If indeed death and taxes are the only two things in life that are certain, then making the process as painless as possible may be the only certain thing that can be done to bring a measure of relief to taxpayers. Other than tax reduction, of course.
We are very encouraged by the recent actions being taken by Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) to make the process of paying taxes generally, and property taxes in particular, less onerous.
It is a leap of faith that we applaud because, unlike the typical approach by collection agencies public and private, TAJ has sought not to wave the familiar big stick and is proffering the proverbial carrot. Put more simply, the TAJ appears to be cutting the overburdened taxpayers some slack.
Ms Meris Haughton, the communications director at TAJ, might well have earned her month's salary by her very clear and forthright presentation to information-hungry editors and reporters at this newspaper's weekly Monday Exchange. We took careful note of some of the sensible actions being taken by the agency.
Let's not fool ourselves. The TAJ is here to collect the taxes that finance the running of this country, which is akin to running a company. We have in this space complained that Jamaicans pay too much tax. After income tax, General Consumption Tax (GCT) and Education Tax, a Jamaican citizen could then be set upon by a range of assorted duties, cesses and fees that altogether render a salary little more than pocket money. Corporate taxes are no better.
This humongous amount of taxes has resulted in a large number of Jamaicans employing the most ingenious means of dodging the taxman, and thereby robbing the national treasury of much-needed resources.
Moreover, in what is a vicious cycle, the State apparatus is then forced to impose higher taxes on the populace, further reducing purchasing power and economic activity. The heaviest punishment is meted out to the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) victim whose salary is deducted before it gets into his/her hand.
Matters were made worse by the 'hold down tek weh' approach of the tax authorities, who were without mercy or creativity in seeking to collect the government's money. We say without creativity because some of the very things which are being done now could well have been done before.
According to Ms Haughton, a new online feature has been installed, allowing taxpayers to ascertain their property tax liability before going into the tax office to waste time first finding out and then moving from point to point. In addition, taxpayers can now pay at any of 29 offices islandwide, irrespective of where their property is located.
We are especially delighted by the TAJ offering an "out of office" service on Saturdays in remote areas far from tax offices, thus saving transportation costs and time incurred by customers. This reminds us of a practice introduced by the Dr Patricia Holness-led Registrar General's Department (RGD).
Kudos as well to the TAJ for stepping up its efforts to encourage delinquent taxpayers to come into their offices to negotiate payment arrangements that could make it easier to fulfil their tax obligations.
It is little wonder then that the TAJ can report that it is halfway towards its target of collecting $7.2 billion for the fiscal year which ends on March 31 next year. Nice work, guys.