The TRN - unique identifier
The restructuring of Jamaica's tax administration through the Tax Administration Reform Project (TaxARP) enabled the implementation of the Taxpayer Registration System, which facilitated the registration and assignment of the Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN).
The TRN was implemented in 1996. It is a unique nine-digit identification number assigned to each taxpaying/taxable entity (i.e. individuals, businesses and organisations). The TRN replaced a range of numbers that were once used by various tax departments to identify entities; numbers replaced include:
- Business Enterprise Number (BENO - revamped as taxpayer registration number)
- Income Tax Reference Number
- Driver's Licence Number (effective since 2001)
- Personal Identification Number (PINO - previously used as the driver's licence number)
The introduction of the TRN also facilitated the Integrated Computerised Tax Administration System (ICTAS) for the Tax Departments. The TRN is required when conducting business transactions with tax departments or government agencies. Prior to the introduction of the TRN, the Government could not get a holistic view of the activities of an entity in order to conduct an assessment and to bring the entity into compliance.
Hide in plain sight
One entity would have several numbers, and integrating these numbers into a database and getting reliable data on an entity would be next to impossible. An entity could easily hide in plain sight. Hence a TRN is now required by all entities doing business with the tax authority.
Operationally, the use of the TRN is much expanded. It is required by the Students' Loan Bureau, National Health Fund, Companies Office of Jamaica, National Housing Trust, banks, utility companies, insurance companies, among others. The TRN is the only number that is widely used beyond its organisational boundaries and is a de facto national identification without a photograph.
The only tax entity that does not use the TRN as its main identifier is the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). The NIS uses a numbering scheme consisting of an alphabet and a six-digit number. At the time of the conversion to the ICTAS, NIS had a manual system and, therefore, could not and did not convert to the TRN, while the NHT had already computerised its system using the NIS number as its unique identifier.
The NIS system is still mostly manual and its records are unreliable, as there is evidence of several persons with multiple NIS numbers and several persons with the same NIS number. The NIS, therefore, cannot accurately determine the contributions made by citizens for pensions. The NHT requires an NIS number for individuals and companies, and this number is used to create an account for each entity. A TRN is, however, mandatory for the account to be created.
There are two other major government agencies that do not require a TRN: the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) and the Registrar General's Department (RGD). The EOJ produces a picture identification with a unique number which is widely used and accepted as a national identification. The jury list is still generated from the voters' list. Therefore, an individual can vote and become a juror without being a registered taxpayer.
The question that I raise is, should this change? Without trampling on universal adult suffrage, should voters be required to have a TRN? A related question is, should the TRN replace the voter identification number, or be incorporated? The main advantage of the voter identification versus the TRN is that the former has a picture.
The system at the RGD, although much improved, has major flaws. The RGD has separate unique identifier for births, deaths, marriages, etc., and internally these databases are not linked. Consequently, the agency cannot get a holistic perspective on any client without tedious manual checks. Nor is the RGD electronically linked to or correlated with NIS or any other government department to which it should naturally share data. This means, for example, that hundreds of dead persons may continue to collect NIS benefits. A unique identifier used across agencies in an integrated database will eliminate or reduce this possibility.