Thu, 24 Jul 2003

'Comportable' prison to house tax evaders

Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Although the government has provided a special executive-class cell for recalcitrant tax evaders, spending a night at it will be an experience they are unlikely to forget.

Rats, blood-sucking mosquitoes and extortion by prison guards are just a few of the experiences tax evaders serving a temporary detention have to look forward to.

"This is part of the government's shock therapy to boost compliance of taxpayers with the tax laws," said Director General of Taxation Hadi Poernomo in his visit to take a look at the new cell facilities for tax evaders at the Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta on Wednesday.

Hadi's visit was part of preparations to implement a new decree signed last month by the minister of finance and the minister of justice and human rights that allow tax evaders to be imprisoned for a maximum of one year without trial.

The new policy was aimed at enforcing the government's rights in collecting tax, which is badly needed by the cash-strapped government to finance the state budget.

Based on the joint decree, temporary detention will be imposed on those evading taxes of over Rp 100 million (US$12,000) owed to either the central or local governments.

During the visit Hadi explained that the government had allocated three blocks to temporarily house tax evaders until they agree to pay their obligations to the state.

Each block consists of between three and five cells measuring 5 meters x 6 meters, with each cell having the capacity to accommodate up to five inmates. The cells are separated from those for criminals and drugs abusers.

As for the meals, each tax evader will receive a meal worth Rp 4,500 and 450 grams of rice per day. A typical meal may consist of a boiled egg, tofu, fried fish and vegetables.

However, all the prison guards said that in terms of facilities the special cells were considered comfortable compared to other cells in the penitentiary.

"In the special cells you can bring in your own home theater, refrigerator, mobile phone, or even gym facilities," said a guard who refused to be named.

But, as widely reported, to get all the comforts of home, inmates will have to pay a certain amount of money requested by the guards which can reach millions of rupiah.

Moreover, tax evaders will also have to pay for their own "security" during their time in the prison. They will be in jeopardy, as they may become victims of sodomy, if they fail to comply with corrupt prison guards.

However, Cipinang chief of security Djoko Mardjo denied that such practices existed, saying that they were all baseless.

Between the end of 2002 and the second week of June, the tax office had issued travel bans against 39 tax evaders including eight expatriates. These 39 tax evaders would likely be the first to be targeted under the new ruling.

Tax evaders can be imprisoned for six months, a sentence which can be extended for another six-month period. The tax office will issue an order to seize and auction the evaders' assets during their incarceration.

However, the tax office will issue several warnings before sending tax evaders to prison.

If tax evaders fail to pay their taxes after 37 working days, the office will send a warning letter to them; 21 days after that, the office will send a reprimand. If they still show no goodwill, the office will issue a travel ban.

The tax evaders will be sent to prison if they show no intention of settling their obligation 21 days after the ban has been issued.