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Portugal

Disclosure of Tax and Customs Information (PT0003)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Portugal Action Plan 2018-2020

Action Plan Cycle: 2018

Status: Active

Institutions

Lead Institution: Tax and Customs Authority

Support Institution(s): National Network for Open Administration and others to be defined

Policy Areas

Citizenship and Immigration, E-Government, Public Service Delivery

IRM Review

IRM Report: Portugal Design Report 2018-2020

Starred: Pending IRM Review

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Civic Participation

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

COMMITMENT #3: DISCLOSURE OF TAX AND CUSTOMS INFORMATION
Commitment Start and End Date: January 2019 – August 2020
Lead implementing agency/actor Tax and Customs Authority
Commitment description
What is the public problem that the commitment will address? Contribute to an easier and quicker availability of fiscal information of generic scope, without identifying taxpayer situations in particular, and that is of interest to the citizens in general, allowing a clarification and faster decision making by the most varied economic decision makers .
What is the commitment? Disseminate, on a broader and more accessible basis, the tax and customs information contained in the binding information and administrative instruction.
Assessment and definition of other topics / areas of relevance for citizens in general in the field of tax and customs information, with a view to obtaining concrete contributions to possible technological developments that facilitate and promote citizens access to tax and customs relevant information.
How will the commitment contribute to solve the public problem? The binding informations (provided for in article 68 of the General Tax Law) are based on a request made by the taxpayer regarding a specific legal / tax framework in the most diverse taxes of the Portuguese tax system such as the IRS, IRC, IVA, IMI, IMT, IEC among others, and the Tax Authority may not proceed in a different way from the sanctioned framework, except in case of compliance with a judicial decision, but will expire within a period of 4 years after its issuance. As far as the tax / customs situation of certain binding information is concerned, taxpayers generally will find here a legal / fiscal framework that can serve as a "guide" in similar situations, and therefore serves a general public interest.
As for administrative instructions such as circulars and communications of a public service, in this case of the Tax Authority, are addressed to recipients in general, revealing a public interest insofar as they clarify doubts that the General Tax Law may create.
In addition, the holding of working meetings for discussion and co-creation of possible commitments to respond to the needs of citizens, in their relationship with the Tax Authority, will contribute to strengthen the relationship of trust between the State and the Citizen and also to support the development of more efficient public initiatives focused on the real needs of the target audience.
Why is this commitment relevant to OGP values? The measure fits into the Transparency, Public Participation and Use of ICT and Digital Inclusion axes.
Additional information The dissemination of information to citizens, in collaboration with other public bodies, foresees the widening of access channels without requiring prior authentication (since the contents will be public and of free access).
Milestone Activity with a verifiable deliverable Start Date: End Date:
1 - Develop a plan to disseminate the information made available by the Tax and Customs Authority, using differentiated channels January 2019 June 2019
2- Implement dissemination plan for the information provided by the Tax and Customs Authority July 2019 December 2019
3- Conduct quarterly working meetings within the framework of the Network (and other relevant stakeholders identified) to evaluate issues / areas relevant to citizens in the scope of Fiscal and Customs Information January 2019 December 2019
4 - Consolidate and structure the outputs of the meetings referred to in milestone activity 3, identifying and operationalizing up to 2 possible commitments to be included in the II NAP January 2020 August 2020
Contact information
Name of responsible person from implementing agency Helder Borges Lage
Title, Department Head of the Organization and Quality Division / Direction of Planning Services and Management Control
Email and Phone Helder.Borges.Lage@at.gov.pt
21 881 26 24Other Actors Involved State actors involved To be defined

CSOs, private sector, multilaterals, working groups National Network for Open Administration and others to be defined

IRM Midterm Status Summary

3. Disclosure of tax and customs information

Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan: [14]

“Legal information in the field of taxes and customs is often complex and packed of legal jargon, making it difficult for citizens and businesses to fully apprehend and benefit of it. As such, it is important to streamline this information and to ensure that it is made available in an accessible way and through different channels, in order to enable faster and more informed decisions by the various economic decision-makers.

- Dissemination, on a broader, simpler and more accessible basis, of tax and customs information relevant to citizens and businesses such as “binding information” (legal/tax advices issued by AT at the request of taxpayers and that allow to frame similar situations for a period of 4 years) and “administrative instructions” (circulars and letters produced by AT to clarify doubts about the Tax and Customs Law).

- Conversely, it encompasses multistakeholder collaboration for assessing and defining issues/areas of general interest in the tax and customs domain, with a view to obtaining concrete contributions for possible technological developments that facilitate, simplify and promote the access of citizens and businesses to information.

Redefining the practices used to communicate the fiscal and customs information produced by the State will enable a wider and more efficient dissemination of these matters to all interested parties. In addition, the holding of working meetings for discussion and co-creation of possible commitments to meet the needs of citizens in their relationship with the Tax Administration will contribute to strengthen the relationship of trust between State and Citizens, as well as to support public initiatives that are more efficient and focused on the real needs of the target audience.”

Milestones:

3.1. Develop a plan to disseminate the information made available by the AT, using differentiated channels

3.2. Implement dissemination plan for the information provided by the AT

3.3. Conduct quarterly working meetings within the framework of the MSF (and other relevant stakeholders identified) to evaluate issues / areas relevant to citizens and businesses in the scope of fiscal and customs information

3.4. Consolidate and structure the outputs of the meetings referred to in milestone 3, identifying and operationalizing up to 2 possible commitments to be included in the II NAP

Start Date: January 2019

End Date: January 2020

Context and Objectives

Relevant information on taxes and customs is often provided in a format that is not understandable for the general public or most small businesses, without support from accountants or tax specialists. Portugal’s Tax Authority (AT) is responsible for providing information on taxes and customs, but AT representatives have recognized that such information has historically been hermetic and closed, focused more on reflecting the letter of the law than on comprehensibility. This is important because misinformation about tax duties explains a meaningful subset of tax evasion cases. [15] In turn, previous attempts from the AT to provide content in plain language suggest that the adoption of less legalistic language is sometimes associated with more litigation, since it allows for multiple interpretations. [16]

With these considerations in mind, this commitment has two broad goals. The first is to disseminate more accessible information on tax and customs that is relevant to citizens and businesses. This information is broad and includes timing and documentation issues, to specific taxes that apply to imports from or exports to a specific country. The focus will not be on providing new information but on clarifying existing content on the AT website. [17] Second, to create a platform for inputs from the OGP, the MSF (and other relevant stakeholders) must identify the most salient areas of intervention and collect specific contributions for possible innovations. The scope and breadth of the commitment is largely contingent on the suggestions made by this working group, composed of government agencies and civil society representatives. MSF members believed that the inclusion of CSOs in the working group was a promising step to help the commitment improve the status quo. Transparency and Integrity (TI) representatives mentioned obtaining helpful inputs from the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs in a recent meeting of the working group.

Analyzing the commitment regarding OGP values, the initiative has the potential to provide citizens with access to better information on taxes and customs, and to promote civic participation. The working group that will guide the specific reforms made as part of the commitment includes CSOs selected by MSF members. [18] Hence, the commitment is expected to contribute to public participation, as defined by OGP standards.

The commitment is specific enough to be verifiable. However, the proposed solutions are modest. The milestones associated with the initiative focus exclusively on intermediary outputs rather than stating the targeted change expected. Despite the vagueness, interviewed MSF members recognized that this initiative has the potential to improve information accessibility. [19] Likewise, AT representatives described the initiative as “a commitment to make a plan”, and recognized that time constraints limited the scope. [20] It is therefore not clear how the commitment (if fully implemented) can contribute to the relevant issues identified in the action plan. There is a hypothetical chance that the commitment will change AT practices in a meaningful way, however, the description of how this change will take place is not specific enough. Hence, the IRM researcher judged the potential impact of the initiative as minor. In order to classify the potential impact of the initiative as moderate, more information was needed about how specifically the commitment is expected to improve the status quo.

Next steps

On the basis of the analysis above, the IRM researcher recommends the following steps:

  • This commitment should be prioritized in future action plans, but with more focused milestones. For instance, stating a goal of producing a specific number of new documents in plain Portuguese would be a stronger and more ambitious milestone, even if the exact topic of intervention is only decided later.
  • A future iteration of this commitment could go further in promoting civic participation by allowing some input from the general public in the meetings scheduled to evaluate issues relevant to citizens and businesses. This could be done through public consultations.
  • Consider conducting pilot studies with randomized control trials to acquire empirical evidence for some of the issues raised in the commitment. For instance, the claim that less legalistic language produces more litigation can be tested experimentally in a pilot study without significant costs.
[15] Hélder Lage, Tax Authority, interview with IRM researcher, 16 April 2019.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Hélder Lage, Tax Authority, interview with IRM researcher, 16 April 2019.
[19] Karina Carvalho, Transparency and Integrity, interview with IRM researcher, 17 April 2019; Cláudia Barroso and Tiago Mendonça, Administrative Modernization Agency, 22 April 2019.
[20] Hélder Lage, Tax Authority, interview with IRM researcher, 16 April 2019.