Tax practitioners: Are we taking responsibility?
22 February 2013
Posted by: Stiaan Klue
"This is what I get for killing people”? No, this is what I get for defending myself.”
- Francis "Two Gun" Crowley
These are the words of a killer, the gunman who didn’t smoke or drink, dating back to January 1932.
Our country was shocked last week when Paralympic hero, Oscar Pistorius, allegedly shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The events are currently unfolding, with the whole nation and world waiting to hear the full story, many hoping that it was a terrible..terrible accident.
History and accountabilityOn May 7, 1931, the most sensational manhunt New York City had ever known had come to its climax. After weeks of search, "Two Gun” Crowley—the killer, the gunman who didn’t smoke or drink—was at bay, trapped in his sweetheart’s apartment on West End Avenue. One hundred and fifty policemen and detectives laid siege to his top-floor hideaway. They chopped holes in the roof; they tried to smoke out Crowley, the "cop killer,” with teargas. Then they mounted their machine guns on surrounding buildings, and for more than an hour one of New York’s fine residential areas reverberated with the crack of pistol fire and the rut-tat-tat of machine guns. Crowley, crouching behind an over-stuffed chair, fired incessantly at the police. Ten thousand excited people watched the battle. Nothing like it ever been seen before on the sidewalks of New York.
When Crowley was captured, Police Commissioner E. P. Mulrooney declared that the two-gun desperado was one of the most dangerous criminals ever encountered in the history of New York. "He will kill,” said the Commissioner, "at the drop of a feather.”
But how did "Two Gun” Crowley regard himself? We know, because while the police were firing into his apartment, he wrote a letter addressed "To whom it may concern, ” and, as he wrote, the blood flowing from his wounds left a crimson trail on the paper. In this letter Crowley said, "Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.”
A short time before this, Crowley had been having a necking party with his girlfriend on a country road out on Long Island. Suddenly a policeman walked up to the car and said, "Let me see your license.” Without saying a word, Crowley drew his gun and cut the policeman down with a shower of lead. As the dying officer fell, Crowley leaped out of the car, grabbed the officer’s revolver, and fired another bullet into the prostrate body. And that was the killer who said, "Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.’ The point of the story is this: "Two Gun” Crowley didn’t blame himself for anything.
Today, tomorrow, together?
Exactly a year ago the Minister of Finance sent shock waves through the tax community when he announced the poor level of compliance of tax practitioners. Subsequently, amendments to the Tax Administration Act introduced the regulation of tax practitioners - effective from 1 July 2013. Government is clearly not happy with the culture and low level of accountability of some tax practitioners, hence the swift change in law to regulate the profession. The Institute also regularly receives complaints from taxpayers that their tax practitioners fail to submit tax returns on time, leaving taxpayers with penalties.
Perhaps it is time for the practitioner community to critically reflect on its willingness, or lack thereof, to accept accountability. Learned psychologists argue that we, humans, generally find it difficult to take responsibility, and are very quick to find excuses to defend our actions.
The regulation of tax practitioners will make it extremely difficult to shy away from our obligation as professionals.As Hamlet said to Ophelia, ‘God has given me one face and you make yourself another.’