It has been a most frustrating process filing my tax returns by the due date on May 31, 2019, a date which was extended from the usual April 30th deadline, the reason being our inability to access the online Tax Administration Information System (TAMIS). This resulted in many people journeying to the Barbados Revenue Authority Offices (BRA) to file their tax returns. It was noted during a news telecast that one of the reasons people were unable to file their returns was the inordinate number trying to access TAMIS. This was causing the hiccups.
One frustrated tax payer suggested that both the new TAMIS and the former online tax system, e-tax, should have been run in parallel. Perhaps it wasn’t done because it may have been too costly. Persons would have used the former e-tax service and this information would have had to be uploaded to TAMIS.
There was no official word from authorities on whether people who failed to file by the end of May would be penalized. Given the problems associated with accessing the online system, this may have been a prudent option by authorities. Another challenge may have been the capacity of TAMIS to deal with the number of users trying to access the system. There may have been an underestimation of the number of persons seeking access at any one time. This may very well be an issue of the hardware used. Government may not have had the adequate number of servers, and may need to purchase or rent additional capacity outside of Barbados to handle the additional demand.
Another issue is whether TAMIS was developed locally or in another jurisdiction and adjusted to function in Barbados. If the latter, one would reasonably expect that there would be considerable challenges with implementing such a system here, as the conditions and parameters here would be different from those for which the programme was originally designed. Countries like Barbados have a long history of being testing grounds for ideas, goods and services from more developed societies. The question we should be asking ourselves, if the foregoing is true, is how long we will continue to be used as testing grounds for such.
One school of thought suggests that we are as talented and as capable as anyone else; therefore, we should be developing more of these ideas, goods and services for ourselves. While it may be easier to purchase software already developed and tweak it to suit our purposes, there is the risk of such software not functioning optimally for us.
It was quite distressing to see the long lines of taxpayers and to see BRA staff who, in some cases, may not have been familiar with the new system, being frustrated by how slow the system functioned.
Moreover, millions of productive man-hours may have been lost to the productive sectors of our economy, when people had to journey to BRA offices to have this matter addressed. It has been said that information technology (IT) was designed to increase productivity in the workplace. I have noticed that when IT does not function optimally in entities that are heavily dependent on it, they cannot function.
One of the complaints I overheard by persons attempting to file, is that the employer failed to upload their information to TAMIS. It would seem reasonable to assume that employers were having the same challenges accessing TAMIS as well. This may lead to incorrect assessments and may require taxpayers to file objections and raise issues with the BRA subsequent to filing.
Electronic Tax filing appears to be one of the areas where Government is attempting to transform how it functions, by placing its operations on an IT platform. This is a very big project which will take considerable time to implement. It will not only require adjustments to the present platforms, but to government’s legislative framework to implement the necessary changes.
The teething problems which we currently experience with TAMIS are but a small example of what we may experience over the next few years as Government switches to this new e-government platform.
Edward Hunte, an Attorney-at-Law, is the holder of an MBA with concentrations
in Economics & Finance. He was also an economist with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs.