Insights on the NTO Study Visit 2023

"I could talk about it for much longer… but it was indeed a very rewarding experience, both professionally and personally. We made friends, and we became much closer. Our organisations also became closer, benefiting the NTO"

From 4 to 11 October 2023, the headquarters of the Inter-American Centre of Tax Administrations (CIAT) in Panama City, Panama, transformed into a dynamic hub of learning and collaboration for some of the Network of Tax Organisations (NTO) members. With the aim to facilitate peer learning among NTO member secretariats, David Borja, Project Manager at CIAT, conducted an immersive study visit for two overseas colleagues: Roman Bichevoy, Strategy and Institutional Development Manager of the Intra-European Organisation of Tax Administrations (IOTA) and Petero Maivucevuce, Training Coordinator and Office Administrator at the Pacific Islands Tax Administrators Association (PITAA)

Useful, successful, professional, personal, learning, friendship, growth opportunity are some of the terms pronounced when participants of the first NTO Study Visit were asked about their first thought that would come to their minds when asked about the time spent in Panama.  

The Secretariat of the NTO held an exchange with David, Petero, and Roman to delve deeper in their experiences and explore the human connections and outcomes of the work shadowing programme. Highlighting the particularity of the network, this exchange took place over three time zones, and across three continents. Throughout the talk, the atmosphere was one of fellowship, cooperation, positive energy, and friendship.


Shot during the NTO Study Visit at CIAT headquarters in Panama City. 4 October 2023.
Shot during the NTO Study Visit at CIAT headquarters in Panama City. 4 October 2023.


Could you talk about a specific experience during the study visit that helped you understand some strategic processes in your tax organisation?  

Petero (PITAA): For me, it was portfolio management. I was just going through it again this morning. The thing that caught me was: it is it is more important to execute the right projects rather than to be efficient in delivering the wrong project.  

Roman (IOTA): Do you know these divers who jump into the water to find pearls? So, I was a diver when I came to Panama, and I was able to get many pearls from the bottom - and bring them up to the surface. This means, essentially, that I learned so much for me and for my organisation… way more than I expected!  

On project management, we discussed in detail all aspects in the project lifecycle. David and CIAT directors showcased practical examples and real tools and documents. We also explored process improvement through David's work, focusing on process mapping and documentation. Portfolio management, including how CIAT adds new projects and manages risks in the existing portfolio, was of particular interest as Petero referred. Unexpectedly, we learned about CIAT's finances since they had a financial subcommittee during the Study Visit, which provided us with the opportunity to ask questions on how CIAT ensures its financial sustainability. CIAT is the oldest organisation in the NTO: how did CIAT ensure its sustainability? How have they brought value for so long? This was crucial to me as my organisation, IOTA, established a finance subcommittee similar to how CIAT did it in 2007. 

In the Study Visit we also covered CIAT's collaboration with the private sector, particularly their partnership with Microsoft, and how they are operating it. So, in a nutshell, because I could talk about it for much longer… it was indeed a very rewarding experience, both professionally and personally. We made friends and we became much closer. Our organisations also became closer, which benefits the NTO. The learning was happening in three ways: we learned from the host, we learned from each other, and we thought and brainstormed about how the NTO can go forward and benefit from the work we are doing. It was very rewarding in all aspects.


You were in your organisation, David, but what did you get from the Visit? 

David (CIAT): We had the opportunity to find some synergies between the NTO member secretariats. We understood that the regional tax organisations have common processes and products, and the improvements that we can do in a specific process can be useful for the other NTO members. This is an opportunity not to reinvent the wheel.  

If we create a hub of information of all the NTO member secretariats and start thinking in the future, we can create solutions that are useful to all the network members. The discussions I had with Petero and Roman about the NTO role were very useful and I gained this perspective to think more strategically in the way the NTO needs to be conducted in the future. 

Roman (IOTA): To add to what David just said, prior to the Study Visit, the NTO functioned primarily as a virtual organisation because of its nature: a network of networks, ten networks combined in one. During our time in Panama, we started to lay the foundation for a stronger NTO, as resilient relationships between organisations are based in knowledge sharing and exchange, but also importantly, relationships between people. During the Study Visit, we transitioned from theoretical discussions to practical joint actions – which contributes to strength and futureproofing of the NTO to become a visible player in the international fiscal arena.  

Despite we were three different organisations at very different stages of its development, with fairly different membership bases and personnel, the Study Visit provided value to all of us, and all of us could bring insights and value back to the NTO by looking at what the NTO can do to expand and become future-resistant. 

We had had social interactions, we had formal and informal discussions. Again, this puts partners in NTO much closer together. If we work further, we will be able to develop practical ways of collaborating and building a stronger NTO. 

David (CIAT): I keep learning and I become more inspired just by having these conversations.


Petero and Roman meet with Marcio Ferreira Verdi, CIAT’s Executive Secretary.
Petero and Roman meet with Marcio Ferreira Verdi, CIAT’s Executive Secretary.


Which cultural insights or unique practices did you observe during this work shadowing? 

Petero (PITAA): Something that I found interesting was the working hours: in PITAA we are more output driven, so you could have any kind of working hours, but the focus would be to deliver the required output. In CIAT the working hours are different in comparison with PITAA. 


Roman (IOTA): What can I say? I think culture and social interactions were probably half of the pearls that I brought back to IOTA. You know… work never ends, but personally, the most valuable to me is the personal interactions, the relationships you develop with people. I was literally astonished by the warm welcome from everybody in the organisation, which was not only ceremonial but really sincere. CIAT was quite open at all levels.  

And a personal thank you to David, who spent his personal time welcoming us, helping us, and discussing things with us. He took us to the Panama Canal, which was one of the highlights of this event. We saw the canal, one of the largest handmade wonders of the world, and were able to establish a closer connection to David. This is, again, what bridges are built of: personal connections between people.


L to R: Petero Maivucevuce, David Borja & Roman Bichevoy at Canal de Panamá.
L to R: Petero Maivucevuce, David Borja & Roman Bichevoy at Canal de Panamá.


Was there any situation that took you out of your comfort zone? 

Roman (IOTA): This was not my first rodeo, and with such deep dive… the only thing that took me off was my trip to Panama: my flight was about 24 hours longer than expected. Nothing took me personally out of the comfort zone, except for the fact that you are learning so intensively. 

There is a lot of information that you have to process, and then go and connect the dots. Other than that, the way the Study Visit was structured, planned, and executed was flawless, I would say. 

Petero (PITAA): I totally agree with Roman. The Study Visit was really well planned and executed. There wasn’t really any discomfort that I experienced other than the time difference. David was very accommodative with us and ensured that we had the best experience not only during the formal Study Visit but also outside of it. The extra activities that he organised, the planning of the whole visit, and the support from the management… We would continue to acknowledge CIAT for that assistance and for ensuring that we are comfortable, and we do not miss a single thing from the experience.  

I really enjoyed participating in the Study Visit with Roman, especially given his insights and the different framing of questions. This really helped to bring out some of the questions that I couldn’t really frame in a way. 

For a moment, the virtual room filled with laughter as participants recalled the merciless Panamanian weather, the heat wave that shook our colleagues, and the sensation of being in a Hammam bath. 


Although you were in your ‘comfort zone’, David, did you experience any challenge? 

David (CIAT): It was challenging to try to exchange information that is more practical than theoretical. I wanted to provide examples and situations thar they would face back at home. I tried very hard to not only mention concepts, but to practically cover what we are doing at CIAT, using real examples and lessons learnt, and see their potential application in practice in other contexts. 


How would you name the Study Visit if it was a movie? 

David (CIAT): For me it would be the movie Inception. You have a dream – an idea – and you put this idea in the mind of somebody, and then it becomes their new reality. I think that we had this opportunity at CIAT to share some information and ideas with our colleagues – our friends by now. And then they had those new ideas and try and put them into action.  

And thank you all for your kind words. It was a pleasure to receive my friends at home, in Panama, and spend some time not only in the professional activity. I, like Roman, put a lot of value in the personal relations not only in the professional ones. 

Petero (PITAA): I could not think of an existing movie. I thought a movie I would create after coming back from the Study Visit with everything that happened in those two weeks… and it would be named “PITAA in Panama”. It was a really great experience to share with you, and I encourage that it continues taking place. 

Roman (IOTA): I had a bit of fun with this… I thought of Avengers, the tax mightiest heroes: fighting fraud and fighting non-compliance, something like that. You know this Marvel concept… different films with different superheroes doing their own thing but then it comes a time when they need to come together and they become unstoppable, and that’s what basically NTO did.


Work at CIAT Secretariat.
Work at CIAT Secretariat. 


As part of the NTO Strategy 2022-2025, study visits serve as a significant tool for fostering peer learning among member organisations and creating a vibrant platform for collaboration. The ongoing dialogue among tax organisations not only holds paramount importance for the authorities involved but also provides an opportunity to strengthen partnerships and shared interests. These visits play a crucial role in advancing collaboration and knowledge exchange within the network, as well as to consolidate and advance the NTO, as evidenced in the shared experiences of the “tax mightiest heroes in Panama”.  

The Intra-European Organisation of Tax Administrations (IOTA) will host the 2024 NTO Study Visit in its headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. Preparations in this regard have already started. More information on this matter will follow soon. 

The Secretariat of the Network of Tax Organisations extends special thanks to Petero, David, and Roman for their participation in such an insightful exchange in February 2024.


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