Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Five basic taxation rights

Published:Wednesday | August 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By George Davis

Under the laws of this sometimes wonderful, otherwise jaundiced country, we the citizens are required to pay taxes. These taxes, we are told loosely, will be used to fund things such as health care, national security, education and to provide critical municipal services.

According to Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ), Jamaicans have five basic rights when it comes to taxation. As outlined in a colourful PDF document posted on the TAJ's website, each Jamaican taxpayer has the right to be informed, assisted and heard. The taxpayer has a right to appeal and the right to pay no more than the amount due. The taxpayer also has the right to certainty and the right to confidentiality and secrecy. Alongside these basic rights is the obligation of the taxpayer to be honest, cooperative and to keep tax records for a period of six years. The other obligation requires the taxpayer to provide accurate information, submit documents and pay on time. According to these rights and obligations, the work of those of us who fund the Government's treasury is, as they would say in sport, cut out.

Any research will show that the rights and obligations of the Jamaican taxpayer are exactly the same as those for member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It was as if our tax authorities lifted the thing unedited from the OECD taxpayers' charter, first published in 1990, to create a similar document for Jamaicans. It's important to note that Jamaica is not among the 34 states listed on the OECD's website as having membership in, or partnership with, the 53-year-old organisation. But that didn't stop our officials from borrowing heavily from this grouping of major and emerging economies.

The OECD does not have a document outlining a government's responsibility to the taxpayers of its country. Maybe that is why, we Jamaicans, who are world class in so many pursuits, do not have such a document either. We love so much to ape the behaviour of the big-ticket countries and organisations around the world that it's a safe bet that if somewhere there existed such a document, outlining the rights and obligations of a government after it has collected from its taxpayers, maybe we would have plagiarised and slapped that document on a ministry website, even if we didn't live up to its dictates.

So the Jamaican Government's copy-taking from the economies of the developed and emerging world only extends to its collection of taxes and the legislation of draconian penalties should those taxes not be paid on time, in the amounts due and with the frequency as dictated by the tax collectorate.

Based on the actions of our Jamaican Government, taxpayers in this country are bound by the same tax charter as those citizens of OECD member states such as Switzerland, UK, USA, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Mexico and Luxembourg, to name a few.

So, it's not unreasonable to expect that because our Government has aligned us with such a gilded crowd, the Jamaican citizen should expect the same level of services that a Dutchman, American, Swede or Spaniard enjoys for the taxes they pay to their treasury.

Since the Jamaican Government chose not to copy any old 'dibby-dibby' tax charter, but that of an august group such as the OECD, we must expect the same level of accountability and transparency in the spending of our taxes, as enjoyed by citizens of places such as Norway, Korea, Italy and Germany.

But where in any of these countries do the slaving taxpayers have to pick their way through rows of uncollected garbage, including diapers filled with baby poo, as they walk to their vehicles to get to work? Where in the OECD do taxpayers have to battle fear and trembling as they walk home from work on roads darkened by street lights cut off because of non-payment of bills? And where in the OECD are excuses from the citizens not tolerated at tax collection, but explanations from government officials proliferate when it comes to their failure to use tax dollars to do the business of the people?

Hush, Jamaicans. Poor us. It's as if us alone in this world are big-head 'buds'.

Selah.

George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.