Why bother paying taxes if the people responsible for them are going to get up to no good? That is essentially the argument used by a revered Islamic figure in Indonesia amid increased scrutiny towards filthy rich officials.
Indonesia is seeing relentless witch-hunting of Ministry of Finance officials who seem to be living at standards well above their salaries should be able to afford them. This was triggered by last week's aggravated assault of a Jakarta tax official's son towards the son of a member of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – the largest Islamic organization in the world.
NU's former chairman, Said Aqil Siroj, on Tuesday warned that members of the organization, which exceeded 95 million people as of 2021, may consider not paying taxes as a result of the assault and continued "perversions" by public officials. He made a reference to Gayus Tambunan, a low-ranking tax official who became one of Indonesia's most infamous graft convicts in the early 2010s.
"If tax money is still being perverted, NU scholars will call upon its members to stop paying taxes," Said Aqil said.
Economists say Said Aqil's words represent a serious threat to the state's income – one that should spur the government to clean up the Tax Directorate General.
And it's a threat that the government seems to be taking seriously – for optics, if nothing else. This morning, Tax Director General Suryo Utomo met with NU leaders, including sitting Chairman Yahya Cholil Staquf and director Jusuf Hamka, who denied that the organization would call for a tax boycott based on the faults of a few bad apples in the directorate general.
"As ulemas, we must not provoke... people not paying taxes would represent a setback [to the country's development]," Jusuf Hamka said.