12 November 2020
Category : Interview
The European Union-Cuba Expertise Exchange II programme, funded by the European Union and managed by FIIAPP, works alongside ONAT, the Cuban National Office of Tax Administration. The Deputy Chief of Office, Reinaldo W. Alemán Mondeja, talks about how he has adapted his work to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What measures has ONAT taken to continue working during the pandemic?
ONAT has not only not halted its work, but has intensified and transformed it during this current pandemic.
The Ministry of Finance and Prices introduced a series of tax and financial measures to tackle the COVID-19 situation which mainly focus on three areas: salary guarantees for workers in the business sector, adjustments to personal income tax payments and tax payments by corporate entities.
To ensure compliance, ONAT has implemented a system that includes the following new features: Video conferences with Office managers, weekly reports that monitor the level and control of suspensions of operations, payment reductions and deferrals and their impact on collection a review of revenue collection and a redesign of fiscal controls.
General measures have also been taken to prevent any spread of the virus in ONAT offices. For example, all workers are monitored on a daily basis to identify possible manifestations of COVID-19, office premises and vehicles are regularly disinfected and adequate air flow and ventilation is guaranteed. Working from remotely and from home has also been promoted, limiting activity to what is strictly necessary and avoiding meetings, face-to-face training and any other procedures that involve people coming into close proximity with each other.
What has been done to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19?
In order to protect workers, our priority has been to comply with measures related to prevention and health, with the influx of people into office spaces also avoided. In cases where this is essential, attention to older taxpayers has been prioritised to avoid prolonging the time they spend on our premises.
The use of email and telephone communication has been encouraged when carrying out certain procedures, with a direct line set up to assist taxpayers in all municipal, provincial and central offices. For example, in the case of corporate entities, deferral requests are made by email.
Other measures worthy of mention are those that focus on the public dissemination of all action undertaken. Through the various means of communication available, the telephone numbers and addresses of all the offices in the country have been made public, with the introduction of a computer application that facilitates contact between the user and ONAT. The possibility of requesting payment deferrals has also been publicised through social media and websites, informing people as to what information is required for such procedures.
We have also stepped up communication through social media and on our website, aimed at tackling COVID-19, with messages such as: “Avoid going to ONAT offices, contact us by phone or email. By protecting yourself, we can protect everyone” and “Take care of your health and that of your family – use the bank’s electronic payment gateways”. At the National Tax Administration Office we care about managing payments; however, what matters most to us people’s health.
How have the public responded?
The degree of acceptance that these measures have had from people has been very positive. For example, the firstname.lastname@example.org service has been widely used. We have responded to a large number of questions and concerns regarding developments which have arisen due to the current situation. In Cuba, we used to experience events which affected certain areas of the country, such as those of a meteorological nature, but not in such a generalised way as with this pandemic.
The ONAT Telegram channel has been widely accepted, which today has a large number of subscribers, with news also posted online, as well as on ONAT institutional Facebook, YouTube and Twitter platforms. We are using a wide range of social media, infographics and short videos that explain the processes that have been put in place.
I can honestly say that the work that ONAT has undertaken has been very well received, which I think is due to the quality of the response given to these inquiries and all the efforts that have been made to facilitate these procedures for the public throughout the country.
The expertise exchange programme works alongside ONAT in a number of areas. Do you feel that the programme’s work on digitisation has helped the Office’s adaptation to the pandemic?
Both the work on digitising processes and the acquisition of computer equipment through the programme have been key at this time.
The acquisition of video-conferencing technology has been decisive, as it not only helps us to connect with the provinces and manage a range of procedures with them, but it has also allowed us to connect internationally, for example with CIAT, the Inter-American Center of Tax Administrations.
However, that has not been the most important aspect. The video conferencing system has also served to remotely train our staff throughout Cuba in order to show, exchange, supervise and monitor, given the impossibility of travelling between provinces.
We feel that the diversification of activities developed within the framework of the European Union-Cuba Expertise Exchange II programme to be of great importance – workshops in Cuba and in other countries, internships abroad, participation in national and international events, exchanges in conferences with international organisations and the meetings we have had between the institutions that are part of the programme. All this has helped raise the technical professional level and the innovative capacity of our specialists, managers and civil servants. All of this ties in with some of the measures implemented in this phase of COVID-19. For instance, we are working on improving taxpayer services in relation to online tax payment, introducing a number of computer applications and methods, the knowledge for which has been learnt during the programme’s activities.
We really need to keep looking for solutions to the problems we face. If we can virtually host an administrative session of the CIAT Assembly and train our staff, we are sure that we will be able to continue to provide training within the framework of the Programme.
So far we have not stopped working, ensuring that a great deal has been done for the good of the taxpayer, the nation and our own organisation. We have had very valuable experiences that will stay with us, so we are sure that the programme will continue to contribute in all aspects to keep our organisation and our country moving forward.
I would like to repeat my pleasure at being part of this team and also having FIIAPP‘s support on this journey.
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