After 10 years, the move to give higher salaries to employees of the Bureau of Internal Revenue by exempting them from the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) is again gaining ground in Congress. In 2007, then President Gloria Arroyo committed to certify a bill exempting the BIR and the Bureau of Customs from the SSL. The rationale was that raising the take-home pay of BIR personnel will encourage them to work more and discourage them from accepting bribes. More productivity equals higher tax collections.
At the House of Representatives last week, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and ways and means committee chair Rep. Dakila Carlo Cua introduced House Bill No. 4973 to exempt BIR employees from the coverage of Republic Act No. 6758 or the SSL. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III also committed to file his version of the bill, although Senate ways and means committee chair Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara had earlier filed Senate Bill No. 1314 seeking the same exemption for BIR personnel.
The bills seek to establish the BIR’s own compensation and position classification system (CPCS) for all full-time or part-time workers, under which basic compensation “shall generally be comparable with those in the private sector doing comparable work.” The SSL sets a uniform salary rate for all government employees, although some state-owned corporations and financial institutions like the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas have been exempted from this rule.
BIR Deputy Commissioner Jesus Aranas has pointed out that salaries could play a major part in the Duterte administration’s fight against corruption. Some employees
of the BIR earn only P9,000 a month, and its commissioners earn less than their counterparts in other agencies, making BIR personnel “prone to graft.” This has also been
the reason that the country’s biggest tax-collection agency employs only 10,000 of its required 21,000 employees. As such, for every 2,767 taxpayers, there is only one tax collector.
In a briefing paper, the BIR explained it clearly: “Corruption should be addressed at its roots—low salaries and lack of incentives that target the need of BIR personnel. If wages are too low for [BIR personnel] to support themselves and their dependents, the more likely they are to engage in corrupt behavior. Thus, [they] should receive compensation that grants them financial security and dignity to resist the temptation to be corrupted.”
For instance, entry-level accountants at the BIR get only from P19,620 to P21,387 a month, while their counterparts in SSL-exempt agencies like the Insurance Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission receive up to P46,104 and P50,238, respectively. As for an entry-level lawyer, the BIR pays P35,693 a month compared to the SEC’s P53,754.
The BIR has also been suffering from what it called the steady outflow of professionals and technical personnel. Obviously, the low salary and the lack of items for professional growth discourage lawyers and accountants from staying long at the agency.
But there is one caveat that Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III wants to include when exempting BIR personnel from the SSL: They should waive their security of tenure especially when found to have done wrong, which means erring BIR employees should not invoke security of tenure if they are found later to have engaged in corrupt practices.
The current momentum in Congress should not be slowed down by other proposals like the bill filed recently by Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo seeking to replace the BIR with a National Revenue Agency, in a bid to professionalize the tax collection agency. Also, it would serve the government—and the public—better if other revenue-generating regulatory agencies like the Bureau of Customs will also be exempt from the SSL. We can only hope that the current bills in Congress will not suffer the same fate as similar proposals filed in 2007.