Excerpt from Observer column published 5 March 2018 (unedited version)
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jamaicans have been stepping up with tax compliance, exceeding the budgeted amount for revenues and grants by 3.9 percent, with Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) collecting $390.9 billion for the period April to December 2018. This was disclosed in the February 2018 bulletin from the Economic Programme Oversight Committee.
The report states, “EPOC notes the significant increase in the number of taxpayers for the period April to December 2017 by approximately 15,000 persons over prior year, as reported by The Ministry of Finance and the Public Service (MOFPS), which has contributed to increased performance in Tax Revenues.” High commendations to the TAJ.
The Chairman of this newspaper, Hon Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart has repeatedly reminded us that the taxpayers of this country pay for the running of our country. This includes even the humble folks who buy phone credit – in other words, every adult Jamaican is a taxpayer.
We should be raising our collective voices at the irregularities announced year after year, administration after administration, by the auditor general, costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars. Last week, we learned that over half a billion dollars was invested without board authorization by someone employed to the NIS. Further, Sports Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange raised questions about some $75 million expended by InSports.
Can you imagine the incredulity of an honest household worker, living on the margin of poverty, when she hears that the money she ekes out to stamp her NIS card is flying about like confetti? Can you imagine the shock of those coaches and talented school children doing bake sales and car washes to try to get to the Penn Relays, when they hear that millions have sprinted out of the sporting coffers?
This is an outrage for taxpayers. Last week, I sat down with some kind volunteers to get documents together for an upcoming audit by the TAJ for the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP), a company registered under the Charities Act. This organisation was started nearly eight years ago by my company to advocate for the elderly. It has been run out of our office, our staff members volunteering to do administration. Happily, we have been careful in our record keeping, providing financial statements at our bi-monthly board meetings, and keeping detailed minutes.
If only these multi-million government agencies were as meticulous as our tiny organisation which has assembled independent board members who pull no punches when it comes to governance. We do this because we have chosen to serve and if our objective is the welfare of our members, then we must do everything in our power not to jeopardize the reputation of the organisation. Our board members receive nothing for their service, not even travelling expenses. We cannot afford expensive weekend retreats at luxury hotels because every cent we get from our modest membership fees must go back into service.
The technology exists to ensure that multi-million-dollar government agencies are professionally run. We have heard too many discussions about but no implementation of a digital platform on which Ministries and their Agencies would report and communicate, optimizing accountability. We have heard of the multiple and expensive trips to study the Singapore model, and yet these sinkholes of waste and corruption continue.
The Jamaican taxpayer must demand more of the authorities. One social media commentator has predicted that the NIS matter would come to naught as people would close ranks to protect their own wrongdoings. Let us hope this will not happen. Let the media, working their own long hours and paying their own high taxes, follow this and other such matters, until these ‘clever’ operatives understand that there will be no place for them in an efficient, professional administration.