Ethics has always been discussed in business organizations as in how it affects their reputation and standing. Enron, Arthur Andersen and many more corporate institutions in theUnited States collapsed not because of the lack of knowledge, skills, and ability. They, in fact, hired the most intelligent and smart people . The cause of their failure was involvements inboth illegal and unethical activity (Petrick & Scherer, 2003). In the business world, revenue, stock profits, and taxes often drive leaders to make unethical decisions such as falsifying financial statements and revenue to satisfy personal investment, which almost always have direct relation with business performance . Thus, many researches and white paper analyses focus on the failure of these business organizations. The discussion of this paper focuses on how tax collector actions and decisions may affect government revenue collections. Tax collector is considered an important figure, similar to police and military officers. ‘There is almost no civilization that did not tax’  explains the importance of tax collectors and their contribution. Without a proper system and poor ethics, the country’s financial system may collapse and this may negatively contribute to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Thus, the need for an effective ethics program and ethics training for tax collector is vital to promote stability of the tax system and the country’s economy at the same time. The Human Resource (HR) practitioner roles are important in designing and developing the ethics program and training to increase employees’ compliance in the organization regardless of position or level. Also, top senior management needs to be involved directly and should own the idea for ‘buy in’ in order to ensure success of the program.
This paper is divided into four sections. In section 1, the definition of tax, tax collector, ethics, ethics program, and ethics training will be explained including their relationships. In section 2, the need for ethics training and its significance towards Return on Investment (ROI), CPI, FDI, and government stakeholder satisfaction are explored. The following section discusses ethical training approaches and key factors to be implemented for tax collectors. The final section of the paper discusses recommendations and future research development.
Section 1: Tax and ethics
A research has stated that, ‘Six thousand years ago, tax history started with records on clay cones in Sumeria,’ (Torgler, 2003); it emphasizes on the importance of tax for a country . In this section taxes and their element definitions, including tax collectors, tax payers, tax evasion, and tax shelter, are explained. ‘Taxation’ can be seen as ‘a price paid for government’s positive actions’ . Based on career definition, ‘tax collector’ is also referred to as ‘revenue officer, who attempts to gather money owed to the government by individuals or businesses.’ Tax collector checks into the background of those who have struggled to pay; they also communicate with these people to work toward a solution. Most tax collectors work for the government at federal, state or local levels . The job itself is tough, requiring good communication skills, persuasion skills, high level skills of accounting, finance, management and, also, investigation skills. On the other hand, ‘taxpayer’ is ‘the one who bears the tax liability for any particular transaction’ . ‘Tax evasion’ is defined as an ‘illegal practice where a person, organization or corporation intentionally avoids paying his/her/it’s true tax liability’ . ‘Tax shelter’ is a ‘transaction or investment by which a taxpayer shelters some or all income from tax liability because of tax credits or applicable deductions’ , and that ‘all citizens have the right to reduce the amount of taxes they pay as long as it is by legal means’ . Since tax collectors deal a lot with the public and businesses, they are highly exposed to bribery and corruption. In Malaysia, a tax collector is also categorized as an enforcement officer, and according to the Integrity Institute of Malaysia (IIM), 70% of public servants who usually receive bribery and gratification consist of enforcement officer . Another common unethical practice by tax collector is the individualistic attitude in reporting colleague’s unethical activities. According to Noorfaizah, Zawiyah & Muslimin (2004), in Malaysian culture, tax collectors would prefer to keep silence about a misconduct that they are fully aware of, rather than whistle-blowing. This means that the “whistleblower” culture is not embraced and practiced by them . It proves that unethical practices do exist in the daily life of a tax collector. Additionally, some tax collectors are aware of their lack of ability and skills in obtaining tax from tax payers, yet they are reluctant to admit and inform their lack of talent. According to Marshall, Robert & Malcolm (1998), ‘The most frequently cited ethical issue is the failure to make reasonable enquiries where information or documentation provided by a client appears to be inaccurate or incomplete’ . Without skills and talent, tax collectors are aware of the fact that taxpayers can easily evade tax; yet they are reluctant to improve themselves with the necessary skills perhaps due to fear of embarrassment or getting transferred to another department, or even losing their job. This feeling of reluctance itself is an ethical problem among tax collectors and tax agencies. Thus, it is very important for tax collectors to sustain a high level of resistance towards negative influence and maintain patriotism towards their country. High ethics among the tax collectors can contribute significantly to efforts in convincing taxpayers to pay , and at the same time decrease tax evasion and tax shelter possibility.
‘Ethics’ is defined as ‘inquiry into the nature and grounds of morality where the term morality is taken to mean moral judgment, standards and rules of conduct’ ; ‘values and judgments’ play of critical role when we make ethics decision,’ (Ferrell, Fraederich, & Ferrell (2009). In other words, ethics actually should be in all of us and across all professions. Soskolne & Sieswerda (2003) said that facilitating development and introduction of a comprehensive ethics program into ‘any particular professional organization is needed if the public interest is to be optimally protected’ . Research studies have shown that an ethical tax collector and officer who, generally, can be trusted with high personal integrity may attract taxpayers to actually pay, rather than evade tax. Even though taxation is perceived as a formal system to any country, but the approach taken by tax collectors determines and affects taxpayers. Research by Torgler (2003) explains that ‘positive actions by the state are intended to increase taxpayers’ positive attitudes and commitment to the tax system, tax payment, and thus compliant behavior. The way people are treated by the authorities affects their evaluations of authorities and their willingness to co-operate’ .
The need for an ethical government official or tax collector to attract and persuade a taxpayer to pay tax, in turn, explains the need for having a structured and effective ethics program and ethics training. In addition, in any organization, a standard rule of conduct should be introduced beforehand because, according to Ferrell et al. (2009), ‘Human comes from different family background, culture, experience, and education.’ In any organization, ethics training is considered as a part of the larger ethics program. Ethics program usually consists of, 1) the general code of conduct, 2) the ethics officer who oversees the program, 3) continuous planning for training sessions and many more, as such program can help an organization ‘avoid civil liability’ . Thus, a successful ethics program for tax collectors should be well-integrated and understood by them in order to achieve the highest level of effectiveness.
‘Training’ generally means ‘a planned effort by a company to facilitate employees’ learning of job-related competencies’ . The competencies are described by Noe (2008), as knowledge, skills or behavior that are critical for successful job performance. Based on the definition above, it is clear that training often refers to Knowledge (K), Skills (S), and Ability (A). This is especially true because ethics training is still seen as secondary and it will not even be considered in performance review . In the United States of America, for example, a survey by National Business Ethics Survey shows that 69 % of the company by 2005 provided some sort of ethics training. Unfortunately, only 54% of those who implemented the training assessed the effectiveness of such training . Based on these figures ethics training and evaluation is needed to be incorporated to the organization strategy.
Section 2: Ethics training impact on ROI, FDI and government stakeholder satisfaction.
This section mainly discusses the advantages of ethics training for tax collectors, especially in their decision making. As mentioned in the above section, ethics training is crucial for tax collectors because their code of conduct will determine the level of trust and cooperation given by taxpayers. In this section, further discussion on the benefits of ethics training to tax collectors is explored. Among the first thing is the ROI. According to Ferrell et al. (2009), ROI refers to comparing training monetary benefits with training cost. Training cost often involves direct and indirect costs. Often, discussion of ROI refers to training in terms of Knowledge, Skills and Ability because the benefit can be measured in terms of productivity or skills effectiveness towards organization performance . Ethics training, however, receives less popularity because of assumptions that ethics only serve to increase personal moral philosophies, or only for social responsibilities moral (Elias, 2002). The 2005 Industry Report shows the percentage of companies providing different types of training but, without any mention of special allocation for training. Most of the time, ethics training is included in an orientation program, and it should be continuously scheduled in such program. However, in order to take credit for the impact of the training, a ‘bench level’ should be established before the training is launched . In this case, the CPI is chosen as the bench level of the country’s performance in international arena.
In the author’s opinion, ethics training will directly benefit tax collectors, and will be able to answer questions such as how the ethics training is justifiable, which operational division will be impacted by the training, and the amount of training cost. The ROI of ethics training for tax collectors can be compared to the numbers of taxpayers who are willing to pay without hassle, the amount of tax paid by taxpayers, and the number of tax evasion reported to the department.
Indirectly, ROI can also be measured in terms of the FDI because the ‘benefits of training should be identified, quantified and converted to dollar values’ . To illustrate the benefits of ethics training indirectly towards the FDI, the relationships between ethics program and corruption, and between CPI and FDI will be explained.
Ethics program should not be seen as a means to develop personal growth or social responsibility only. It should cover the whole system of an organization and its country. An ethical person may perceive that he has already done his part in being good, honest, and loyal to his or her organization. Unfortunately, if the organization practices corrupted system convicting him or her, it is regarded as non-compliance to the legal or ethics point of view. The key point is that ethics is integrated in and should be embraced by each and every member of any community. A malfunctioning community that accepts unethical behaviors such as illegal misconduct and corruption will have to pay a very high price. One unethical person may influence others in the community and, sooner or later unethical behaviour will become a norm in the community consisting of a collective of unethical individuals . An example of a collective of unethical or, in this case, collective corruption is the Lai Changxing’s smuggling empire case. This corruption case in China has generally taken the forms of officials acting individually or in small groups for their own benefit or the benefit of their unit . The most important part in implementing ethics training program in an organisation, specifically for tax collectors, is to first combat corruption. According to Gorta (2003), corruption involves the misuse of public office and, commonly, it involves the dishonest or biased use of power or position resulting in one person being advantaged over another . It also involves the misuse of information gained while performing public office. For tax collectors, corruption may occur when taxpayers bribe them, instead of paying tax to the benefit of their country. And, normally, the personal amount paid to the tax collectors is less than what has been initially imposed on the taxpayers. According to Voyer and Beamish (2004), ‘Moneys that should go into social programs, or to either directly or indirectly aid individuals, instead, due to implications of corruption, go into the pockets of those corrupt officials’ .
Corruption has and will continue to become every country’s enemy until the country has its own index called the CPI, published by the Transparency International in 1995. It ranked all countries according to ‘the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians’ . A higher score means less (perceived) corruption. In 2009,Malaysia was ranked at 56 with a CPI level of 4.5. A level of below 5.0 reflects a serious problem of corruption and, consequently, may attract less investment by the outsiders . According to Al-Sadig (2009), corruption has a negative impact on the level of investment and economic growth, on the quality of infrastructure and on the productivity of public investment, on health care and education services and on income inequality. All those factors are found to be important determinants of FDI location. Another view by Al-Sadig (2009) is, ‘Foreign investors would tend to avoid investing in countries with high levels of corruption’ . For example, Voyer and Beamish (2004) proved that ‘the levels of perceived corruption in emerging economies are significant predictors of Japanese FDI’ . They also explained that‘corruption was correlated to GNP per capita, power distance, masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance’ .
Ethical tax collectors, despite their small contribution per person, play a significant role in enhancing their country’s economy and stability. Thus, the most direct benefited stakeholder is the government itself where it will receive a stable and higher national income for the country. Next in line will be taxpayers. An ethical tax collector will not only avoid taking bribery, but will also make wise, ethical decisions resulting in fairness to taxpayers. It is important for taxpayers to be treated equally with fair judgment without any discrimination, regardless of the tax payers’ status and rank in the community. As mentioned by Torgler (2003), taxpayers will be more cooperative and pay their taxes to officers who are honest and trustworthy. Another interested party is the citizens of the country i.e. the government’s major stakeholder who has a direct interest on the revenue collected. In addition, their satisfaction may diminish their perception towards the government, especially the tax collectors who are traditionally perceived to be receiving bribes, gifts, or involved in syndicated crimes with tax payers.
Section 3: Ethics Training approach by the HR Department.
The Human Resource Department in government tax agencies is the best division to organize ethics programs. In Malaysia, although the IIM has already forged a smart partnership with other government agencies, especially those with enforcement officers , HR should also take control of and be responsible for ethics programs within the organization by developing comprehensive training sessions aimed at cultivating an ethical culture for tax collectors. The HR policy needs to be updated and enforced to attract and retain talented employees with high ethics and compliance to the job assigned. In addition, the ethics program should not only focus on lower level employees, but also on leaders of tax agencies i.e. with emphasis on the recruitment process right up to the development process. Pelletier and Bligh (2006) described that it is important for public agencies as well as private sector organizations to recruit ethical individuals in the key leadership positions to foster an ethical culture . Therefore, HR should play a very important role in molding its human capital to be not only skillful, knowledgeable, but also accountable with a comprehensive and systematic ethics program. It should also investigate the causes and symptoms of problematic tax collectors in its organization, and continuously examine tax collectors benefits, promotion, and other compensation appropriately in order to avoid any dissatisfaction among them that may lead to unethical behavior and corruption. Voyer and Beamish (2004) define corruption as ‘a cancer which affects all elements of society, especially the poor, and significantly, hampers business activity and economic development’ .
According to IIM through a survey entitled ‘Kesan Beban Hutang Ke Atas Kecenderungan Penjawat Awam Menerima Suapan’ (The Effect of Personal Debt towards Civil Servant’s Inclination to Accept Gratification), most public servants receive gratification or bribery due to high personal debt (73.9%) . According to a research, the CPI could be predicted based on a country’s poverty level, indicating that officials, police and teachers are so poorly paid in poor nations that, without side income, they could not afford their living expenses . Listed here are some experiences and examples of steps taken to create ethics program with various objectives relative to an organization.
In New South Wales, Australia, the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) has outlined steps to overcome corruption in the public sector. The steps include (1) focus on systems and ethical culture, rather than simply on the behavior of individuals to prevent future corruption; (2) take a multi-strategy approach to combating corruption; (3) work in collaboration with other agencies; (4) consider the employees’ perspective to inform corruption-prevention strategies; and (5) monitor outcome . In 2009, Australia was ranked 8thwith a score of 8.7 in CPI . In another situation, a group of professional scientists develops a set of statements that articulate the group’s norms of professional conduct in the form of code of ethics and ‘the code of ethic will be passed to the next generation’ .
Ferrell et al. (2009) listed the minimum requirement for ethics and compliance program adapted from United States of America Sentencing Commission. The researchers explained that ethics training is only a small part in a broader context of ethics program. Therefore, the minimum requirement for ethics program should include: (1) standards and procedures such as code of ethics, (2) high level personnel responsible for ethics program, (3) no substantial discretionary authority given to individual with misconduct, (4) standards and procedures communicated clearly through ethics training, (5) system to monitor, audit and report misconduct, (6) consistent enforcement of standards, codes and punishment and, (7) continuous improvement of the ethics and compliance program .
It is most important for HR to develop an effective and efficient ethics program and training. Different methods can be used i.e. from classroom training to virtual or online training. According to Noe (2008), virtual training or e-learning is able to train more employees in a shorter period of time with reduced cost . Verreault, Yang & Angel (2004) expressed aversion towards the traditional approach, saying that ‘more detailed instruction might not really help because the traditional approaches to ethical problem solving are difficult to apply to many modern settings’ . This is true especially in regards with government agencies because traditional training approach means a bigger budget for expenses on location, time, instructor, and allocation for participants. Further, the effectiveness and efficiency of such training would still be questionable unless the program is run on a monthly basis. Ethics should be reminded constantly and consistently, therefore, the modern training approach is preferred. For example, the HR could design a virtual and online training running on intranet with syllabus, quiz, and visuals created based on real life situation and actions. In fact, ‘most experts also agree that the most effective methods of ethics training is exercise in resolving ethical dilemma scenarios and by discussing it with peers’ . Ferrell et al. (2009) also suggested that ethics training should serve as a communication platform to deliver information to tax collectors, such as the person they should refer to for advice on ethics-based cases, and who would also help them understand and resolve situations that call for ethical judgment better. For tax collectors, training may involve simulation of different scenarios, locations, persons, and types of taxes that they often deal with. This is important as most of the time tax collectors deal with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and countries i.e. from big tycoons to small, amateur entrepreneurs, and mere public citizens. Bribery and corruption can occur in the most bizarre and smoothest technique, thus, tax collectors need to be well-trained and always prepared in order to make wise, ethical decisions in any given circumstances as such. As quoted in Transparency International, ‘There is no blueprint for an effective system to prevent corruption, but there is a growing international consensus as to the salient institutional features that work best to prevent corruption and promote integrity’ . In the Malaysian context, ‘the CPI score decline from 5.1 in 2008 to 4.5 in 2009 may be attributed to the perception that there has been little progress combating corruption and a lack of political will to implement effective anti-corruption measures and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) appears to focus on “small fish” and opposition politicians’ .
Section 4: Recommendations and Future Research
The issue of tax collectors and tax payers is not new. Taxation has been in existence since 6 thousand years ago and that there has always been the issue of dissatisfaction and non-compliance among taxpayers. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the importance of tax collectors’ role in contributing to the development of the country directly and indirectly. Leaders should own the ideas and make the initiative to nurture the ethical behavior and ‘compliance’ among tax collectors and taxpayers in the tax system and policy. Meanwhile, HR practitioners should creatively design and develop ethics training programs that are aligned with its organization’s strategic planning, in efforts to equip tax collectors with broader knowledge and skills, thus able to make wise, ethical decisions. Taxpayers should also be informed and communicated to clearly on the importance of being compliant and responsible for tax payment, and the consequences of evading tax. Based on the literature review and discussions that include tax collectors, the government, the importance of ethics training programs and approaches, a few recommendations on programs aimed to uphold the ethics of, particularly, tax collectors and, generally, public servants in Malaysian government agencies has materalized.
Develop Comprehensive Ethics Program
Ethics program should be included in the strategic planning of any government agencies. It should not be isolated and introduced only when an employee is first introduced to his or her job. In designing ethics programs, common mistakes may have occured inducing studies especially by HR practitioners in government agencies. Ferrell et al. (2009) have laid out six common mistakes when designing ethics programs, ‘(1) Failure to understand the goals of ethics program, (2) Setting unrealistic and measurable program objectives, (3) Senior management failure to follow and take ownership of ethics programs itself, (4) Developing program that is not suitable for an average employee, (5) Implementing ethics program that is not suitable with the country’s culture, and, (6) Designing ethics program comprising lecture series’ . In addition, Bryson suggested that the HR Department functions accordingly because ‘people are necessary to create the new order, culture, systems, and structures that will focus and channel efforts toward effective implementation’ .
As a solution to reduce civil servants’ inclination towards giving and receiving gratification and bribery due to their personal debts, HR should design and develop a more attractive compensation and benefits system, and to consider the basic needs of civil servants. Milkovich and Newman (2008) discussed the objective of compensation and that it has to ‘include the efficiency, fairness, and compliance with law and regulations’ .
Instructional Approach for Ethics Training
As mentioned in section 3, ethics training comes in various techniques and approaches. It is suggested that further research needs to be conducted in enhancing instructional approach on ethics training, specifically for tax collectors and government agencies. In a recent study on a business organization in the United States has shown that only 54% out of 69% who provide ethics training measures the effectiveness of their training . Thus, effectiveness and efficiency of such training should also be measured to determine whether the training has actually achieved its objectives set by the organisation.
Increase Participation in International Publication
The Integrity Institute of Malaysia (IIM) was launched by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, YAB Dato’ Seri Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi in 2004. The institute is one of the various projects under the Malaysian National Integrity Plan. The institute mission is to enhance the Malaysian citizen’s integrity. Some of its functions include researching on integrity in government systems, corporate and community, provide trainings to government servants, holding conferences and seminars, and publish publications focusing on integrity . The institute has also run the National Perception Index locally in 2007 – the most recent study conducted . Thus, it is suggested that Malaysia should contribute its report on national corruption and its strategic planning in combating corruption internally to the Transparency International. Currently, there are not many Asian countries contributing such reports that other countries can refer to for examples and case studies.
Discussion and Conclusion
This study concludes with an emphasis on the importance of the role of tax collectors and how ethics program may help boost the country’s economy. From the tax collector’s perspective, being ethical or unethical highly depends on the individual. The government may help create incentives to reduce unethical behavior among officers, HR may provide programs and trainings, the community may give constructive criticisms, but, at the end of the day, the problem is actually rooted within the individual as a result of their upbringing. Therefore, in the early years of education, parents and educators must stress on moral and ethics. As Soskolne and Sieswerda (2003) said, ‘That is why parents and educators have roles with such a weight of moral responsibility. We are training the next generation. We must strive to pass on to them a moral compass based on consistent and just behavior’ . The success of the new era of ethical and compliance community highly depends on parents, educators, employers, society, and government. In addition, transparency in denying unethical behaviors and non-compliance especially towards corruption is important and must be declared in action. Voyer and Beamish (2004) said that, ‘Corruption matters. It has a real and important impact on governments, businesses, and individuals’ . Let bygones be bygones, and let us adopt high level of ethics and compliance in efforts to improve our lives, creating an ethical social culture.
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