Fri | Jan 21, 2022

Carolyn Cooper | Risky business at Cross Roads tax office

Published:Sunday | December 5, 2021 | 12:11 AM

Doing business at government offices in Jamaica is a major cause of deadly stress for both overworked employees and underserved members of the public. The online Health Encyclopaedia published by the University of Rochester Medical Center confirms that, “Even minor stress can trigger heart problems like poor blood flow to the heart muscle. This is a condition in which the heart doesn’t get enough blood or oxygen. And, long-term stress can affect how the blood clots. This makes the blood stickier and increases the risk of stroke.”

The Ministry of Health and Wellness must acknowledge the fact that dysfunctional practices in other ministries do have an impact on public health. Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health, is not a medical doctor. His doctorate is in business administration. So, perhaps, he doesn’t know that chronic stress causes an increase in blood cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. It’s a risk factor for all sorts of diseases.

Public health should not be left solely to the Ministry of Health and Wellness. As the ineffective messaging about the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, the experts in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport should have been consulted about creating a public education campaign that would have reached the majority of Jamaicans. It is only very recently that advertisements have been produced in the heart language of the majority of citizens. Imagine how differently things might have gone if that had been done right from the start! And our vaccination rate would probably not be so low.

We desperately need joined-up government. I am urging Dr Tufton to use his training in business administration to find ways of improving the delivery of services in all ministries to reduce chronic stress. That should be an essential element of his own ministry’s mandate. Take, for instance, paying taxes. It should not be so exhausting. It’s bad enough that the Government keeps on raising taxes. But to have to suffer to pay taxes is a whole other level of taxing vexation. It just doesn’t make sense.

COVID NOT KEEPING ANY MORE

Because of COVID-19 and it many variants, I’m very cautious about going into crowded air-conditioned buildings. I’m not confident about the air quality. And social distancing is not always effectively managed. Unlike so many people who seem to believe that COVID not keeping any more, I know that we are all still at risk. As a vulnerable senior citizen, I very much appreciate the kindness of younger friends and family who have been running errands for me over the last several months.

Two Thursdays ago, my cousin Annie and I went to the Cross Roads tax office to renew my motor vehicle registration certificate, which was going to expire at the end of November. I didn’t want to get caught in the last-minute rush. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that the office now closes at 3 p.m. on Thursdays. Why? The next time Annie would be available to help me was the following Monday. Two days before the end of the month!

When we got to the tax office a little before 9 a.m., the line was already snaking around the building from Old Hope Road down Eureka Road. My stress level immediately rose. But this was the good stress that triggers the fight or flight response. At first, Annie joined the line. But after a few minutes of absolutely no movement, I decided that it didn’t make any sense to stay and fight up to get into the building. Flight was the rational response. But where to?

HERDED LIKE SHEEP

The Cross Roads tax office is the closest one to my home. I don’t think I should have to go all the way to Constant Spring in order to get decent service in a relatively uncrowded building. So I decided to go back to Cross Roads at about 2:45 p.m. I figured this would give us enough time before the office closed at 4 p.m.

The line wasn’t as long as in the morning. But it certainly wasn’t short. An hour later, Annie was still standing in line. At 3:55 p.m., a security guard came out to distribute numbers to the 22 people who were waiting. Annie eventually got in. She didn’t come out until 4:45 p.m. Two hours to pay taxes! How can this be acceptable?

The Cross Roads tax office is obviously too small for the volume of business it conducts. And the space has been even further reduced by COVID-19 restrictions. The narrow entrance to the building, protected by metal grilles and an efficient security guard, reminds me of a prison. A few years ago, the office was moved from an even smaller site across the road. But it seems as if whoever is in charge of logistics did not anticipate that the office would quickly outgrow the new location. Surely, taxpayers deserve better than to be herded like sheep!

The very next day, I learned that Tax Administration Jamaica is introducing online payment for motor vehicle registration certificates. It’s still in the pilot stage. But it’s a welcome relief. In the first phase, it’s only certificates for privately owned motor vehicles that can be paid for online. The sticker and certificate can be picked up within one to three business days at one of six offices: Kingston Revenue Service Centre; St. Andrew Revenue Service Centre; Montego Bay Revenue Service Centre; Spanish Town Tax Office; May Pen Tax Office and St Ann’s Bay Tax Office. The Cross Roads office is not on the list. It’s just not fit for purpose.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a teacher of English language and literature and a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.