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An assessment of government digitalization

WITH the pandemic slowing, we tend to look back on the lessons learned from our experiences. As a CPA in public practice, I can share my view on how it affected the audit and even the accounting profession.

Even before the pandemic, it was a government priority to streamline processes in order to effectively and efficiently deliver services to the public. In May 2018, as part of the 0+10 point socioeconomic agenda, Republic Act (RA) 11032 or the "Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act" was signed into law.

It amended the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 and incorporated provisions that directed government agencies and their instrumentalities to restructure ineffective systems and procedures, create information billboards of updated citizen's charters, reduce transaction processing times to three, seven and 20 days depending on complexity, maintain a zero contact policy through fully automated or online transactions, and establish a business one-stop shop for transactions with local government units. Appropriate sanctions for violations were included to strengthen implementation.

The transition was never expected to be a simple undertaking as it would be met with resistance and involved adaptation challenges. However, it seems that change was not a problem. Before the pandemic, Filipinos were heavily reliant on over-the-counter and cash-on-delivery methods of paying bills. Consistent with RA 11032 mandate, progress is apparent as electronic filing systems and digital online payments emerged under the pandemic, changing the way business dealings and government transactions are run. Lockdowns and the strict health and safety protocols pushed the need to shift to online systems.

For CPAs in public practice, the emergence of online submission and digital payment platforms rapidly reshaped the way clients and taxpayers comply with documentary requirements and tax liabilities. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), with which the practice of accounting is closely linked, have implemented significant improvements in terms of online filing and payment, eliminating the need for face-to-face interactions for some transactions and queuing in banks for over-the-counter payments, and also reducing paper waste.

In addition to the BIR's eFPS and eBIR filing systems, certain taxpayers can submit a scanned copy of filed tax returns and attachments through the Electronic Audited Financial Statement (eAFS) system in lieu of having the documents stamped as receive." The system was implemented in 2020 through Revenue Memorandum Circular (RMC) 49-2020 and in 2022, the bureau reiterated through RMC 40-2022 the system's applicability to any taxable year and all succeeding fiscal and/or taxable years and its existing submission procedures.

Taxpayers can access various e-payment channels for settlement of their tax liabilities. Payments can be made online, by credit or debit cards, and by mobile payments through the payment gateways of Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, Union Bank and through taxpayer software provider/taxpayer agents such as GCash, PayMaya or MyEG. Payments made through such channels provide an email confirmation receipt that taxpayers can attach to their documents as proof of payment.

In compliance with the ease of doing business law, SEC initiatives that significantly contributed to the accounting practice started with the introduction of MC 28-2020 on the requirement for corporations and individuals to create and/or designate email addresses and cellphone numbers for transactions with the commission. The SEC also launched online facilities applicable to the needs of clients and practitioners such as the Electronic Simplified Processing of Application for Registration of Company (SEC-ESPARC), SEC Electronic Filing and Submission Tool (eFAST), and the Electronic System for Payment to SEC (eSPAYSEC).

The SEC-ESPARC caters to registration of one person and domestic corporations (stock and nonstock) with two or more incorporators. The eFAST, previously known as the Online Submission Tool, can be used by enrolled corporations for submissions of audited financial statements, general information sheets, sworn statements for foundations, general forms for financial statements, special forms for financial statements and other reportorial requirements. Lastly, eSPAYSEC allows cashless payments of registration and other transaction fees as well as penalties.

Our country's systems may not be perfect yet but it's a good start toward a more automated way of doing business. I am confident that in a few years' time, the fruits of investments in IT infrastructure will benefit not only the government and related agencies, but more importantly, taxpayers and those in the audit and accounting profession. These emerging systems and existing platforms may have been the result of a mandate or need but one thing is certain: it is what is needed more than ever.

Mary Joyce Makilan is currently the audit supervisor of Inventor, Miranda and Associates. She was formerly assistant treasurer of the Acpapp's Negros Occidental chapter for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 and still remains an active member. She has more than four years of experience in various fields in the practice of profession. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of these institutions.

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