As the tax-filing season draws near, most people are setting about the unpopular business of organizing their financial documents.
One group of 15 people has another task ahead of them. They are seeking a ruling from the Council of Grand Justices to drop a lawsuit they have been engaged in for approximately two years concerning their participation in an "anti-tax campaign."
The campaign, launched in May 2005, had 31 participants. In a bid to highlight what they say is a tax system in desperate need of an overhaul, they claimed tax exemptions higher than the amounts stipulated in tax-related regulations.
They raised an exemption for each taxpayer from NT$74,000 to NT$108,000 and increased a deduction for one's spouse from NT$67,000 to NT$88,000.
In addition, they disregarded the regulations for an education deduction.
They deducted NT$50,000 for each dependent child, instead of the maximum of NT$25,000 per household with children in college.
"I knew that it was illegal, but I decided to take a firm stand," said Tan Hong-hui (
"Although I am an ordinary person, I wanted to do something to make tax reform an issue so that politicians would have to overhaul the unfair tax system," she said.
The tax system has long been regarded by the government as a policy tool to serve a variety of policy needs, rather than to ensure tax equity and fiscal soundness, she said.
Chien Hsi-chieh, who started the campaign, said that the country's average tax burden per income earner had decreased over the past 10 years from 18.8 percent to 12.3 percent.
"The salaried population carries 70 percent of the tax burden while businesses and wealthy people are able to pay little or even no taxes because of generous tax deductions and other tax-avoidance mechanisms built into the system," Chien said.
Another participant of the campaign, Sun Yi-hsin (
"Appealing [to the government] isn't enough. We have been calling for tax reforms for years," he said.
The specific goal of the campaign was to bring the issue to a constitutional level, in hopes that the grand justices would uphold a principle enshrined in the Constitution that stipulates that the means to afford minimum living standards that are part of human dignity should be exempted from taxation.
Tan, Chien and Sun are among 15 people the tax administration has contacted, requiring them to pay the difference between the taxes they paid and the taxes they should have paid according to law.
Chien said they were not sure why the other 16 people "succeeded in evading taxes," but they were really happy that 15 of them "got caught," which gave them the chance to continue with their campaign, which Chien said was a form of civil disobedience.
Acting on the advice of four lawyers helping the campaigners pro bono, the 15 activists chose not to follow their notifications requiring them to pay evaded taxes.
"I was told to seek a review first of the materials I filed from the tax administration. After that was turned down, I sent a petition to the Ministry of Finance, which was also rejected. Then I filed an administrative litigation with the Taipei High Administrative Court," Tan said.
The whole procedure, which has lasted two years thus far, has finally brought the tax reform campaigners to the stage they hoped to reach -- constitutional interpretation.
"Article 15 of the Constitution stipulates that the `right of existence' shall be guaranteed to the people, which is why our three demands for tax exemptions should be adopted," said Lai Chung-chiang (
The campaign came under criticism as defying tax laws, but Lai said that the group was seeking remedy for rights infringed upon via "due process of law."
Lai likened the campaign to a case in 2002, when the Council of Grand Justices ruled that a law banning students from running for public office was violated the Constitution.
The ruling was made in response to an appeal by Peng Tien-hao (彭天豪), a student who was not permitted to register as a candidate for the 1998 legislative election.
The law was found unconstitutional and as a result amended by the legislature in 2005.
"As in this case, the anti-reform campaign also aims to promote progress in the legal system," Lai said.
Regardless of the grand justices' ruling, Chien said that the campaign had already been at least partially successful because "we have learned practical anti-tax measures."
"We have equipped ourselves with capabilities to launch a massive anti-tax campaign," Chien said.
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