Marek Helm: Paying taxes should be made easy

Nortal HQ, April 27, 2017

In many countries, paying taxes is a hassle people prefer to avoid. Marek Helm believes people wouldn’t actually mind paying taxes if the process would be seamless and simple.

Estonian Tax and Customs Board has undergone severe changes during the last five years and today among one of the most trusted government institutions in the country. The Tax Board is set on a mission to make paying taxes such an easy and seamless process that people wouldn’t mind doing it, and in many aspects, this has already been achieved in Estonia.

The tax gap is one of the lowest in OECD countries, and recently the tax board announced a new, revolutionary service: businesses in Estonia can now pay taxes without any actual contact with the Tax Board. They just categorize an online bank transfer as salary and the rest will be taken care of.

To a great extent, the man behind these achievements is Marek Helm who led Estonia’s Tax Board for five years. Just recently he joined Nortal as our Head of Public Finance Management and is now based in Oman. He feels that one of the greatest professional achievements include building up the Tax Board’s reputation and improving taxation revenue in Estonia.

Helm admitted in an interview with Postimees, the most influential newspaper in Estonia, that his mission is to help other tax administrations in the world to go through similar changes.

 -Why did you join Nortal?

I liked Nortal’s global vision – to have a very strong and active presence outside Estonia, for example in the Middle East. It’s a place where Estonian companies don’t go very often. It shows courage to take risks, and also ambition.

I have been creating and using great tax solutions for years, so one of my roles is to advise and develop our customers’ organizations, using my experience in change management. My task is to provide customers with advice on what can be done with the help of IT, and how an organization can adapt to it and grow.

-What other plans does Nortal have besides the Omani tax board? Are these plans only Oman-based, or will you be looking around the region more widely?

We certainly have much wider interests in that region. Our interests are not only connected with the tax board, but also with the commercial register we have been developing in Oman. We are already present in Dubai, and we will also be looking around elsewhere. There are many projects, but they are under the purview of others.

-After the Estonian tax system has been established in the countries of the Middle East, then what?

It is too early to speak of, but offers are coming from different corners of the world to ‘please come and help us to put together a decent tax system’.

-If you were to look back now, was developing the e-tax board one of your greatest achievements?

What I am proud of is that in Estonia, the Tax Board has a very good reputation at the moment. We have managed to get Estonia from a black economy to the situation where taxes flow in easily. In recent years, tax income has been much better than economic growth would have allowed us to expect.

-During your leadership, some very harsh changes were made that were strongly criticized by entrepreneurs. Can the Tax Board go even further?

We went to the very edge, but we went there consciously. No one is speaking about the collection of every last, single euro, but when we lost 300 million euros in tax fraud in a single year, then we had to recognize that if nothing changes, the underground economy will not decrease.

It was also important to ask, what is the Tax Board’s purpose: to collect more and more taxes, at any price, or to find opportunities to support business? We decided on the latter. When we formulated this, we worked hard for a whole year to find the activities that would really support enterprises.

-What specific things should be done differently? For example, in the field of taxation and finance.

All state activities should be aimed at making money, for creating an environment that increases productivity; and makes entrepreneurs, and all people, richer.

If businesses are doing well, there is more tax income. But what are the initiatives, or the legislative amendments, that increase the income of the businesses now? We must look for more possibilities to earn more money for society.