Revenue Commissioners under scrutiny

The Revenue Powers Group was set up by Mr McCreevy in March in order to “take stock” of the remit of powers granted to the Revenue Commissioners.

This will include examination of the power to enter buildings and examine documents and the use of audits.

The minister said the review was in order to assure the Government and the public at large that these are “meeting the needs of the system and are being used fully as the Oireachtas intended.

“The opportunity presents itself now to perform such a stocktaking exercise in order to ensure that the balance and strategic direction which we have put in place is the right one,” Mr MCreevy said when he set up the group.

And the minister added that it was important that the group have available to it a broad range of professional and practical experience in this area because of the technical and legal aspects of the issue and the balance that must be struck between the needs of the state and the rights of the citizen.

He appointed Mr Justice Frank Murphy, a former Supreme Court judge, as chairman.

The other experts who have been appointed to sit on the Revenue Powers Group are tax solicitor Julie Burke; tax expert James Jennings; tax lawyer and incoming president of the Institute of Taxation Suzanne Kelly; assistant secretary of the Revenue Commissioners Seán Moriarty; HLB Nathans tax partner Michael Mullins and Glen Dimplex director and former head of tax practice at Arthur Andersen, Roderick Ryan.

The final date for the receipt of submissions is May 30.

Although the advertisement inviting submissions is very clear about the remit of the group, it’s virtually certain that all sorts of worthy but irrelevant missives outlining personal grievances with the Revenue will clog up the post box by that date.

But the expert body is being asked specifically to examine the following: To look into the main statutory powers available to the Revenue Commissioners to establish tax liabilities, including investigation, with a view to the prosecution of Revenue offences.

They will be expected to then advise the minister on the effectiveness of these powers; the appropriate balance between the need to secure the revenue of the State and the rights of the taxpayer; whether there is a need for further powers or the streamlining of existing powers; comparable powers in other jurisdictions and other regulatory agencies in the State and on the appropriate appeal or review mechanisms that should be applied in the exercise of these powers.

The group believes the main statutory powers that may be of interest to the public are the powers to access information such as third party returns and audit and investigation powers such as entry to premises and examination of documents.

But representations on other powers within the terms of reference are also welcome.

This week’s advertisement noted that the Revenue Commissioner’s powers in relation to collection are under separate consideration by the Law Reform Commission.

Among the issues that might arise, however, are the use by the Revenue of its powers to conduct audits.

At least one TD has recently expressed concern in the Dáil that the use of such powers has been decreasing.

Green TD Dan Boyle asked Mr McCreevy whether he was satisfied, given the number of additional powers he has given the Revenue Commissioners in recent years, that full use was being made of all of them.

“Is it not the case that while some of these powers have been used extensively, for example those relating to bogus non-resident accounts, some powers have been used marginally and some have not been used at all,” Mr Boyle asked.

Mr Boyle suggested the administrative make-up of the Revenue itself might explain this.

He claimed inspectors of taxes at local, decentralised level, often cannot operate on their own initiative and “must refer decisions upwards.”

“Many decisions seem to be getting stuck in the Office of the Chief Inspector of Taxes.

“Is the minister satisfied the line of information in giving permission to take action against tax defaulters is sufficient to allow inspectors of taxes on the ground to do their jobs effectively?”

In his response, Mr McCreevy insisted that inspectors operate in line with instructions and duties agreed with their managers.

The inspectors had discretion to deal with matters coming before them except where they need advice or where the legislation or instructions require deferral to others.

Mr McCreevy added that the additional powers he had given to the Revenue during his tenure were “very significant” and pointed to the setting up of the Revenue Powers Group, which he said would include an evaluation of whether the “balance is just right.”

Mr Boyle, meanwhile, claimed that a “massive decrease” in special audits sent out a signal that the likelihood of tax defaulters facing tax inspections was lessening.

Said Mr McCreevy: “The deputy must not have talked to many accountancy practitioners in the past 12 months.

“They would not have given him that impression.”

The Revenue Powers Group is due to present its findings to Mr McCreevy by the end of October so that whatever recommendations arise can be considered for the Budget and Finance Bill.

Submissions may be made to: The Secretary, Revenue Powers Group Secretariat, 5-9 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2.

E-mail: revenue.powers@finance.gov.ie

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