Alicia Forrest, Gleaner Writer
SPANISH TOWN, St Catherine:
A TAX-compliance officer knocking at the door may not be the most welcome of guests, especially if the taxpayer is one that may be considered delinquent.
However, one lucky taxpayer is singing the praises of God after going through a particularly frightening ordeal, and was rescued by officers of the Old Harbour Collectorate of the Tax Administration of Jamaica.
On September 10, the officers went to the taxpayer's residence to serve a summons. On approaching the house, the officers quickly realised the resident was in distress, as she was gasping for breath.
They managed to communicate with her, and she threw the key to the officers so they could enter the premises, as the grille was locked. Upon entering, the officers saw that she had fainted. They carried her out of the house and sought medical attention for her.
Today, the taxpayer is thankful for the intervention of the officers, despite the circumstances of their visit to her home. She noted that they were kind and compassionate, and that they checked in with her, after the episode, to ensure that she was well.
She described them as having 'hearts of gold'.
"God ah God," she said. "They were in the right place at the right time."
When asked what had led to her moment of distress, she simply said, "stress, and low blood sugar". Since the incident, she has changed her lifestyle and lost weight.
Speaking with the officers who happened to be on the scene that day, Ryan Samuels, Phillip Thomas and Simone Clarke, they all said it was a scary situation, as it was clear the woman was in need of assistance. They each remarked how fortunate it was that they were there during her time of need, and were able to help her.
"We were just in the right place at the right time."
Thomas said he was just doing his job as an officer, and was pleased to know he was able to assist and the outcome was favourable.
Clarke added that were she, or someone she knew, in a similar situation, as the taxpayer found herself, she would have wanted someone to be there, as she was for the taxpayer.
Hazards of the job
However, compliance officers do face some amount of danger in carrying out their duties. Commenting on the challenges of the job, Oneil Freeman, an officer for seven years in the Kingston & St Andrew region, said the most daunting aspect of the job was finding delinquent taxpayers so a payment plan can be negotiated.
He noted that sometimes a notice with contact information would be left at a residence with a helper, and no contact would be made. When the officers arrive with a summons, the taxpayer then wants to come in and ask for time to pay and to apprise officers of their financial situation.
"In my experience, the most dangerous part of it is the dogs," Freeman added.
Otherwise, he enjoys his job as it is an adventure, and he is able to meet people and understand their situations or circumstances.
Steven Ming, another compliance officer, on the job for five years in the same division, recounted an incident when an officer was intimidated by a taxpayer who was a licensed firearm holder when he went to the taxpayer's premises to serve a summons. However, Ming said incidents such as those were not off-putting to him, as he is not easily deterred.
According to data provided by Sharon White of the Tax Administration of Jamaica, there are approximately 60 compliance officers who work in various regions across the island, with an additional 12 on contract.
The target for this fiscal year is $7.26 billion, of which $4.61 billion (or 63.5 per cent) has been collected up to early December.
Last year, at this time, the administration was at 67 per cent of the target.
Eighty-four per cent of the year-to-date target of $5.44 billion, covering the period April to November, has been achieved, representing a slight increase over the approximately 82 per cent achieved at this time last year.