This country is a step closer to ensuring its revenue collection efforts are strengthened with the establishment of the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).

And, former Permanent Secretary in the Special Projects Unit of the Ministry of Finance, Margaret Sivers, is encouraging the staff and public to embrace this change, which she said would enhance the financial stability and sustainability of the tax collection system, thereby improving compliance, reducing tax leakages and increasing the level of tax revenue collection.

Ms. Sivers said: ???Nobody likes change, but we have to work through it. Yes, we fear the unknown, but I think how we handle that change really determines whether or not you will be successful. You cannot push people into change, you have to guide them.???

Acknowledging that challenges would always exist, especially when a new organisation is being created, she continued: ???Yes, we will have challenges. We anticipate them and will work through them as we have been doing. We are preparing ourselves and with God???s help, we will make it through this process.???

She said, however, that there would not be a lot of changes in the beginning because the month of April is the island???s major tax filing period and Government was trying to ensure that there was little or no disruption to the public.?????The establishment of the Barbados Revenue Authority is not likely to affect those who are filing their taxes because we engage in electronic filing and our systems will not change. We are leaving them exactly where they are. So, tax payers will file as they were doing over the past four years, nothing will change about that.

???We are working towards doing a full integration by the end of the next financial year, which will mean the public will be able to pay their taxes and licences at various locations, namely Warrens, Holetown, Oistins, the Pine, Bridgetown and Weymouth Corporate Centre,??? she disclosed.

Ms. Sivers pointed out that the BRA would be headquartered in the Treasury Building, Bridgetown, while the Finance and Administration sections would be located at Weymouth Corporate Centre, Roebuck Street, and the Division of Audit would be in Warrens Tower II. It is intended, however, that there will be Customer Services located at each of these sites in the very near future.

The functions of the Department of Inland Revenue, the Land Tax Department, the VAT and Excise Divisions of the Customs and Excise Department and the revenue collecting area of the Barbados Licensing Authority were merged when the BRA Act was proclaimed on April 1, 2014. This new statutory corporation will employ about 310 people.

Ms. Sivers explained that the second phase of this project, which would include external taxes and border control, would be rolled out during the financial year 2014/2015, so by March 2015, the amalgamation should be completed.??The process to establish the BRA started in 2004 when a feasibility study was carried out and the former Permanent Secretary said that since then, Government had done ???quite a bit??? to reform its financial systems.

???Ten years is not a long time to reform systems as complex as those of the existing tax agencies. In fact, in most of the developed countries which had engaged in similar reforms, it took about 12 to 15 years, and in many cases they are still going through the process. Reform does not have a finite start and end. It is a continuous process, as one seeks to improve on and introduce new technologies, as well as new ways of doing business. I think we have done really well under the circumstances,??? she stated.

She noted that the transition process to the Barbados Revenue Authority was organised under a project which was funded by the Caribbean Development Bank. According to her, a number of consultancies were carried out to look at various areas within the project.

???We had consultancies to advise on the organisational design and related services as well as to conduct a complete IT diagnostic review of the existing systems and infrastructure within the legacy agencies??? to provide a roadmap to a best practice situation, where, at some point, we could have one platform on which the entire tax administration function is carried out.

???We also recognised that it is a big change for staff and we needed to deal with the matter of leading, handling and reacting to change. We put in place a change management consultancy which sought to assist staff in dealing with the various issues which arise, as they seek to deal with the change process and to keep them aware of the progress of the project. Immediately, on bringing together the various employees in the BRA, we will embark on a major change management strategy ??? because there will be a blending of persons. Management is aware that each organisation has its work ethics and culture which it will bring with it, and to achieve our objective, these must be integrated,??? she suggested.

Ms. Sivers underscored the importance of the new organisation, stating that there would be better management of cash resources, both from the public and the Government???s perspectives, and additionally the Government would be in a better position to estimate its revenue and blend receipts and times of collections.

???We are going to merge our IT resources, so we will now be better placed to specialise using the resources available. Integration will, however, be key to the success of this reform initiative. We are well aware that bringing three or four agencies under one roof will not improve the system, but rather the level to which we are able to integrate our processes to bring the greatest value added to the system and to customer service, including education and sensitisation of the public to the importance of voluntary compliance with respect to taxes.

???So, I think coming together will do a lot to improve our tax administration system. We don???t expect it to perform miracles and, of course, transition does not happen in one day??? This does not mean that the integration process has not commenced, and we would wish the taxpayers and general public to support us as we seek to improve our system,??? Ms. Sivers said.

If our forefathers had not accepted change, this country would not have made the necessary strides and reached this stage of development. Therefore, let us remember what the late wordsmith Jim Rohn said: ???Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.??? So let us embrace this change!

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