Daily Observer (Jamaica)
Hustling, corruption rampant outside Cross Roads tax office
USTLER” and “corruption” were the bywords among disgruntled customers to the Cross Roads Collectorate in St Andrew, last Wednesday, after spending hours in line whipped by intermittent rain, watching as other individuals entered and exited without having to wait.
“Ah di security a call dem in, none a dem people yah nuh deh yah when the senior drop and hurt himself, dem don’t si dat, a from after 11 dis mawnin mi innna dis ya line,” one customer who had had his fill quarrelled when, upon reaching the top of the line some moments after 3:00 pm, he along with others were still bundled waiting to enter.
“Wi need to post some a dem picture yah innuh, meck dem si wah a gwaan, no social distancing,” one individual grumbled. The location, which is bordered by the sidewalk serving the area, boasts only a small banister with a short ramp on one side and steps on the other which serves as the uncomfortable waiting area for customers who on some days have to endure the pelting sun and rain on other days.
Individuals using the office were directed by a guard on duty to two lines, one purportedly for persons registering their vehicles while another line serves those purportedly paying taxes and accessing other services. Those renewing their motor vehicle registration, a service which cannot be done online, tend to wait for hours on end.
“Let off a money and yuh get to go in,” one female customer offered sarcastically.
“Dem a go in wid all three, four pile a supmn so the cashier busy and nah pay no attention to the line,” one man declared. Signs posted on the inside of the building indicate that customers are allowed no more than three transactions each.
“It simple family, dem teck dem fren tings an meck dem money first (before they attend to waiting customers). Mi come here the other day and is the same thing, it need to change, it need to start from in there so, this need regulation,” another individual chimed in.
“Couple years aback when di tax office di ovah deh so a security look pon mi and tell mi if mi waan get through quick mi haffi pay him two grand...so a dem tings here a gwaan. A di same ting a gwaan yassoh now, him weh stand up deh so now him a one a dem, every time mi come yah him deh here,” one customer added, pointing to an individual who made light of the discomfort of the individuals waiting.
“Everybody know seh Cross Roads Tax office once yuh come here 8:30 in the morning yuh get through quick quick but afta 12 and one a pure problem. All dem yah people inna dis ya line all night before ooonuh leff ya,” he said gleefully. About an hour earlier, the crafty man had drawn the ire of customers after he attempted to plant a male customer who had just arrived at the top of the line declaring to him that he was giving him a space that he had himself vacated some moments prior.
Eagle-eyed customers, however, challenged him as to the truth of that statement.
Some individuals in the line alleged seeing cash exchanged.
“Mi nuh know the exact money, them either give yuh a space in the line or them have them link inside, them juss call, every God day it happen, mi nuh have no money a gi nuh waste man innuh bredda, dem go look work. When dem get it (money) dem go buy sex and smoke and come back a morning again, that’s all them do with them money,” one individual said.
One 69-year-old in a leg brace was among those standing for hours until angry customers demanded that he be shown some leniency. He was grudgingly allowed entry by the security on duty.
They questioned how it was that other individuals supposedly conducting other transactions were allowed in without much of a wait. Others were observed approaching the entrance and beckoning to the security guard and after conversation were allowed in. Others upon mentioning the names of individuals on the inside were allowed entrance.
The painful delay did not show any sign of easing until individuals, whom the Observer later learnt were part of an undercover audit team. arrived at the location and entered the building.
One official with whom the Observer later spoke confirmed that the suspicions of corruption and payments under the counter were not unfounded. In addition, the Observer was told that individuals were even allowed to enter the building without being subjected to temperature checks or sanitisation, even though the guard on duty was armed with a temperature gauge, and a portable sanitiser was mounted at the entrance. According to the source, individuals at the office began to toe the line when they realised that the auditors had entered the building and were observing their operations. At that point the line which had been at a virtual standstill for hours began to move.
One well-placed source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that there was a lucrative market for a number of individuals who through sleight of hand offered interested customers prime spaces in the lines for a sum or had them placed inside without waiting for any prolonged period. In fact, staff have been observed exiting the building to escort individuals inside to complete transactions while others have been seen taking documents from other individuals on the outside and taking them inside for processing.
“All these things are happening. The challenge we have been having is these guys on the outside, we don’t know how to deal with them; these persons are making a living from it, they are rude and disrespectful. Bearers do it too. The corruption over here is serious, terrible,” the source stated.
In 2017, four individuals from that location and a businesswoman were arrested for their alleged involvement in a major fraud ring at Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ).
The Major Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Agency (MOCA) and the Financial Investigation Division assisted the Revenue Protection Division (RPD) in conducting several operations across several parishes, during which the five were held.
“These operations are surrounding a major fraud allegedly committed at a collectorate of Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ). Several persons have since been arrested in connection with this scheme, which has deprived the revenue of millions of dollars,” a MOCA statement said at the time.