How not to collect taxes
Why would a government intentionally make payment of taxes a frustrating ordeal for its citizens? One needs to study the Sindh Excise & Taxation (E&T) department’s motor vehicle tax collection system to better understand this paradox. A study spread over 2 years and practical experience of 20 unrelated tax paying individuals revealed some startling realities. The following true story, narrated by one such individual, is perhaps the most accurate description of the nightmarish motor vehicle tax payment process.
“On June 15, 2015, I went to pay my motor vehicle (MV) tax at the Clifton Branch of the National Bank of Pakistan. It was 11 AM and the E&T person on duty was missing from his seat. A large notice had been displayed to inform the customers that the ‘system’ (a term often used for computers and associated equipment) was non-operational.
I made a second attempt on 16th June to pay the motor vehicle tax – this time in the DHA Phase 2 branch of the National Bank. To my horror, I was told that here too the ‘system’ was out of order and that the E&T representative had been missing in action for the past 2 weeks.
On 17th June, I made a third attempt at paying the MV tax – this time at the PIDC branch of the National Bank. Here too, the ‘system’ was just as delinquent and I was told to come back the next day.
My fourth attempt at paying the MV tax appeared to be doing well, till the shutters were suddenly pulled down and the 45 or so customers waiting in the queue were asked to come back the next day. A non-functioning printer was offered as the reason for closing the shop.
I finally succeeded in paying the MV tax on my fifth attempt. Regretfully, the car sticker was still not issued and I was told to come back some other day. That would amount to making a total of six visits to pay the MV tax – an ordeal that ought to be repeated twice a year.”
It appears that the tax payment system is specially designed to cater for a slave population who must pay their dues regardless of the agony endured or days wasted. The process is cumbersome and poorly designed. Wait in a queue for about one hour. Present the Vehicle Registration book to the E&T representative. He logs into the E&T server and documents the tax to be paid. Queue up again at another window to pay the amount. Come back in a queue for the third time and present receipt of payment to the E&T representative. He stamps the registration book and ‘issues’ you a display sticker (often not available) that indicates the tax paid.
How can a department be so callous, clueless and bureaucratic? How come a department cannot issue the car number plates at the time of registration? How come a department fail to provide car stickers at the time of tax payment? How come a department does not allow customers to make advance payment for multiple years instead of undergoing the same torture every six months?
In most western countries citizens never need to visit a government office or bank to pay their taxes. All payments can be made electronically or telephonically while sitting at home. Pakistan with its 130 million mobile phones is the fifth largest mobile phone user in Asia. It also has excellent mobile money transfer schemes such as ‘Easy Paisa’, ‘Mobicash’, ‘UBL Omni’, ‘Upaisa’, etc. An SMS message from the E&T Dept, at the beginning of every year could inform each car owner the tax that is due for next 1, 2 and 3 years. Customers should have the option to make advance payment for multiple years. Individuals sitting at home and using their mobile phones should be able to make payment to the E&T designated bank account using any of the mobile phone money transfer schemes. An automatic SMS message could be generated to confirm the receipt of payment while the car tax sticker could be couriered at the individual’s home address.
A small injection of modern technology along with a large dose of common sense could completely transform the system of tax payment. Systems that demand endless visits to government offices can only be described as colonial and incompetent. Often these complex and inefficient systems promote bribery and ghost employees. The Sindh E&T Dept. can dispel its negative image by dismantling and re-engineering its torture cell called the MV tax payment department.