The old saying goes, ‘No one loves the taxman’, but if I must pay taxes, the people at the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) are the folks I’d rather pay them to.
IRAS boasts one of the best programs I have seen for building an energized and dedicated service culture.
They have a challenging vision (‘To be the leading tax administration in the world’), clear and appropriate core values and a deep commitment to training. They recognize staff who perform well and have an active staff suggestion scheme.
Other workplace innovations include top-of-the-line computer equipment in highly personalized work spaces (I’ve never seen so many Winnie-the-Poohs in one cubicle in my life!), in-house sports and lounge facilities, a childcare center, an upbeat IRAS choir (!), regular inter-department games in the main lobby after office hours, free fruit once a month for all staff, a subsidized cafeteria, and more.
All this culture-building effort really works. Staff commitment to quality service and continuous improvement runs high. One staff member even suggested putting, ‘It was a pleasure serving you’ on the back of their business cards.
While the corporate culture is service focused, the language of tax administration seems to change more slowly.
IRAS still talks about ‘taxpayers’ who must ‘comply’ with their ‘obligations’ or else be in ‘violation’ and get charged a ‘penalty’. That’s hardly a friendly way to talk with someone you are committed to serve.
Why not change this language altogether? The IRAS could ‘help companies and individuals fulfil their financial responsibilities to the nation in a complete, accurate and timely manner’.
Let’s face it, most people would prefer to pay no tax. But if you are successful in business, investments or earning personal income, your success is partly due to the location where you make your money. The government structure and physical infrastructure are built and maintained by your taxes. It’s that simple. It’s an exchange, a collaboration, a partnership.
The term ‘taxpayers’ sounds like something out of the Middle Ages, when the King would send his hated ‘Tax Collector’ on a big, dark horse into town.
People at restaurants are not ‘food eaters’, they are appreciated diners.
People at hotels are not ‘bed sleepers’, they are welcomed guests.
People needing doctors are not ‘medicine takers’, they are valued patients.
People helping others are not ‘time givers’, they are respected volunteers.
And people who fulfill their financial responsibility where they live, work and earn income should not be labeled ‘taxpayers’, they are contributors, collaborators, partners. They are allies in the future of the nation. Shouldn’t we refer to them this way?