Entertaining the Taxman

The feeling that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor is strongest and most easily demonstrated when it comes to tax affairs. We all have to pay tax, whether we like it or not, or suffer the draconian consequences. We have to pay promptly and devote quite a lot of our resources, if we run a business, in figuring out the various taxes and getting the money to the tax man. For this we need to employ bookkeepers, accountants and others to discharge our duty.

We may think that the government wastes a great deal of our taxes, and so it does, but unless we are prepared to make a principled stand, like Thoreau, who spent a night in jail because he refused to pay six years taxes (Thoreau was released from jail when a kindly Aunt, much to his displeasure, paid the tax) we have to cough it up.

In the course of my life I have met many people who work as tax people for the government. I have found them unfailing polite and helpful in the discharge of their duties. I have never felt the need to take any one of them, no matter how polite, to lunch or to buy them a drink. That would seem inappropriate to me and for them too I imagine, they might well feel that I was trying to influence them to favour me or my client in some way.

There is now a scandal brewing about the way in which the taxman treats the largest corporations being very different from the way the taxman treats the like s of you and me. Goldman Sachs and Vodaphone, (tremendously wealthy companies) seem to get “sweetheart deals” if the incomplete information coming from the UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee is right. The information is incomplete and Vodaphone and Goldman Sachs deny any wrong doing, I should make that plain.

It is alleged that one taxman was taken to lunch 107 times in a two year period by large wealthy businesses. Further, it seems according to research by City University, that civil servants (not just tax people) were “entertained” on 3,151 occasions between 2007 and 2009; the largesse included not just meals but also trips to tennis at Wimbledon and football at Chelsea and Manchester United and opera performances and fashion shows. These are not cheap events. No one has yet explained why it is proper to lavish such entertainment upon civil servants.

I find it very hard to understand why there are no rules preventing civil servants from accepting such hospitality. It might be that large accountancy and law firms and very big businesses mean no harm and do not intend to influence or corrupt the civil servants they entertain; they might have simply formed close human relationships with these relatively underpaid (relative to those who entertain them) civil servants. That is possible. However like Caesar’s wife the civil servants must be above suspicion.

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