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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Taxing Times In Barbados

A friend mentioned to me some weeks ago that he was at his wits end. Tax filing season was coming and the Inland Revenue Department in Barbados was making the change to etax (electronic filing), but did not seem too well set up. The new website boasts, "The online service will become available on January 1, 2009. Barbados will be the first CARICOM country to implement such a comprehensive and modern tax administration system." Not everyone has a computer or access to one and the Internet, yet it seemed that paper forms were not available from the IRD. In a place like Canada or the US, e-filing is easier by having plenty of free access to computers at local libraries, or by the IRD equivalent having terminals in their offices, or by having 'tax agents' complete forms for people for a fee. In Barbados, public access to computers in less (and the 30 minutes slots at the main library wont cut it), and I am sure that the idea of a tax agent is both new and relatively untried--no HR Block here. As Iunderstand it, the IRD is not geared up to handle people visiting them to do the online filing.

I have been off the island for a week but have been hearing and reading about continuing problems with this change over. Another friend, shared with me his continuing horror story.

The e-tax site is just not working properly. Sometimes you can log on but it is very slow and when you get to the actual form certain areas will not allow you to enter information. Some personal information that I managed to update doesn't seem to get updated to the tax return form and just now when I tried to move from one page to the next it told me: An exceptional error occurred. The service has been placed in maintenance. And then even more scary...."Server Error in '/eTaxIrd' Application. User should be assigned before anything. Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more..." Etc. etc... Damn, I hope I didn't break it.

Anyhow, one of my wife's colleagues tried without any success, called Inland Revenue who explained that the site was very busy and it was probably good to try it around midnight. I did that last night but it didn't make any difference. Maybe my technical skills are just not up to this level – I’m going to check and see if other people had more luck using the site. Needless to say that if I had done this manually the form would have been in the IRD’s mail box since yesterday.

Someone commented at a meeting yesterday that in Barbados there is a tendency to reinvent the wheel and then claim that the expertise does not exist to deal with some change or other. Yet, other countries, bigger and smaller have implemented similar changes with no, or few, problems. Is there a mind set that says "We have to do it, or it's no good"? Or is there the annoying, self-serving of bureaucrats who are doing things on the cheap and leaving the poor public to struggle with their penny wise, pound foolish approach? Whatever, the system needed to have been tried and tested well ahead of tax filing season. Most countries run pilot programs first and make sure that teething problems and glitches are ironed out before letting the public loose onto the system. My understanding is that the local administration did not want to do that, but wanted to go live directly. Oh me, oh my.

No doubt, the website is beautiful and attractive (see link), but note that the frequently asked questions pages reports "This section is under construction and therefore its content could be incomplete. We apologize for any inconvenient this may cause." Duh. That couple featured in their cozy pad, supposedly making their easy-peasy tax submission are doing nothing more that updating Facebook, or Twitter, or playing Scrabble on line. You don't feel very inspired when you look at the tax calendar and it states "due dates for 2005".

You can't fool us IRD. You ain't ready. Go back to the drawing board and get it right first.

1 comment:

Sue said...

I gave up trying to complete the online tax form, couldn't register for myself or my husband, my tax return still hasn't arrived, so I filled my husbands out manually and took it in , I queued for 1 1/2 hours then got a really helpful man who also couldn't register our names either!! he eventually managed to sort mine out and took 20 minutes to sort my husbands out, but as my husbands company hasn't completed their on line filing he couldn't go any further, and that's a large well known company............
As we're both due tax back I just wonder which year we'll get it back in.........