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A solution to chaos

"I like to simplify systems."

That's how Carlos Leony Fonseca da Cunha explains the origins of his involvement in a project that is changing the face of tax collection in São Paulo, Brazil's richest and most populous state.

As a private sector tax consultant working in the São Paulo state city of Limeria in 1996, da Cunha came up with the idea of creating an "Internet tax post" where citizens could expedite what has always been a complicated and paper-intensive chore. It was a modest effort, but it came to the attention of Yoshiaki Nakano, the state's secretary of finance.

Nakano, who was leading a wholesale effort to modernize the state's decrepit tax system, brought da Cunha on board, gave him a staff of 40 software programmers, and charged him with developing an Internet site that could duplicate all the functions of the state's brick-and-mortar tax centers. One year and roughly $5 million later, da Cunha's team produced the Posto Fiscal Eletrônico, arguably the most ambitious of a number of Internet-based tax applications now under development in Brazil (see story "To tax and please").

More than one million Brazilians regularly surf the Internet's World Wide Web, according to commercial estimates, and a significant number of them seem to have visited da Cunha's new site. "We inaugurated the site on Sept. 22, 1998, and in the first six weeks it was accessed 570,000 times," says da Cunha. Initially, the site basically provided information on tax laws, procedures and deadlines, plus e-mail addresses for government tax officials, who answer questions on-line. But during 1999 the site will introduce a number of interactive features, including the ability to register a taxpayer, and even make payments electronically.

Last September, da Cunha got a chance to show off the Posto Fiscal at IDB headquarters in Washington, D.C., during a conference on information technology and tax administration (see "There are no lines in cyberspace"). In yet another example of the Internet's versatility, conference participants were able to test drive the site at one of several computers set up outside the meeting room.

"I'm a curious individual," says da Cunha. "I like computers, but I am not fanatic about them and I am not a techie. I see the computer as a tool." What really excites him is the possibility that computers will ultimately help relieve the "stifling" nature of work as it is known in most large bureaucracies. "I have always seen informatics as a solution to chaos," he says. "Electronic government, when properly applied, will allow a new renaissance for humanity. After we overcome the first crisis brought on by changing workplace relationships, we will evolve into a more rationalized production model that will allow us to work a little less and devote more time to art, sports or politics."

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