By Garth A. Rattray
Various administrations have been striving to effect tax reform. The current document is a collaborative effort between public and private sector and lays out proposals based on taxation having the following characteristics - simplicity, efficiency, equity and fairness.
It's an open secret that some people and/or groups of people are very connected or deemed indispensible and are, therefore, untouchable. So much for equity and fairness. And, the tax system is anything but simple.
Certain 'taxes' have labels, but their proceeds either go into the Consolidated Fund and are, therefore, universally accessed, or their coffers are intermittently and conveniently raided.
High on the list of perplexing and vexing problems for the taxpayer is that, in this digital age, the several diverse departments (that deal with the many 'deductions' that we must make) hardly seem to be able to communicate with one another, and 'files' are sometimes lost, or magically disappear into some strange dimension. So, in spite of being compliant, we are sometimes called upon (with court and prison hanging over our heads) to produce proof of payment for this, that or the other. There ends efficiency.
I'm not about to accuse anybody of anything but, the perception out there is that various administrations have not been careful enough in safeguarding against corruption and, therefore, end up spending tax dollars to feather political nests and pay back their wealthy supporters.
And, because times are so very hard and there are so many glaring infrastructural shortcomings, people don't feel that their tax dollars are being properly utilised. In other words, the average citizen harbours some degree of mistrust of the system.
The tax administrators need to broaden the net by registering itinerant tradesmen (masons, plumbers, electricians, steel men, carpenters, tilers, labourers) so that, although they may not earn a steady income, they, too, can contribute something to the economy (if only via a nominal annual registration fee, in some instances) and be traceable. Anyway, trust me when I say that some of them earn whopping incomes on a regular basis.
Some very unfair and punitive practices still prevail - these only serve to scare away potential taxpayers and give tax dodgers justification for their actions. A few years ago, I was informed that a refund was due to me, but was subsequently told, by a compliance officer, that I would be subjected to a detailed (fine-tooth-combed) auditing if I tried to claim it.
A friend of mine made the 'mistake' of applying for her refund (something that taxpayers in other jurisdictions around the world routinely budget on) and she was retro-audited many, many years until a mistake that the revenue department made was discovered. It was deducted from her refund AND annual interest added until her refund was so inconsequential that she told them to keep it.
In my very humble opinion, any mistake of omission made by the revenue department should never be passed on to the 'customer' (the new and hilarious metaphor for 'obligatory taxpayer'). And, perhaps most of all, compounded punitive interest should never be added.
Another friend of mine imports goods which he prices according to the cost, insurance, shipping, various taxes and fees, then he adds his overheads and markup. One such item was imported with the usual permit under which it had always been approved, but this time he was told to get a Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries permit.
However, since that permit should have been sought before importation, he was technically in 'breach' and was fined tens of thousands of Jamaican dollars on an item that originally cost under US$20. There is no way that he can price that item to recover his losses.
The tax laws need revision, but so do the unjust practices meted out to some taxpayers.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to email@example.com and .firstname.lastname@example.org.