting the right amount of tax from every taxpayer, no more, no less,' Mr Tam said.
The challenges facing the IRD have been increasing in the past few years, given the accelerated integration of world economies. 'We have been required to deal with many global issues like cross-border transactions and pricing issues.'
The government's initiatives to contain the number of civil servants have meant that the IRD is operating with 10 per cent less staff than 10 years ago. 'We have to meet the increasing workload and rising expectations of taxpayers with a much leaner organisational structure,' Mr Tam said.
The IRD has turned to information technology and streamlined work procedures to meet the demands of the job. 'Within the department, we have introduced e-initiatives to boost efficiency and productivity, such as the document management system and workflow management system,' Mr Tam said.
Despite the increased use of IT in the IRD's daily operations, Mr Tam said many tasks still needed a human touch. 'These measures would not alleviate the demand on the [expertise] of professional officers, who have to exercise judgment and make decisions in tackling claims and tax avoidance [cases].'
At present, the IRD employs more than 2,800 people, but continues to look for more qualified individuals to help meet its workload. 'We [also] beef up our internal training and send more officers to attend overseas training courses to better equip them for the job,' he said.
Recently, the IRD has been authorised to recruit 38 assistant assessors and other departmental grades. 'We have also taken initiatives to contact the universities directly to invite their graduates to apply for the post and join the civil service,' said Mr Tam.
The IRD has been relying on advertising in newspapers and the Civil Service Bureau's website for their recruitment needs. They have also participated in the Education and Career Expo and the Civil Service Career Exhibitions to promote career opportunities within the IRD.
Competition to join the department is definitely fierce. More than 2,100 applications have been received for 38 openings, which Mr Tam sees as very encouraging. '[The job] appeals to young professional accountants interested in tax work but also keen to serve the community.'
Upon joining the IRD, individuals usually start as assistant assessors, and are given structured training for two years. They move on to the position of senior assessor, chief assessor, assistant commissioner and deputy commissioner.
'The candidates we're looking for should not only have good professional knowledge of taxation and accountancy, but also general knowledge and common sense,' he said. 'They should have enthusiasm and drive, and qualities like confidence and analytical power.'
Candidates should also be aware that administrative work is also a big part of the job, covering the application of various tax ordinances, participating in tax policy making, conducting tax appeals, tax investigation and many more, which promises an exciting and vibrant career for the right people.
'The most challenging part of our job is to make taxpayers [pay], and pay with a smile,' Mr Tam said. '[We do this by] securing their confidence that they are only asked to pay their fair share, and that other taxpayers are, likewise, paying their fair share.'
Urgent cases are those that involve taxpayers about to leave Hong Kong for good with the possibility of unpaid taxes to be settled
Time-barred situation a situation where an assessment can no longer be made as the six-year statutory time limit for raising an assessment on the taxpayer has lapsed
Protective assessments last-minute estimated assessments or additional assessments raised to meet the six-year statutory time limit for raising back year assessments
Asset betterment statement a comprehensive means of quantifying an understatement of profits or income by making a detailed analysis of the taxpayer's assets, liabilities as well as income and expenditure over a period of time