Govt’s online efficiency a farce

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Attempts at making T&T government functions online and efficient are a bit of a farce.

Let’s start with the Ministry of Finance who are trying to force corporate Trinidad to comply by removing the standard forms to complete income tax returns from their previous availability online. Making printable forms online was commendable but removing them altogether, in an attempt to make individuals complete and submit online is ridiculous.

The advice government received from Estonia was to make the systems easy to use and thus make people want to submit online, while still preserving the manual version availability, has been ignored.

Consequently, we now have to modify old 2018 forms and submit in that manner.

The ministry then proceeded to hire phone-in reps who call and tell taxpayers they have to resubmit online—a message that obviously has to be simply ignored. On what legal basis is the government telling us that we must submit online? Speaking from bitter experience I can say that the “TTConnect” and “E-Tax” systems (why on earth are there two names?) are a bungling failure. I have tried both, but immediately ran afoul of requirements to establish user names and passwords.

Encountering difficulty along the way, I ran out of time and tried again later, but this time “the system” had half memorised the previous attempt and refused to accept anything I input.

Chat line and calls to various “help” facilities only caused more confusion and in one of the contacts the nicely spoken assistant told me I would have to go to some office with two forms of ID. I know, you have all heard this nonsense before. I told her that I don’t have to go to any office with any forms of ID under the previous procedure to submit my tax returns and do not have any intention of doing so now. That ended communication, I set about printing and forging an old blank form, and submitted my company tax return.

Then there are all sorts of organisations springing up, many bearing names that start with “E” like “E-Teck” that appear to be government organisations but we can’t be sure. One that does not begin with “E” is Tourism Trinidad (don’t we have a Ministry of Tourism?) that put an ad in Sunday’s paper of a survey of “potential tourism sites” and supplied telephone contacts.

I tried calling but encountered one of those automated answering systems that connected me to various extensions that were unmanned “so leave a message”, or an operator who was clearly at a remote location and could not be heard.

Further attempts to call the number were failures. This is obviously a government attempt at putting more cronies in a job, because it works just like all ministries where you encounter “that mailbox is full—please call again later,” or get a run around from an operator who merrily routes your call to extensions where nobody answers at all.

T&T government ministries have been like this since time immemorial. I remember calling the Ministry of Energy way back in the 1990s and the phone rang endlessly with nobody answering.

In those days we were anxious to attract foreign investment in leasing rounds and I could just imagine the frustration of an executive in Exxon or BP trying to arrange a meeting from home office in Houston or London, being subject to that kind of treatment.

I tried calling, writing, and emailing the Minister of National Security and his Permanent Secretary for two years without any response whatever.

Eventually I had to write the Prime Minister and hand deliver a letter to his office before I got any result. The meeting was eventually called, but with neither person present, all that was achieved was a demand for legal information that is taking months to assemble because of the delays of other government offices. There was no interest delegated to the government reps to discuss the true substance of the meeting requested.

Has anybody tried to contact Gary Griffith at his much publicised hot line? The result is either nothing at all, a oneword answer “noted”, or a referral to some email PR department where the report is totally ignored or an empty promise made to follow up or contact you later. Voice contact with someone likely to have authority to act is impossible.

I am afraid the necessary will and ability to make government responsive and efficient by using today’s modern communications is just not there. As that famous song goes—when will we ever learn?

REG POTTER
Glencoe