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With the government-commissioned report on tax reform now completed and submitted to Finance and Planning Minister, Dr. Omar Davies, Director General of Tax Administration Clive Nicholas says the country has a significantly improved tax infrastructure making it more convenient for people to pay their taxes.
“Today, we have a much improved infrastructure; it’s more convenient and easy for people to pay taxes. There are still some collectorates, some of the smaller ones which need to be improved, but that is one of the areas where we believe that we have made a lot of progress,” he tells JIS News in a recent interview.
With the computerization of the revenue services, the system has seen greater efficiency and increased output. According to Mr. Nicholas, almost all customs import entries are submitted electronically and many of the taxes are also being paid by electronic means.
“Now, what we are doing here as we speak is trying to get some of the other taxes to be also paid electronically and filed electronically and in the next month or so we’ll be speaking about some of those things that we’ll be doing in respect of those taxes,” he explains. He informs further that the tax administration will be extending the facility whereby customers can make certain payments using the Internet. These include traffic tickets and property taxes, among others.
“We foresee that in the future, a person could stay outside of Jamaica and pay things like property tax.we would have less people coming into the tax office and those who really have to come in, we would be in a position to give them a higher level of service,” the Director General says.
Tax Administration Reform Project
After several years of restructuring, the new tax administration system was instituted in the mid-90s under the Tax Administration Reform Project (TAXARP). Since then, the revenue departments have reaped much success, providing new and improved service to the public. At the end of the reform process, new and restructured tax departments were established under the umbrella of the Jamaica Tax Administration.
One of the main objectives of the reform project was to reorganize the tax departments according to functions, thus eliminating duplication of tasks. Prior to the streamlining of the tax system, the Income Tax, General Consumption Tax, Stamp Duty and Transfer Tax departments all had assessment and collection functions and the taxpayer in some instances, had to visit all these departments to transact business. Change came on December 1, 1999, when all matters relating to assessment were assigned to the Tax Payer Audit and Assessment Department (TAAD) and collection duties were placed under the Inland Revenue Department (IRD).
The Tax Administration Services Department (TASD) provides critical support services to all tax departments, such as legal services, public relations, taxpayer education among others.
If persons feel that they have been unfairly assessed by the Inland Revenue or Tax Audit and Assessment departments, they may petition the Taxpayer Appeals Department (TAD), which hears second stage appeals and other decisions made by the IRD and TAAD. In addition, as of March 1, 2004 persons can appeal to the TAD for waivers of penalties and interests. Meanwhile, Jamaica Customs, a strong arm of the tax system, is responsible for the protection of the country’s borders, facilitating trade and ensuring that revenues for customs-related activities are collected.
Emphasis on Training
As part of the reform process, emphasis was placed on training to ensure a highly skilled and competent workforce for the effective operation of the revenue service. Mr. Nicholas says a major training exercise was carried out within the various tax departments to ensure that all personnel are prepared for their tasks.
Ongoing training is also taking place at the Management Institute for National Development (MIND) for revenue agents under the Tax Audit and Revenue Administration Programme. This programme, he notes, has been very successful and over 400 persons have already been trained. The course is accredited by the University of the West Indies.
Tax Collection Drive
A special unit has been set up in the Inland Revenue Department to assist customers of the 28 collectorates across the country with information on taxes. The service is expanded during the busy income tax filing period with the setting up of temporary tax sites at church halls, police stations, shopping malls and other non-traditional locations. “But we had gone a little further than just asking people to come to the tax office to get help.We have set up the 1-888 tax help system where those who don’t want to come in could just use the tax help line to get information,” Mr. Nicholas says.
A special tax collection drive was recently launched targeting persons who are in arrears and those who are not yet on the tax roll. Mr. Nicholas in appealing to delinquent taxpayers and tax dodgers to contact the revenue departments to settle outstanding payments.
Student Tax Education Programme
In its efforts to get the message out and to try to change the culture of resistance to tax payment, the tax administration has targeted students with its School’s Tax Education Programme (STEP).
As part of this initiative, tax officers visit schools and make presentations to students in the senior and business classes.
Last year, the first ever Caribbean Organization of Tax Administrators (COTA)/CARICOM secondary schools essay competition was hosted locally by TASD, which was won by William Knibb Memorial High in Trelawny.
Speaking at the award ceremony for the competition in June, Mr. Nicholas stressed that the competition was in keeping with ongoing efforts on the part of the TAD and COTA to improve public knowledge on tax related topics and improving voluntary compliance. “We feel that this is an area where we have to pay special attention to try and see if we can change the culture to one where people understand that they need to pay their taxes on a voluntary basis.which is why we decided that we have to pay special attention to the younger people within the country, the people who will within a few years, become income earners and taxpayers,” he stated.
“In this country, we really don’t have a culture of paying taxes. We feel that if we are to reach that level where we have high levels of voluntary compliance, we need to let the younger people, people in schools, understand that this business of paying taxes is something that every citizen is supposed to be a part of,” Mr. Nicholas continues.
“And, so we have been going to the various schools telling the children and students about taxes and let them understand why is it people are required to pay taxes in a country,” he adds.