Taxpayers must raise their voices against corruption

Taxpayers must raise their voices against corruption


Monday, March 05, 2018

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Jamaicans have been stepping up with tax compliance, exceeding the budgeted amount for revenues and grants by 3.9 per cent, 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 “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, which has contributed to increased performance in tax revenues”. Commendations to TAJ.

Jamaica Observer Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart has repeatedly reminded us that the taxpayers pay for the running of our country. Every adult in Jamaica is a taxpayer, as there's a tax even on phone credit.

We should be raising our collective voices at the irregularities announced by the auditor general year after year, administration after administration, which cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars. Last week we learned that over half a billion dollars had been invested without board authorisation by someone employed to the National Insurance Fund. 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 schoolchildren doing bake sales and car washes to try to get to track meets, when they hear that millions have sprinted out of the sporting coffers?

This is an outrage for taxpayers. If only these multimillion-dollar government agencies were as meticulous as the rest of us have to be, as we pull no punches when it comes to governance. The rest of us must do everything in our power not to jeopardise our reputation and that of our organisations.

The technology exists to ensure that multimillion-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, optimising 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 will come to naught as people will close ranks to protect their own wrongdoings. Let us hope this will not happen. Let the media, working long hours and paying high taxes, follow this and other such matters until these 'clever' operatives understand that there will be no place for them.

The new Road Traffic Act

Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chair and convener of the National Road Safety Council, has shared with us several key features of the new Road Traffic Act. Please take note:

1. Drivers will no longer, under the new law, be able to text and drive, or use the cellphone without the aid of some type of hands-free assistance. It is a major cause of distracted driving worldwide, and results in deaths and injuries.

2. All learner drivers must pass the Road Code Test before receiving a learner's permit. Also, a person can now only ride a motorcycle with a learner's permit if accompanied by a licensed rider on another motorcycle in close proximity. All of this is in sharp contrast to the earlier provisions which allowed motorcyclists to purchase a learner's permit without any requirement for training. This will add to the other measures being employed to reduce the deaths and injuries of motorcyclists.

3. The Island Traffic Authority will now be empowered to automatically suspend the licences of a driver, if he or she exceeds the maximum number of demerit points according to the new law. A move which, when the ticketing system is fully functional, will help to curb the recklessness which currently obtains on our roads.

4. All drivers will be required to travel with their licences or face stiff penalties. Previously, drivers had up to three days to produce a licence – a provision which led to many who had multiple tickets being able to escape the full force of the law, as in most cases there was no follow-up to determine if the person had a licence.

5. All-round there will be stiffer fines for breaking the law. The fines, a matter over which the legislators preside, have to be set at a level at which they make people think twice about breaking the law, otherwise they are of no use. Any call for a reduction of specific fines where perceived as onerous and unfair, I am sure, will be dealt with appropriately by the political directorate.

Reopening of Wortley Home

We were at a beautiful ceremony last Wednesday to witness the reopening of an expanded hundred-year-old Wortley Home in Constant Spring, one of three run by the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, led by Bishop Howard Gregory. An emotional Tanya Wildish thanked donors, large and small, who had stepped up after the 2015 fire. These included Food for the Poor, the Cecil B Facey Foundation, JN Foundation, Wortley Home Chairman Raphael 'Keith' Sangster and board members, architect Rivi Gardner, Running Events' Alfred “Frano” Francis, and little Isabelle Robinson who was only four years old when she initiated a fund-raiser.

Food for the Poor Chairman Andrew Mahfood summed up the effort well: “It is amazing what we can do as a people when tragedy strikes and we decide to come together to do good. Nothing can break down people when they set their mind on a cause.” We hope the lives of the home's residents will be boosted by these improved facilities.

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