Inland Revenue aiming for e-tax administration

St. John’s Antigua- Taxpayers will, in the near future, be able to file their income tax returns and pay their outstanding taxes online, as well as receive email notifications of their tax status.

This was among pledges given yesterday during a ceremony to mark the official opening of the new premises housing the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) at the Woods Centre on Friar’s Hill Road.

Acting Commissioner of Inland Revenue Ralph Warner was making the point that he and others in charge are determined not to be satisfied just with getting a bigger and better appointed modern workspace. They also want this coupled with a significant enhancement of the range and quality of services delivered to the public.

“In the next 18-24 months, taxpayers will be able to file their returns online, pay their taxes online, pay their property taxes via any commercial bank of their choice, and in a few weeks pay their taxes using credit cards and debit cards,” Warner disclosed.

He continued, “Now that we have the appropriate bandwidth in place, we will be utilising information technology to be in constant contact with all our stakeholders throughout Antigua & Barbuda. Our IT Unit, in conjunction with other taxpayer services units, will develop an email library and on a quarterly basis in the first instance – then after on a monthly basis – taxpayers will receive accounts statements showing their tax status and any outstanding amounts that are owed to the department.”

Warner pointed out that Inland Revenue is Antigua & Barbuda’s “largest tax collecting agency . . . responsible for collecting 52 per cent of the Central Government’s revenue.”

He revealed that IRD’s “budgetary revenue projection” for the current fiscal year “is approximately $415 million, and as of yesterday, June 15, we have collected $187.1 million, which represents 45 per cent of our total revenue allocation for this fiscal year.”

Inland Revenue, according to Warner, has a “current staff complement of around 123 workers, making it one of the largest departments within the Central Government, and based on our strategic goals, within two years, the IRD will be one of the largest tax agencies within the Eastern Caribbean.”

Revenue Reform Project Manager within the Ministry of Finance, Everett Christian, admitted from the outset to having much that he wanted to get off his chest. He made no secret that this was his time to finally refute those who had “questioned the wisdom of government’s decision” to acquire the Woods Centre property.

“The initial sum that we expended was $8.5 million to purchase the property,” Christian said. “We then spent a further $2.756 million to renovate and retrofit the property. We also spent $962,000 approximately to acquire and install all the furniture, work stations and the filing cabinets. We spent an additional $130,000 to put in a new telephone system which is IP-based, because . . . we intend to make use of information technology as much as possible.”

Christian said this meant government had spent a total of $12.412 million, but in his view, it could not be money better spent as it was for a building now wholly owned by the state “and we will not pay one red cent in rent for it. This facility provides us with a little over 30,000 square feet of top quality office space. And if you are to rent comparable property either in this mall or the other areas you’d have to pay or be prepared to pay up to seven dollars a square foot for that, because I am including here the equipment etcetera as part of the overall cost.”

The former banker said, “using that basis it would cost us $210,000 per month in rent or $2.5 million a year to rent premises of this size and quality. Now if you take that $2.5 million a year into the overall cost of just a little over $12 million, what it says is that the payback period is less than five years. The rent that the government saves will be able to pay for this building in five years. Tell me – I dare anyone to challenge me – that that is not value for money.”

From under the tent in the Woods Centre parking lot there was certainly no challenge; just ecstatic applause.