Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Get serious with tax collection

Published:Wednesday | July 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Curtis Webley, Guest Columnist

Curtis Webley, Guest Columnist

It
was a fascinating read in The Gleaner of July 14, 2014, which stated that Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) would be mobilising its forces to "chase tax delinquents". The author mentioned that Minister of Finance Peter Phillips would institute new laws to fortify the tax agency in its collection process, based on directives from the International Monetary Fund. While this anticipatory collection process is good news for the Government and Jamaica, it also highlights some of the flaws in our tax system.

Jamaica's tax collection accounted for 27 per cent of the country's gross national product. It was reported that only 31.5 per cent of our companies paid their tax debt, and only 17.3 per cent of individuals file their tax returns. With these unacceptably low figures, it is apparent that the nonchalant cultural attitude of those charged with governance, and the lack of clear goals and directives from superiors in the collection process, need to be evaluated.

TAJ's website posited that tax revenues are used to further our national defence, health care, social services, national security, financial aid, and public education. Therefore, it should become elementary knowledge to all our Jamaican citizens that these taxes are integral to fiscal and economic policies, and serve to better the infrastructure and lives of our people.

NO OBVIOUS BENEFIT

So why is tax collection for individuals and businesses so low, and why do our already overburdened citizens not care to voluntarily file their tax returns?

From numerous protests, it appears that most of our taxpayers do not see the benefit, individually or collectively, that is derived from taxation. Taxes are collected for road repairs to accommodate our motor vehicles, but many of our streets are footpaths, fit only for grazing animals, and the physically fit patrons who can navigate the treacherous terrain. Taxes are collected to pay our teachers, yet our children are not properly educated. Taxes are collected to pay law-enforcement personnel, yet the officers brutalise law-abiding citizens.

Taxes are collected to pay firemen, yet there is no fire truck to put out many blazes. Taxes are collected for health care, yet citizens die before medical services are rendered. Taxes are collected for social services, yet our kids are abandoned and look to the gangs and other predators for survival.

Our authorities have not made tax collection a priority, even though it's a major revenue source. The finance minister and others before him would rather raise taxes, and find creative ways to add new taxes for the few who already are compliant, than to implement laws and properly train employees to collect from delinquents. This attitude is triggered by a culture that is reactive and conducive to lethargy and mediocrity.

While there are isolated and well-publicised cases of tax seizure and collection, those cases are transparent, easy to access, and require minimal intellectual and collection efforts. No wonder we cannot effectuate change without direct influence, intervention, and mandates from external or international forces.

READY MONEY

What I find interesting is the fact that Jamaica needs money which is right at its fingertips. However, it might be too tedious a task to develop a foolproof plan to collect taxes, since it requires physical and mental effort and cooperation from the Government and TAJ to work as one cohesive unit. Therefore, China, the International Monetary Fund, and other foreign agencies are easier targets for gifts, loans, and task-oriented leadership style. Is it because politicians and those in charge of governance are afraid that they might become victims of tax evasion should they dictate laws to boost its collection process? Or is it because they were elected and hired and promoted to their level of incompetence?

It is time for Jamaica to become proactive in its approach to governance. Protocols must be put in place to ensure timely tax filing and collection, making the tasks of tax collectors routine. More revenue offices must be opened. More employees must be hired and properly trained, both in the collection process and in customer service. Rotate employees during mandatory lunch hour so the workforce will continue to accommodate taxpayers. These basic steps will enhance the tax system to effectively and efficiently generate more revenues.

It is our civic responsibility to pay our taxes. We have been sitting and waiting on divine intervention for too long. It's time for us to spring into action and ensure that all our citizens pay their fair share so all can benefit from the programmes the taxes were intended to promote and support.

Dr Curtis Webley is an entrepreneur in Chicago, Illinois. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and cwebley@wascpafirm.com.