Revenue Management Division Tax Advisory Officer Chiavanni Le’Mon and BTIB’s Business Development Officer TuBale Vakalalabure say they are here to help.
They have both recently run workshops on Aitutaki assisting local businesses and individuals understand the ins and outs of tax and running their own small business, and say they were a great success.
Le’Mon focused on education around tax, and the current tax amnesty. Vakalalabure zeroed in on small business assistance for keeping books, product labelling and pricing.
The initiative provided a “one stop shop” for members of the public to get direct information and assistance for their business needs and tax compliance, as well as individuals seeking help with their personal tax.
Le’Mon says they had a very strong turn-out, with “a packed house”, and also received good feedback and follow-up questions. One reason the seminar went so well, she says, was that it was presented in both English and Cook Islands Maori, assisted by Debt and Return Collection Officer, Nga Takaiti.
Le’Mon says she was helping people to understand Cook Islands tax laws as well as helping them to comply in the future.
One of the biggest issues for the tax amnesty workshops is addressing education around how tax works in the Cook Islands, as individuals and businesses may have tax debts they were not previously aware of, she says.
Individuals who want to know what their employment history was, and how they can get up-to-date, are provided with a non-filers report, so they can confirm what years they are missing. We help them with getting that information so they can get those years up-to-date and filed, she says.
“The tax amnesty is in place and we can write off any additional taxes they may have accumulated and focus on their core tax if there is any. And then move forward with compliance.”
Le’Mon says the tax workshop was also beneficial for small businesses to understand how they can use taxes to assist with their cash-flow, such as re-injecting tax refunds back into their business. It also helped them understand how they can use tax in the beginning stages of their business, she says.
She says many people think when they’re starting out in business, that they won’t register for tax immediately. But they can actually use it as an advantage, especially if they have an employment income.
Le’Mon says the Revenue Management Department now has electronic based tax filing, so people can access their information online and they can see what years they have outstanding.
Individuals can then work through any issues, such as being out of the country for that tax year, or not working.
She says people should feel good that they’re contributing to our economy by paying tax.
“And if we all contribute equally, then it goes towards public services that we all benefit from, such as education, and health care as well as our infrastructure.”
Le’Mon has provided individual assistance following the workshops she has run in Rarotonga, and has provided each person she’s met with a tailored action plan to meet their needs.
“Very shortly, we’re moving to electronic refunds, directly into peoples’ bank accounts, instead of printing a cheque and posting it out to recipients.
“We’ll be asking tax payers for their bank account numbers in future to streamline the process.
Le’Mon says they’re improving the taxation system, and in the process, gaining the public’s trust so in future people are not scared to come forward.
BTIB’s Vakalalabure has already delivered in-depth small business workshops throughout the Cook Islands and he says working with Revenue Management is a great initiative.
“In the past we have helped with people’s books for their businesses, as well as pricing and labelling of products, but now we can also help them focus on their tax compliance.”
On their recent Aitutaki trip, both Le’Mon and Vakalalabure say they mainly helped agricultural-based businesses, such as planters and plantation owners, as well as people making their own food products.
Vakalalabure’s next small business workshops will be held on Mangaia and Atiu, as these islands are nearing harvest time, and growers will need help with their books.
Although this trip is a BTIB initiative, he says the partnership with Revenue Management will only get stronger in future.