Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Dealing with the Government

Contributed by Patience Nyepanh

Dealing with the government is frequently part of my regular duties and responsibilities as the Admin/Finance Assistant at NATC.

For instance, this entails filing taxes such as the social security and withholding taxes. These taxes are deducted from the staff's salaries every month and then paid to National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP) and Ministry of Finance respectively.

There are many challenges in dealing with the ministries and officials which I would like to discuss in this blog post.

Our local government structure and the way it relates to the citizenry has altered in some, if not, so many ways since the civil conflict.

For example, during the years before the war, we did not have to always be in a rush for public transport like we are now. Those were the days when a person only had to go directly to a designated bus stand and get a ride to wherever he/she wanted to go. And by wherever, I actually mean, taking that person to the doorstep of his/her destination. Unlike now, people are always in a rush to go here or there sometimes paying dearly for it in several unwanted ways (like having their purses snatched in the process, their clothes rumpled or dirtied, arriving late at wherever they are supposed to be, etc). Some of the reasons are a much more over-populated city, more vehicles on the road and very few public transport options available. Most of the public gets around in shared taxis which are crowded or on motorcycle taxis which are quite hazardous. Public buses, like the Tata buses donated by the Government of India, are few and cannot cope with the public demand.

I usually take the shared taxi to get around and with planning, I manage to get to the places I need to on time.

Once you get to the ministries, there are additional challenges, mainly in the form of government officials who would like a monetary incentive to get a job quickly done and not delay it. This can be tedious and annoying but I have learned how to best handle each person and avoid petty bribes as far as possible.

Filing of the withholding tax takes much longer than the social security tax because the tax is not paid directly but through the bank which is usually always over-crowded and slow to process transactions. These are the steps I follow:

Step1. Obtain the manager's cheque from Ecobank - this process is very time-consuming because of the long queues.
Step2. Take the manager's cheque to the Finance Ministry in the BPS room for entries. There are additional long queues before the payment is stamped.
Step3. Proceed to the cashier within the Ministry to get a receipt.

Although it does take time to make this transaction every month, I more or less know how to go about it and can calculate the time I need to do it before hand. And as I said before, I try to give a few local Liberian Dollars here and there to speed things up. I think the ministries are getting more and more organised and with the system of computerised receipts, we at least know that revenue is being collected in a transparent manner. Currently I am working on getting a tax clearance certificate so that NATC can take part in public bids and even bids to the UN who require this paper and, I was happy to see an accurate print out of all the taxes we have filed to date which even included the cheque numbers.

Where the revenue is being spent, though, and whether we can see it in the form of better infrastructure and provision of critical services like electricity and water to the public is another debate altogether!

So while filing taxes has more or less become a straightforward matter, unexpected tasks like Amendments to Articles of Incorporation have taken up months at a time. The company had to spend $ 50.00 to get this amendment done and took almost 2 months!

Generally, it can be difficult to deal with the government officials who are always 'looking for something small' on the side. They will simply put up a 'deaf ear' to your request unless they have an incentive to get the job done. I usually approach the situation in a cool manner and end up negotiating more reasonable terms for the interest of our company. It is just the way things are done in Liberia and I do not think things will change for some time to come.

All in all, I have learned a lot in performing the government-related tasks of my job. I think tax-collection is becoming more transparent but I hope that these taxes are put to good use for the sake of the country. Petty corruption is part and parcel of dealings with the government though but I have some tactics where I can minimise it! The public transport issue though is a huge strain on the public and things certainly need to improve in Monrovia where the majority of the population resides.

I hope you found this interesting reading! 

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Spanner No. 9 and a rusty NUT

Contributed by Haresh Karamchandani

This morning we noticed that our Internet was not working. We tried trouble-shooting by resetting the wireless CISCO router, the switch, the POE (Power-over-Ethernet) Injector to no avail.

The only other solution was to climb up on the terrace and check the Transeo Flat Panel Antenna. The Antenna was not powering up. We took the long extension cord with the POE injector up to the terrace and brought down the Flat Panel to test it. This is where the trouble began!

The Flat panel has 4 nuts that held the cover to the RJ 45 Jack inside. The nuts had become very rusty due to the elements. We managed to get 2 loose but the other 2 would not come off. Strangely we were using a No.10 spanner to loosen the nuts but 1 nut was a No.9. We did not have a No.9. The office staff went looking for a No. 9 and brought one back. Apparently there are “American Standard” spanners and “Japanese Standard or British Standard” spanners!! All of them are No.9’s but all of them are different sizes!! The spanner that our staff brought would not work as it did not match the standard.

Eventually we found a proper No. 9 spanner and that fitted the nut. But the nut and the bolt turned together! This NUT was giving us a big problem. Eventually we had no choice but to use a hacksaw and cut off the bolt! Getting 1 nut to open took us a whole frustrating hour!

Now that we were able to access the RJ45 jack we could use a jumper cable and test the Antenna by connecting it to the POE injector.

The Antenna powered on!

Then we had to check the CAT6e cable running from the Antenna to our indoor router. We had a LAN tester and ran a test. Yes!! 2 parts of the cable were not transmitting!

The staff is running a new CAT6e 3M cable. Hopefully our internet will be up and running once we replace the cable.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

On Screen Keyboard

Contributed by Haresh Karamchandani

A client called us complaining that some keys on her HP Laptop were broken. We brought the laptop over to the workshop for an assessment and tried to fix the broken keys. All efforts failed as the keys were beyond repair.

We concluded that the only solution was to either replace the keyboard completely or use an USB external keyboard attached to the laptop.

We were wrong! Our Head of IT came up with the idea of using an On-Screen Keyboard.

All you have to do in such a situation is click on the “Start “menu, then click “Run “and then type in OSK for (On screen Keyboard). A virtual keyboard will appear on your screen which can be used like a normal keyboard. Both keyboards can be used in conjunction with each other.

Problem solved! Another happy client for NATC!

You should note that this solution only applies to a situation where only a couple of keys have stopped functioning. If most of the keyboard has been damaged, using an on-screen keyboard will be cumbersome and slow down your typing speed. 

For MAC users, please go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Click on 'Show Keyboard & Character Viewer in  menu bar'.