By Aubyn Hill, Financial Gleaner Columnist
A PROPER perspective must be developed on economic growth and deficit reduction.
Economic growth is far more important than deficits in the short term, especially when economic crisis is the pervasive prevailing danger.
Deficits are a longer-term problem and one for which increasing and sustained economic growth brings effective relief.
Even the dispassionate IMF recognises this fact. The recently agreed staff letter allows for a seven-year time period for the reduction of our current J$1.7-trillion debt burden down from the current 140 per cent of GDP to the 95 per cent level.
Some of us have been pointing out for a while that without sustained and significantly improved growth, debt reduction is a pipe dream.
Last year, I sat at my desk and used my laptop and credit card to pay all my property taxes. It was so easy and convenient to pay money to the Government.
The renewal of a passport is also quite straightforward. Alas, very few other interactions with the Government or its agencies are so agreeable and easy.
Why is it so difficult to deal with the Government on everyday transactions which citizens must conduct as part of their daily lives? One answer is that many of those who serve the public as government employees, and their bosses, make no link whatsoever between what they do and economic growth or its hindrance. Why should they? Which government in the last two decades really focused on economic growth and made it consistently a part of their public agenda?
Sometimes it appears that our Government follows processes with the deliberate intention to irritate citizens and shoot itself in the foot.
This past week, a company whose board I chair had to clear an engineering part as part of a system which, when finally installed, will save some foreign currency.
Well, I wanted to see if, like the property tax, I could just stay in my office and pay with my credit card. No such luck.
The CEO was required to write a letter to state that I am the chairman of the company and that the company will be responsible for any fraud that might occur. I also had to turn up in person with the original registration documents from the Registrar of Companies and a picture ID to prove that I am who the company's letter says I am.
I decided to go through the exercise and found that even after presenting the Government-issued company documents and my Government-issued driver's licence as my picture ID, and with the TRN number, the officer at the Customs window had to take all those documents to her supervisor to get permission to take my card and collect the taxes that the Government needs so badly!
Clearly, the Customs Department has put someone so untrained at the customer service window that she could not use her intelligence and training to accept the documents.
There is a bigger question, too. If the Government needs to do a better job at collecting taxes - and it does! - why does it make the process to pay so difficult for taxpayers?
If the GOJ is serious about economic growth - and it better be - it will have to implement fundamental changes to how it conducts its business of serving the public.
First, the leaders of Government must make the consistent and relentless effort to change many government officials' and employees' attitudes to one of serving the public helpfully.
Too often government employees display a patently negative approach of not caring about what they do, and caring less about the people and companies they are hired to help and serve.
That important attitudinal shift will happen only if there is a combination of push from the top, retraining of those who want to change, relieving some who will not change their bad attitudes, and employing new smart young people with an attitude to serve.
Just as important, Government will have to set about paying well the smaller numbers who really serve with a positive can-do, 'I can help you' attitude.
Second, in order to make everyday business and personal transactions with the GOJ easy and economic growth facilitating, the GOJ must move in this Internet and social media age to link its data services.
With its perennial shortfalls in revenue collection, the Government must move expeditiously to link the Tax Administration's computers and data with those of every agency that collects revenues - the RGD, Customs Department, Motor Vehicle Registry, public hospitals and GCT-collecting offices - to make taxpayers' money flow easily and accurately into the GOJ's coffers.
Third, the GOJ must decide on what will drive growth and cut costs and move swiftly to put in legislation and regulation which will enable growth. It could use bright young lawyers, accountants and entrepreneurs paired with some older intelligent and experienced heads to do the job.
Let them clean up legislation that has not been visited for decades, sometimes centuries, and put in enabling ones to help growth sectors such as local agriculture, education and educational institutions as businesses.
Water harvesting and using renewable-energy sources - biofuels, wind, hydro and solar - to pump this harvested water requires urgent new legislation.
The GCT current collection practices are especially galling and silly because the GCT is such a sure and large source of government revenues, and galling because every fourteenth of the month we go through this time-wasting farce - real productive time lost - of queuing up in mind-numbing, spirit-irritating and brain-deadening lines to pay this tax.
Reminds us of why Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.
Jamaica needs to leapfrog its government practices into 2013 cloud computing. We need to spend some of our tax dollars and seek help from sources such as the IDB, the World Bank and the European Union to drag our Government's growth-facilitation efforts into the 21st century.
Aubyn Hill is the CEO of Corporate Strategies Limited and was an international banker for more than 25 years. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HillAubyn; Facebook: facebook.com/Corporate.Strategies