Managing tax administrations, lessons learned

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Spring 2009
Harvard Kennedy School
Managing for Public Purpose

Carolina Roca,
Harvard University, WCFIA

The interaction between academics and practitioners and how they can learn from each other has been an ongoing discussion in universities and development organizations. This work, presented in the format of an interview, intends to be atestimony of how both communities may benefit from systematic exchanges, providing practitioners with state of the art analytical frameworks to review their practices; and academics with new, first hand information on real cases. Together they could draw management lessons to improve future performance in the field as well as to identify issues that need to be further studied by academia.Practitioners and Academics Learning Together

Interview with the former Commissioner of Tax and Customs Administration of Guatemala

The interaction between theory and practice has been largely debated in the academic world. The “Practitioners and Academics Learning Together” –PAL – Program is a novel initiative of Harvard University through which a rich exchange is taking placebetween Public Leaders (government institutions, political parties, NGOs and civil society organizations), and professors and researchers of the Harvard Government, Education and Business Schools.

Through a systematic process, the academics select a series of successful and unsuccessful cases of institutional strengthening, modernization or innovation programs. The sample is put together tryingto represent as far as possible, all the regions of the world, different types of services, institutional purposes, sizes of organizations, and levels of complexity in the service delivery.

Once the cases have been selected, the leaders who have implemented them are invited to participate in a two-weeks in campus seminar where a) the Professors present the relevant theories and analyticalframeworks in order to analyze and discuss the cases with practitioners; b) the leaders present their cases to the academics and together they identify the key factors for success or failure of particular measures, instruments or policies; c) the practitioners provide material and detailed information so that researchers can later write case studies and, d) the researchers make a length andstandardized interview with the leaders in order to identify the lessons learned from the institutional change experience.

At each seminar, the academics may change the issues that they are interested in assessing from the practical cases.

This interview with Mrs. Carolina Roca, former Tax and Customs Commissioner of Guatemala, is part of the first seminar of the PAL Initiative carried out during thespring of 2009 at Harvard, in Cambridge, MA.

1. Could you describe the national and institutional context for the organizational change process you implemented at SAT?

Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America, where foreign trade accounts for an important part of the national production, with its main exports being vegetables, bananas, coffee and more recently, services andmining products. It is a country with a great ethnic and cultural diversity, with 50% of the population being descendants of the Mayas. In this group, one finds the highest concentration of poverty and inequality indexes. The government spending accounts for approximately 15% of the Gross Domestic Product, and thus, an extremely limited amount of resources to be invested in the provision of basicpublic services is one of the major national challenges.

The country underwent a lengthy armed conflict between the Army and the Guerrillas, which ended in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Accords, where important commitments were established to strengthen the foundations of democracy, distribution of wealth, the economy and basic social services. Democratically elected governments, slight...
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