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The New Tax Form

SANDY GRANT
It may not be the same for you but the year’s two worst occasions for me are paying insurance coverage in April and completing the tax return form in late September.

The two have little in common. The one really amounts to little more than closing one’s eyes, taking a deep breath and in the long ago days, signing a cheque. Completing the tax return form represents something entirely different.

There is always the fear that something has been overlooked, a significant receipt that has gone astray, a payment either in or out which had somehow not been properly recorded – so that finalising the return was inevitably put off until it could be put off no longer. 

And then there was the unavoidable, as I then believed, trip to the BURS office to hand over the Return plus supporting documents.

For years I had been providing support receipts to back up expenditure claims until I was told that there was no need to do so as BURS would make it known if it ever wished to have a look-see. Strange that it had never bothered to tell me.

But the corollary is that all papers pertaining to tax returns need to be kept for five years.

Or is it 10? But then the end of September mass move to the BURS office must surely be, one of the more remarkable events of the Gaborone calendar year.

For a start, the new BURS office is situated in what must be the worst possible place in the entire city. It is approached, and then left, with real difficulty. 

Its pot holed car park which is empty for most of the year, is now crammed with vehicles. 

It remains a surprise that the gents who control so many of the city’s car parks are yet to realise that a killing is to be made there by charging, say P5 or P10 for a parking space for some desperate returnee. 

And then the poor soul gets into the appropriate building and joins what he hopes might be the appropriate queue. It often isn’t; then discovers the mistake and seeks out the correct one which he/she joins at the end, being down the corridor, down the staircase, out of the doorway and half way back to the place where the car had been left.  It will be, inevitably a long wait and the prospect is so awful that the temptation is to give up and come back the next day.

Save that the next day is bound to be even worse.

The

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other options are to see if some unusually kind friend further along the queue, would agree to submit your return with theirs, or to offer, say P50 to someone willing to do the same job.

But that’s risky, for obvious reasons.  But this year, BURS has multiplied the agony by coming up with a newly designed form which, for the first time, can be electronically scanned. 

This form is absolutely not intended to be customer friendly. Over many years, I had just about managed to master the old form. 

But now came this new monster. The assumption would be that when authority of whatever kind is tempted to make such dramatic changes it will do so carefully, step by step, testing each proposed change and finding out what will work and what won’t. 

The new requirement that thebes , and not just Pula, should be included for the first time did make me wonder if BURS had ever bothered to do this. Can it really be so important that 47 thebe be recorded, rather than, say 13 thebe.

Okay. With, say, 150,000 tax payers, the thebes will add up. But doesn’t their inclusion make the scanning  process that much more difficult? But then when it came to sending in my return by registered post – I can no longer take that queue -  I found that, unlike the old form, the new one had omitted the where-to-return-your-Form to-BURS-address which couldn’t be much more basic.

So I conclude when BURS discovers that this new form is giving them greater problems than it had previously experienced, it will come up with yet another prototype. 

 In the meanwhile, it has helpfully been holding workshops to advise people how to cope with this new form and have again been placing staff in key locations to receive and advise people on their tax returns.

I marveled at the huge queue at Gaborone’s Riverwalk on Tuesday afternoon last week. Those joining the end must have brought sleeping bags and mattresses in the hope that by Thursday at the least, they might be near the front.

But by Thursday and Friday, the queue must have gone around the block! To BURS, this kind of response may suggest that the system is working well. 

The more obvious conclusion is that it is not working at all and needs to be quickly re-thought.



Etcetera II

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