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More time

Saturday, May 20 2017

WE WELCOME the announcement by Finance Minister Colm Imbert that the deadline for submission of key paperwork in relation to property tax has been extended from May 22 to June 5. There are several pragmatic reasons why a more relaxed timeline is preferable.

However, none of this will erase the gap that has emerged between the line being taken by the minister and the ordinary citizen – a problem that will pose deeper problems relating to the credibility of this administration in the long run if not addressed.

In announcing the extension, the minister said 150,000 valuation forms had been distributed to Government facilities. But he added, “It is obvious people want to get involved in this process of having their property valued, assessed and they want to pay the tax.” While we are sure there are many civic-minded people out there, if Imbert is to be believed taxpayers are lining up in droves with smiles on their faces to fork out more of their hardearned income to a State system bogged by inefficiency and graft; a system for which successive administrations have failed to implement a convincing public procurement scheme, each ostensibly coming closer and closer to it while effectively wasting all of our time by tinkering ad nauseam.

To interpret the fear of citizens as a form of glee is to misread the nature of the relationship between any State and those governed within it. The State wields tremendous power over us and, in some cases, politicians are empowered to direct the armature of the law against individuals.

In such a climate, all sorts of abuses of power and violations are possible. So when the dragon starts blowing fire, we all wet our houses.

Taxpayers don’t quite know what their money will be spent on. But we know we will pay a price if we fail in our duty to comply with the State’s directives.

But while we don’t agree with the minister’s misguided rhetorical flourish, we must still commend the decision to extend the deadline for the filing of paperwork.

More time will allow more people to seek advice and to get proper valuations done so that they do not put themselves at risk by submitting forms that will possibly be tested. It also allows legal processes to take effect without being rushed.

Imbert makes Cabinet appear aloof and removed from the concerns of the man in the street if he misreads a climate of fear for something else. Once it opens, it is hard to close a credibility gap. The minister also cannot dismiss questions about legal action filed against the State by facetiously saying Opposition officials will update the nation.

His duty is to be as open as possible to the citizenry.

Though 150,000 forms have been delivered it is also important to emphasise that is not the end of the matter. Efficient systems and resources must also be in place to process the paperwork that will result. This is another benefit of an extension of time: it gives the State an opportunity to ensure it is ready for the last-minute wave of filings.

Why is it that for every service from the State we have very lengthy lines? Whether we are applying for a passport, doing transactions at the Licensing Office, or getting an ID Card at the Elections and Boundaries Commission, the impression sometimes left is of a State architecture that is still in the Ice Age.

While computerisation poses its own challenges, it is equally true that the State’s systems can do with a little ramping up.

Hopefully all will be ready come June 5.



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