The director of the Revenue Agency, Ernesto Maria Ruffini
Ernesto Maria Ruffini from January 2020 he was recalled to the leadership of the Revenue Agency by the second Conte government. In his first experience at the helm of the tax authorities, called by Minister Padoan at the time of the Gentiloni government, he believed in technology, giving a strong acceleration to digitization. He had changed face and transformed Equitalia, only to be replaced by the arrival of the new post-election majority in 2018. It is not a simple task to be head of Revenue. Ruffini then had to defeat a severe illness from his office, as revealed by the then minister Gualtieri, because refreshments passed from his structure to the Italians in the darkest period of Covid. More than the Minister of Finance, the person in charge of the Revenue represents the tax person with all the implications typical of Italy: high tax burden, high tax evasion, high complications. All things that Ruffini knows very well. He worked as a tax lawyer for 20 years starting in Augusto Fantozzi’s office. Then the choice to go to the other side, confirmed in its role by the Draghi government on the recommendation of Minister Franco. These are the years of electronic invoicing, of the pre-filled 730 form and, lastly, of the electronic receipts and the pre-filled VAT form. But don’t tell him about Fisco, friend …
«Neither friend nor foe. The tax authorities must be fair and efficient », he answers the phone from his Rome office.
Evidently it is neither fair nor efficient at least for politics as party leaders are competing to change it. But someone calls you to ask for advice?
«Einaudi warned against theoretical councils, throwing from the tower – in reality, he threw them into Gehenna – what he called the abstract doctrinaires. As the Revenue Agency we limit ourselves to making our practical experience available to the institutions, so that whatever choice the legislator intends to adopt, it can have its concrete and simple application and not remain only on paper. In other words, one should not pursue absolute theoretical perfection at all costs, since the result could be absolute practical imperfection ».
Don’t hide behind the words. He is telling us that a tax reform cannot be improvised in a few words …
“But no. Indeed, the time is certainly ripe for a reform that also takes into account the installation cost that any structural reform entails for the administration and for the taxpayer, even more so if it is potentially complex. But above all for a reform that is widely shared to ensure that the new rules have a certain stability over time and to avoid that citizens, businesses and operators in the sector – including administration – have to continually adapt to changed regulatory frameworks ».
Every day we discover that we want to change this or that. You may have got used to it… we taxpayers just don’t.
“The Tax Office is a public work, perhaps the most important infrastructure in the country, because all the others depend on it and can only be built thanks to the state’s resources. That is why it is constantly undergoing so many changes. A site that is always open that requires long-term planning and constant ordinary and extraordinary maintenance. But it is an anomaly that the pre-filled declaration has instructions that exceed 130 pages, because they have to explain just as many rules and regulations ».
Sometimes you get the feeling that they want to change something they don’t know.
«Nobody can claim to know the tax system in its entirety, precisely because of its complexity. We all have to extricate ourselves from a confusing and sometimes incomprehensible jungle of laws. Yet, the Tax Authority touches every phase of our life, starting from the attribution to the birth of the tax code and health card, passing through the registration of rental contracts and the purchase of the first home, from the opening of a VAT number up to to the declaration of succession. Precisely for this reason a shared reform is needed to which everyone can offer their contribution. Because the tax authorities concern us all and the future of our community ».
What do you fear is the patchwork of laws stuck on top of each other?
«It is certainly necessary to deal with the jungle of rules that characterize the entire tax system. But laws alone are not enough to change the lives of citizens. Even the best of rules without an administration capable of enforcing it becomes ineffective. The public administration needs infrastructural resources, organizational capacity and, therefore, increasingly specialized human resources ».
But in the meantime, the Redditometer returns.
«In various forms, the income meter has never actually abandoned us since the 1980s to check those taxpayers who seem not to carry out any activity that could justify their standard of living. But the legislator will also be able to introduce new and more advanced mechanisms ”.
Assuming that it is not decided to make important changes such as the three rates proposed by Berlusconi.
«I have carefully read all the proposals put forward by the various political forces and it seems to me that all of them, without exception, represent a very strong need for change and simplification. These are aspects on which I am convinced we can find a synthesis, such as the one that has emerged in recent days for VAT holders, to overcome deposits and balances and finally make payments in installments month by month. The last major tax reform, the one conceived by Cosciani, dates back to the early seventies. Over time, many of those laws have lost their original function as a taxpayer’s compass and have been submerged by half a century of tax legislation ”.
And we don’t stop… Letta has proposed an inheritance tax to finance young people.
“These are choices that are up to the government and Parliament. The important thing is that it is a broad reform, in which the legislator finds a shared point of balance ».
There remains the issue of finding resources for the future and for the new generations.
“We have a great resource that could be useful to all of us. I am referring to the mountain of tax evasion which, if recovered, could be made available to a common project and to restart the engine of the country, because with little petrol you cannot go far ».
Are you the one who must look for the tax evaders, why is tax evasion so high?
«It is still too high for various reasons starting from its historical and cultural roots. One hundred years ago, Gobetti stated that the “Italian taxpayer pays by cursing the state; he is not aware of exercising, by paying, a real sovereign function. The tax is imposed on him ”. In reality, however, the data of the last few years tell us that it is slowly decreasing. And today the pandemic has made us understand even more how important it is to pay taxes in order to have efficient essential services ».
Okay culture, but can you verify? Isn’t it that with the excuse of privacy everything is blocked?
«Given that the protection of personal data is a must, but the right balance must be found, otherwise the right of the individual overrides that of the community to dispose of the resources deriving from the payment of taxes. In recent years, digitization has allowed significant progress and the wealth of data and information we have at our disposal would allow even greater results. But if we are not authorized to use them, the fight against tax evasion will always have the blunt weapons: it’s like having a car but keeping it parked in the garage ».
I would ask you one last question, you are the author of the pre-compiled 730, electronic invoicing, can we hope for some simplification in the coming months? And those 18 million Italians who have a dispute with the tax authorities can hope to close in some way? Maybe you too could better chase the tax evaders …
«The author is always the legislator and the results are of the women and men of the Agency. The 18 million to which he refers are those who have at least one payment note: it is a complex phenomenon on which there is the utmost attention ».
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