The Government's push to roll out e-governance as a means of improving the ease of doing business with the public sector led to another major milestone today.
If you have been standing in lines to file your income tax or business tax, in a few more weeks, you will no longer need to do that. You'll soon be able to do it through a new online platform which belongs to the Belize Tax Service Department.
It's called IRIS, and it was launched officially today at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel. Our news team attended and Daniel Ortiz has that story:
Taxpayers Get Ready to Go Online: IRIS Begins October 4th
Beginning October fourth, Belizean taxpayers will have access to a new online service for paying business taxes, GST, personal income tax, and a host of other taxes. The Integrated Tax Information System, or IRIS, had a soft launch today that was hybrid in format, with both a Facebook component streamed by the Government Press Office and a simultaneous face-to-face session at the Belize Biltmore Plaza. News Five found out more about what taxpayers can expect with the launch of the new system that promises that once you figure it all out, you may never have to go to the physical tax office in Belize again.
Karla Heusner, Reporting
There was a festive atmosphere for today’s launch as members of the Belize Tax Service celebrated the IRIS project which was two years in the making. Despite the catchy acronym, the online tax service is serious business and part of a wider effort to improve both the collection of taxes and the efficiency of the BTS.
Joseph Waight, Financial Secretary, Ministry of Finance
“In November 2019, The Government of Belize entered into a US dollar fourteen million loan agreement with the Inter-American Development Plan, the IDP, for the financing and the execution of the strengthening of tax administration project. The main objective of the project is to contribute to strengthening tax administration by improving tax administration governance, the operational processes, and the technological infrastructure. It will enable the Belize Tax Services to compile a more complete and more accurate data, in real-time. Therefore, assist greatly in tax administration and the development of future tax policies. As a result, today we are introducing a modern technological system designed to be a more effective and efficient service to the taxpayers community. IRIS Belize is an innovative hi-tech system that has much to offer the taxpayer community than is currently available. We are placing the emphasis on service in the name, Belize Tax Service.”
Director-General Michelle Longsworth spoke about how the Belize Tax Service will phase in the online platform and the help available for taxpayers as they adjust to the new digital system.
Michelle Longsworth, Director General, Belize Tax Service
“The process that we are following is that effective Monday, the 4
, large taxpayers, that is taxpayers within that bracket that is considered large, it will be mandatory for them to file and do all the transactions online. The medium, small, and micro will be phased in over a period of time. Why? Because we do realize that in our country, not all our taxpayers have the ability to access the internet or have devices immediately. So, we will have lobby service in all our branches countrywide and in our headquarter office in Belize City. There will be lobby services with our knowledgeable staff who will be guiding them through the process of being able to access the system and to do all their process online. So that is how we are doing it in a phased approach so that we can accommodate all taxpayers. It is hopeful by 2002, we will have a higher percentage of taxpayers solely using this system and having less interaction face-to-face at our offices.
The system allows a taxpayer to access their tax account. What that means is that every taxpayer will have the ability to view their tax account. They’ll be able to see everything that they file, they’ll be able to see all their payments, they’ll be able to see assessment, they’ll be able to see everything included in their tax account. So, take for instance if you pay online as the video showed you, the tutorial, once you pay online and you are still hesitant and want to make sure that it actually hit your tax account, you can log on to IRIS Belize and you can bring up your account and you will see your payment has been applied to your tax account. Why? The payment that you are making is real-time. So there is no delay in waiting to see the payment that you have there.”
Longsworth says taxpayers will also be able to track the progress of any pending refunds. She emphasized that all taxpayer and banking information will be housed on secure servers in Belize. While today’s launch marks the beginning of what the public will see on IRIS, for those involved in creating the project, it was several years of hard, mostly remote, work that involved partners 18 hours ahead of Belize in New Zealand. In the end, the discipline paid off.
“We set out a schedule that we did everything virtually. Our internet service is excellent in Belize, so that did not stop us. Our officers, some of them that you see here, we all committed that we would be doing this. Even if it was after hours, or even if it was Saturday. All our milestones, all our timelines have been met. To date, this is one of them. And so, we have other… as we go into our phase two and phase three, we are still on target with all our timelines.”
Last night, we showed you the Tax Service Department's brand new tax collection system. It's an electronic platform called IRIS or Integrated Revenue Information System, and it is a major step forward in e-governance for this government agency.
Taxpayers will be able to file their general sales tax and income tax using their computers or smart devices, which significantly improves the ease of doing business. But, while IRIS upgrades the department's business flow, it has a major benefit for the tax officials. It will provide a higher level of oversight, and it is expected to help plug the leakages in tax collection that have eventually led to all those hundreds of millions in arrears that can't be collected.
Here's how the Director-General explained it to the press yesterday:
Michelle Longsworth - Director-General, BTSD "So what this will do is encourage taxpayers to do their processes, and services from home. What that will do is provide for tax administration to now refocus. So, we won't be focusing now on inputting tax returns - that kind of thing. What we will be now doing is a more risk-based administration, where now, we will look and seek out these persons who are evading taxes. Our system, this new system, IRIS Belize will be integrated with other systems. And I'll use the Customs ASYCUDA world for instance. So presently, we do get information from the ASYCUDA world, so it's hard to compare, But, now that you have the integration of these systems that will exchange information. So, when a business imports, we will get all the importation. So, when they file their tax returns, the business, but business intelligence tools within that system will do a comparative analysis, so that we will be able then to know if this taxpayer is properly accounting for the taxes that they actually collected from us, the taxpayers. That is what it's about. We're taxpayers, and if we go to the store to purchases something, we're paying our taxes. So, that business should be paying it to the Government of Belize. They're only acting as an aid to assist the government to collect taxes. So, if they're importing goods, and they're understating or underreporting, this system will help with that. So, we'll be integrating with even Companies Registry. You have a lot of businesses that register a business, but they don't register with the Tax Department. With this integration, once you register your business at the Companies Registry, what will happen is that there will be a notification to our tax system to say Company 'X' has registered for a new business."
The Director-General also pointed out that in another phase of the IRIS roll-out, it will be integrated with the Land Department's tax system as well. That way tax collectors will be able to get one report of all the arrears they owe.
Today, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry sent out a press release congratulating the Belize Tax Service Department and the Government of Belize on the successful launch of IRIS.
In their statement, the Chamber says, quote, "The BCCI recognizes that the implementation of this system is significant progress in the response to our long-standing calls on behalf of the private sector for greater e-governance infrastructure in Belize. The BCCI firmly believes that similar initiatives in other sectors of government can provide for greater efficiency, predictability, and reliability in government and the services it provides the Belizean people. This development is significant in terms of its potential impact on the economy" End quote.