Pressured by the Dutch National Ombudsman, the Caribbean Netherlands Tax Office will continue to accept cash payments in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
The National Ombudsman announced in a press release on Thursday, that the Caribbean Netherlands Tax Office had acted upon the Ombudsman’s recommendation to reverse the decision to terminate all cash payment facilities in Bonaire.
The Tax Office on Bonaire, which is a Dutch public entity as are St. Eustatius and Saba, closed all but one of its cash desks on May 1, 2015. With effect from June 1, 2015, the department no longer accepted cash payments at all.
Consequently, the Bonaire Consumer Organisation Unkobon filed a complaint against last year’s decision of the Tax Office, which would have repercussions for the public as it would be required to make payments online or in person at a local commercial bank; both options entail additional costs.
The National Ombudsman concluded after an investigation that this decision “lacked due preparation” due to the absence of acceptable alternatives. The complaint filed by Unkobon was found to be grounded. The Ombudsman published its report with the findings of its investigation on December 23, 2015.
“The Tax Office did not take the interests of the citizen adequately into account when preparing the decision to withdraw cash payment facilities. No reasonable alternative has been implemented. Accordingly, the Ombudsman concludes that the Tax Office has failed to meet the required standards of fairness and proportionality,” it was stated in the report.
Therefore, the Ombudsman recommended the Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem to reverse the decision to withdraw cash payment facilities at the Bonaire Tax Office, and to publicise the restoration of these facilities in an appropriate manner.
The Ombudsman’s report has prompted the Tax Office to examine alternative arrangements which would not entail additional costs for its clients. An agreement was reached with the Girobank whereby the bank would forego levying fees on cash payments made in favour of the Tax Officer accounts that it administers. This included accounts for local taxes, judicial penalties and child maintenance. The new arrangement took effect on January 1, 2016.
The Ombudsman pointed out that relatively many of Bonaire’s citizens, close to 5,000 out of the 18,000 inhabitants, are in the lower income groups; of this group, more than 4,000 people are living beneath the poverty line.
Many do not have direct access to the internet; only about 5,000 people have an internet connection. Some do not have a bank account. Upon receipt of a tax demand or penalty notice, these people must visit a bank and make an overthe- counter cash payment to be credited to the relevant account of the Tax Office. The banks charge for this service,” the Ombudsman stated in the release.
The Daily Herald.