Highlights — 07 August 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
Income Tax and General Sales Tax Departments merge into Belize Tax Services

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Aug. 2, 2019– In late June, the Senate debated and passed the Belize Tax Services bill, which became law after it was signed by the Governor General. The primary objective of this new piece of legislation, which was initially introduced in the House of Representatives by Prime Minister Dean Barrow in his Minister of Finance capacity, was for the two revenue-collecting government departments to become one mega tax-collecting agency, collecting both Income Tax and General Sales Tax (GST) under the umbrella of the Belize Tax Services, which falls under the Ministry of Finance.

Although it will take a few years for it to be completed, that merger began yesterday and today, the media was invited to the Charles Bartlett Hyde Building, which will house the Belize Tax Services.

Both the Income Tax Department and GST were headed by a commissioner. Those two offices have now been absorbed into the Belize Tax Services, which will be headed by a single individual, whose title is Director General. Although this new government post was never advertised, to the best of our knowledge, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dean Barrow, has given the nod to Michelle Longsworth to take the reins of Belize’s new tax regime.

Asked what taxpayers should expect out of the new amalgamated department, Longsworth told Kremandala that tax payers should expect improved services from the new tax department.

“Taxpayers should begin to feel comfortable in coming to one location to do their taxes,” Longsworth said.

Longsworth added that the second phase that taxpayers should look forward to is “our integrated tax approach, which will be an online system where taxpayers can access their tax account from the comfort of their own homes.” Taxpayers will be able to file online and pay their taxes online, Longsworth stressed.

Longsworth was asked how the new entity will affect employees.

Longsworth explained that the highly skilled cadre of employees from both departments will now come together as one to serve the Belizean people. “There has been no redundancy,” Longsworth declared.

We asked Longsworth about the training that has been provided for employees.

“Since November last year, we started to retrain our tax professionals”, Longsworth replied. “We started with career development training, with changed management training; we had to be sure that our tax professionals are ready to embrace the change that we foresee in the next few years,” she further explained.

 Financial Secretary Joseph Waight told us that this merger has been long in coming, but that he is “glad it’s here, integrated, better service for our taxpayers and hopefully more revenue.”

In a press release issued today, Friday, August 2, the government said, “The Government of Belize established a Program Office for the Modernization of Tax Administration and appointed Mrs. Michelle Longsworth as the Program Manager in October 2018.”

The government release goes on to say that the position has evolved to Director General. “Mrs. Longsworth will continue to work along with the program team to establish a modern service-orientated tax administration, integrated with other government agencies and financial institutions, all businesses and citizens of Belize,” the release stated.

The release said that the new management team will continue to work on the redesign of the department according to the current good practices and standards for tax administrations, deliver services to taxpayers and optimally use its own human resources and knowledgeable staff  “to manage compliance according to risk utilizing a wide range of internal and third party data.”

Lisa Clare, the Belize Tax Services’ Deputy General with responsibility for Policy and Programs, discussed the functionality of the system and the fact that the launch is only the beginning of changes. The overall modernization will be done in a phased approach over the next few years.

The department will also improve its outreach on taxes to introduce the system to school children, who are at a stage in life when learning is often more effective, said the government press release.

In January 2018, the Government of Belize requested and received from the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Center (CARTAC) technical assistance to assist the government with current operations and technology systems that support tax administration in Belize.

The release concluded by saying that today marks the beginning of the implementation of the new tax administration system, which will be completed in 2022.

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Deshawn Swasey

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