No, I do not refer to communist North Korea’s dictator Kim, the “great and eternal leader.” Neither do I refer to Lea Salonga, whose role as Miss Saigon’s Kim made her an endearing global icon.
I am talking about Kim Henares, the Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner (BIR). It’s awkward to poach the sobriquet “great leader” from the Korean dictator Kim and use it to describe the Pinoy (or PNoy’s) Kim.
But the Pinoy Kim has emerged to be a great leader, albeit one who prefers to remain in the background and be a team player.
However her actions unavoidably make her high profile. These were headline news: The tax evasion case she filed against ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona. The candid statement she delivered to the media that “some of our people felt betrayed,” which hurt Senator Ralph Recto and led to his resignation as the chair of the ways and means committee.
Being a team player and recognizing that the task of administering revenues assigned to her by PNoy is unfinished, she declined the tantalizing opportunity of being nominated for the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice.
Her being a team player does not suggest that she is a toady. Remember the decision done by Kim with the imprimatur of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima to impose a final withholding tax on the PEACe Bonds? The BIR and the Department of Finance believe that a previous ruling during the time of Gloria Arroyo that gave a tax exemption to the PEACe Bonds was wrong. Purisima and Henares stood their ground in deducting a final withholding tax on the PEACe Bonds, despite the protest of the pro-PNoy business community and the association of some of PNoy’s close allies with the PEACe Bonds.
Observed my buddy: “Kim epitomizes PNoy’s daang matuwid. In jest, my buddy added, “Kim is more daang matuwid than PNoy.” Her decisions and actions do not distinguish between friend and foe.
Kim’s charm and candor disarm politicians and businessmen. But she also strikes fear among them. During the sin tax hearings of the Lower House’s ways and means committee, her presence was instrumental in disciplining the ranks of the representatives of vested interests. She wisely answered the hard as well as silly questions asked by the congressmen. When some of the veteran legislators tried to intimidate the political neophyte, Finance Undersecretary Jun Paul, Kim came to his rescue. That the congressmen had to defer to Kim could be explained by her preparedness in debating with them. But the congressmen could not ignore either what they perceived as a credible threat: that what Kim did to Corona could likewise happen to them.
Only a fishwife like Mitos Magsaysay had the nerve to clash with Kim. Suffice it to say that coarseness was no match for coolness.
Let me cite another difference between crude Mitos and cool Kim. Mitos tries to be popular, for she is seeking a Senate seat. Strangely, she is more popular than an upright politician like Erin Tañada. On the other hand, Kim does not seek popularity.
Kim just wants to do her job, even if her actions are controversial or unpopular. In a survey done by the Makati Business Club among its members, the satisfaction rating for Kim was mixed. Perhaps the explanation has something to do with her unyielding ways in the manner of tax collection.
Some friends and relatives complain about the BIR forms and submission requirements—they are complex, tedious and tiring to do. The intention is good. The BIR is saddled with lack of information, and information is the key to improve tax administration. Yet, I agree with friends and relatives on this one—that the BIR can look for more customer friendly ways in relating with ordinary taxpayers. The challenge then is to find new ways of getting the relevant information without discomforting the taxpayers.
In a manner, Kim is like the tough Winnie Monsod. People either like Winnie (or Kim) or dislike her. But the people, whether they like or dislike Winnie and Kim, will be almost unanimous in believing in Winnie’s and Kim’s integrity.
Finally, why a paean for Kim at this time?
Well, I am delighted about the recent credit upgrade that the Philippines got from Moody’s and before that from Standard & Poor’s. The Philippines rating is just a notch below investment grade. And it is just a matter of time, specifically the passage of the sin tax reform, before we get the investment grade.
Even though no legislative tax reform has materialized to address our fiscal problem, we have received a series of upgrades from the credit-rating agencies. I attribute the credit upgrade to the role of Kim. They have seen how tax effort has gained ground through tax administration. In combination with the forthcoming tax policy reforms like the sin tax, mineral tax and rationalization of fiscal incentives, we can expect a big boost for the Philippine economy.
Under Kim’s leadership, the BIR’s tax effort has steadily increased and more importantly the percentage growth in revenues even surpasses the GDP growth rate. While the growth rate of GDP (in constant prices) increased by an impressive 7.88 percent in the first semester of 2012, the BIR’s tax revenue collection grew by a more astounding 12.56 percent (as of September 2012).
And even as Kim has focused on tax administration, she has likewise been a key reformer in moving forward tax policy reforms, foremost of which is the sin tax.
Kim deserves the credit. Her boss Secretary Purisima won’t mind being in Kim’s shadow for the moment. I recently witnessed Secretary Purisima asking for Kim’s autograph. Nice.