By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Ministry of Finance’s Revenue Compliance and Enforcement Unit (RCEU) has made a $39.2m “fiscal impact” by cracking down on tax leakages over the 2019/2020 fiscal year’s first ten months.
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, in kick-starting the 2020-2021 budget debate in the House of Assembly, said “cracking down on tax cheats and ensuring the government obtains every cent due to it is one area where the Public Treasury’s income might improve amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s fall-out”.
Praising the Revenue Compliance Unit, which was first conceived under the former Christie administration, for achieving “exceptional results”, Mr Turnquest added: “The Unit has had a total fiscal impact of $39.2m in the first ten months of the 2019-20 fiscal year. The Revenue Compliance Unit is currently composed of 35 persons, and we have approved additional staffing for 12 more qualified Bahamians.
“The field audit team identified and assessed an additional $9.9m. Part of their process is to ensure taxpayers understand the reasons for the changes to their filings with the intention that they will be able to report accurately going forward.
“These results were achieved with the hiring of 12 Bahamian auditors in August 2019. We have approved additional staffing of four auditors, who are expected to be on-boarded when business returns to normal. I remind this House that this Bahamian audit team will be replacing the team of foreign auditors that the former government had engaged with absolutely no plan to recruit and train Bahamians for the job.”
Mr Turnquest added: “The collections team, amplified by additional hirings last year, collected $11.7m. Prior to the pandemic, we were in the process of hiring an additional three collectors to address the existing accounts receivable backlog. We intend to proceed upon resumption of normal business activities.
“Lastly, the Revenue Compliance Unit was recently given responsibility for the collection of all outstanding real property taxes. In addition to the current complement of eight call centre agents who actively pursue these debts, we have dedicated resources to hire an additional five Bahamians to increase the number of collection calls. In the first ten months of 2019-2020, this team had a fiscal impact of $17.6m.”
Addressing the Customs modernisation programme, Mr Turnquest said it was “designed to transform the old, antiquated administration system within the Customs Department, with a view to increase compliance as well as revenue collections”
Hailing the ‘Click2Clear’ digitisation for making made goods clearance “more efficient and faster”, Mr Turnquest said: “Last year we implemented a national public education campaign, including several stakeholder engagements, to ensure all importers were registered on the system and trained to use it properly.
“This campaign successfully registered 26,747 individual users on the system, and over 4,000 commercial entities. Last fiscal year, Click2Clear processed over $1bn in government revenue for the Customs Department. Up to April of the current fiscal year, which factors in the impact of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19, the system has collected just over $800m.”
Mr Turnquest said the Government has also appointed a revenue auditor, who was tasked to perform an in-depth review of the cash management processes and procedures within the Government.
“Preliminary findings of this review identified a few persistent shortfalls in the current cash management system, which have led to challenges in revenue reporting. Many, if not most of these challenges, go back many, many years without resolution,” Mr Turnquest added.
“A key contributing factor of the shortfalls in the cash management system is a lack of human capital, as the major revenue agencies often find themselves unable to adequately man the revenue management process due to lack of staffing.
“Thus, as I mentioned in the 2020-2021 Budget communication, the Government will be introducing a dedicated Revenue and Cash Management Unit, which will be responsible for the management and implementation of effective strategies to realign the revenue and cash management cycle of the Government,” he continued.
“The unit will be led by a director of revenue, who will lead a team of revenue officers stationed in the Treasury and in each of the large revenue-generating Government departments, agencies or ministries to implement and control the processes that need to be in place to properly manage the Government’s revenue.”