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EDITORIAL: Improved revenue collection a must

rhondathompson, [email protected]

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FOR SOMETIME there has been talk about the vexing problem of an inefficient tax collection system which has left various Government departments with outstanding receivables totalling millions of dollars.
Numbered among these departments is National Insurance, Value Added Tax (VAT), Land Tax, Inland Revenue, Barbados Water Authority whilst the Licensing Department suffers from the failure of motor vehicle owners to licence vehicles on due dates.
Despite threats and existing penalties, there has been a casual response by some citizens and businesses to the recognition that Government can only continue to provide social services to the standards to which we have become accustomed if payments are made in a timely manner. Yet the high delinquency rate remains.
How does one come to terms with the news that 30 000 vehicles can be found on our roads without having paid due road taxes? How much longer can we allow suppliers of goods or services to fail to hand over VAT receipts to Government?
When one considers the immorality of deducting the portion of National Insurance charged to employees and failing to pay over to NIS, thus placing those employees at risk in the event of a claim being made, we must wonder at our failure to prosecute such culprits.
Still, taxpayers are prone to rebel when Government is forced to increase taxation in order to fund recurrent expenditure. It therefore raises the question why are we seemingly reluctant to insist on revenue collection efficiency which, surely, is the alternative to higher taxation?
This small country can ill-afford to have outstanding revenue receivables totalling some $500 million. Needless to say, there are those who would argue that Government would be heartless to attempt to vigorously pursue collection at this time. Can Barbados maintain its present standard of living with large chunks of money outstanding?
Take the Barbados Water Authority: In the face of a critical need to replace worn mains the executive chairman reports arrears at $5 million plus and asserts that consumers give a low priority to the payment of water bills. Mr Walters went on to point out that the sizeable debt was owed by individuals and not businesses and that debtors seemed moved to pay only upon receipt of bills threatening disconnection.
Everyone understands water to be a vital and essential commodity. However, it cannot be further subsidised through non payment of bills by some users. Government therefore needs to take a policy decision in respect of defaulters and hold firm to such policy not only with regard to non payment of water bills but all other revenues collectible.
 It is clear that the absence of a firm policy concerning defaulters contributes significantly to the arrears position. Why should the payment of telephone and energy bills attract a higher priority in the eyes of consumers despite the fact that life depends on the availability of water? What does this tell us?