A Mongolian lawyer is serving as the youngest advisor to Germany’s Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble. Her name is S.Bilguun and she gave an extensive interview about her career, ways to improve Mongolia’s tax system, and more.
It definitely isn’t easy to enter the German government and, not to mention, become an advisor to the minister. How did you become an advisor to Minister Wolfgang Schauble?
I first came to Germany in 1997, when I was 10. Before that, I studied for four years at the Mongolian-Russian School No. 3 in Mongolia. I finished secondary school, college and university in Germany. Now, I’m studying at a service tax vocational training institute to earn a state title while working at the ministry. I will graduate this year.
Before entering the ministry, I worked as a tax lawyer and analyst at the best tax preparation company in Germany while playing the stock market. Now, I’m a civil servant. Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble has 96 advisors and I’m the youngest among them. I competed against 130 people for this position. Around 20 people passed the first examination, but I was selected after a job interview.
What kinds of questions were asked during the interview? How were you different from other applicants? In general, what are the criteria for German civil service employees?
I was asked why I wanted to become a social worker, why I want to work in the government and other difficult questions during the interview. You must be a German citizen to be able to serve the government. Advisors can be foreigners. Education background and the way people were raised are the most important criteria.
I think I was slightly better in the language department than other interviewees. Besides German, I can speak Russian, English and Mongolian. They probably took speaking ability and personality into account when hiring. It seems that the government prioritizes hiring skilled foreign human resources for advisory positions.
What do you do as a tax advisor to the Federal Minister of Finance?
I’m currently working as an advisor for tax related matters in Berlin. Every advisor has a personal secretary. I’m in charge of many things. For example, for laws, I have to manage everything starting from its drafting process to implementation. I review all legislations to see if they’re consistent and if there’s anything that needs to be vetoed, as well as whether all legislations have regulations and procedures that are practical purposes. I also overlook all seasonal budgets. Budgets are very important. If there’s any tax-related problems at a government body, I have to find a solution for it.
You mentioned that the way someone was raised is a very important criterion for recruiting new civil service employees. How do Germans educate and nurture their children?
I personally believe that I was raised in both Mongolian and German manner. Germans follow three principles when raising a child. Firstly, to always be on time. Secondly, always greet others and be polite. Thirdly, make sure to complete any task to the best of one’s abilities. These things are taught from a young age and they determine what kind of an individual children turn into. I learned these things from secondary school. I may look like an Asian with dark hair to Germans on the outside but inside, I’m similar to most of them. I also have Mongolian wisdom taught to me by my grandparents who raised me when I was little.
It must’ve been very hard to achieve everything you have now. Can you tell us what influenced you the most in achieving what you have now?
Germany is a liberal democratic country. Every child has the right to education. I spent 10 hours a day on my studies when I was a student. On numerous occasions, I studied through the night at the library. That’s how I graduated from a German law school. I learned how valuable my life was little by little as I grew up.
My grandmother used to operate a small store when was a kid so I learned about sales and trade when I was in first and second grade. Through that experience, I learned the value of money. When I was 14, I started earning my own pocket money by distributing newspapers in Germany. I became independent and prudent at quite an early age. When I became a bit older, I tried all kinds of part-time jobs, starting from a hotel cleaner to a waiter. Sometimes, I would purchase groceries for elderly people. I lived like that until I reached 18. Since then, I worked in the fashion industry until I became 22. During that time, I found my self-confidence. My life hasn’t been a smooth ride and I seem to always pick the most difficult route, but that’s what makes me stronger and wiser.
Was becoming a lawyer your childhood dream?
I didn’t plan on specializing in tax accounting or becoming a lawyer at first. I was pretty good at calculus so I figured that I would end up in a profession that requires mathematical reasoning and knowledge. I did my first internship at a bank. The bank director commended my mathematical skills and advised me to go work at the Mongolian Stock Exchange. When I was working there, the head told me that I could be more successful if I become a lawyer so I entered a law school and specialized in tax.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I feel very positive about my job. As you might know, taxation is a very complicated and confrontational matter. But I believe that I’m doing the right job at the right time and meeting the right people. I get loads of encouragement and motivation from my work.
…According to the Law on Tax of Mongolia, individuals and enterprises must pay 10 percent individual income tax and VAT. This is very wrong. The tax environment needs to be very organized and systematic so that everything goes in order. The very first thing we need to do is train skilled human resources…
How are law students trained in Germany? How should a law student behave?
Legal professionals can take on a wide range of roles. You don’t have to become a lawyer just because you studied law – you can become an attorney or advisor. However, legal professionals must have integrity and excellent public speaking ability. Law students in Germany are taught to defend our clients as if we’d committed their crime. You can’t speak down or be disrespectful to a client even if they’re younger and less-educated than you. A lawyer should maintain high standards of professional conduct.
Let’s move onto the Mongolian taxation system. Is it possible for Mongolia to improve its economic growth and budget through its taxation system?
Yes, definitely. According to the Law on Tax of Mongolia, individuals and enterprises must pay 10 percent individual income tax and VAT. This is very wrong. The tax environment needs to be very organized and systematic so that everything goes in order. The very first thing we need to do is train skilled human resources. Secondly, we must reform the education system. Thirdly, there’s something called individual income tax, which is irrelevant to VAT. VAT is a general, broadly based consumption tax assessed on the value added to goods and services to increase the income of small and medium-sized enterprises within a specific period of time. The main reason for the downfall of Mongolia’s economy is related to the fact that VAT is used as some kind of lucky draw. Moreover, there needs to be a balance between individuals and enterprises. Just like everyone must have equal rights, Germany is very strict on maintaining balances between things. There should be an individual income tax reporting system. Germany has seven levels for its reporting system, which is based on people’s profession. Mongolia doesn’t have this type of system.
What do you plan to do in the next five years? What’s your life goal?
I will do humanitarian work in the next five years. Lawyers serve to treat and cure the society. Keeping this in mind, I plan to return to Mongolia and do some humanitarian work. I want to contribute in the Mongolian education sector as well. I have plans to train law students in Mongolia. We need better legal professionals and I hope to become a bridge for them.
Do you have any last comments?
While experiencing many things in life, I realized that young people need to walk through bumpy and difficult roads full of obstacles, instead of getting a smooth ride, because that way, they will learn so much more about life. Once you get over a difficult phase, you’ll become much more patient and enduring and it will help you figure out who you are. I hope young people choose the more challenging route in whatever decision they have to make. Only a person who’s figured out themselves can succeed. I also recommend people to read lots of books.