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! 

1 comment:

  1. Very good article Patience, your name has prepared you well for getting by in Liberia. I am hopeful that, as the economy develops, the collected taxes will enable government to pay higher salaries so that less bribery and corruption will take place. Keep up the good work!