GST change panel lacks IT perspective

Panel has 'no-one specifically' to advise on IT aspects of rise

A newly established advisory panel to help businesses through the change in GST rate from 12.5 to 15 percent has retained no specific expertise to advise on potential problems with computer systems, says panel chairman Frank Owen.

“At this stage we don’t have anyone specifically on the panel with that sort of expertise,” he says, “but we’ve made a decision that if we need any expertise that we don’t have we will without question second people that can assist us with those issues.”

The panel has been convened to be an intermediary between Inland Revenue and businesspeople with GST queries or problems to assist them to find answers and comply with the regulations, particularly over the transitional period around the change date of October 1 and to resolve any ambiguities, suggesting clarifying amendments if necessary.

“I’m a little surprised there is no IT presence,” says NZ Computer Society CEO Paul Matthews. “We haven’t made a specific approach to Inland Revenue, and we didn’t know about the advisory panel, but I would have assumed they would take advice in areas where they need it; and IT, I think, should be seen one of those.”

Large organisations with their own internal ICT resources will probably cope well with the change, Matthews says. At the other end of the scale, small businesses using off-the-shelf software are likely to be able to get appropriate upgrades from the vendor, he says.

The group in the middle, with systems that have been individually customised but no in-house ICT staff are those most likely to run into problems, he says. If they don’t seek advice they could be “plodding on” doing business with features bundled into their systems that are charging the wrong rate without their being aware of the mistake.

IRD is likely to be tolerant of such errors, says Owen. “There’s a recognition that with a change like this things won’t always go according to plan.” Likewise, there may well be businesses that simply can’t get the changes to their computer systems done in time, he says. “While the systems of various businesses are their issue, it’s part of the panel’s role to monitor such problems and ensure that if something’s gone wrong or someone hasn’t been able to comply in time, IRD is aware of that and will be able to take that into account in dealing with their customer.”

The panel has an associated website, www.gstadvisory.govt.nz, which provides an online form for businesses to submit queries. The panel expects a lot of people will strike similar problems and as time goes on answers to such frequently asked questions will be built up on the site. It also has an 0800 telephone number for inquiries.

Members of the advisory panel are: Frank Owen (chair), retired chartered accountant; David McLay, tax barrister; Craig Macalister, tax director of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants ; Phil O'Reilly, chief executive of Business New Zealand and Karen Radford, director of the New Zealand Retailers Association.

NZICT Group chief executive Brett O’Riley also expresses surprise at the lack of specific ICT expertise on the panel. NZICT has not to his knowledge been approached on the question, he says; but it would have a potential conduit to render advice through the Business NZ representative, who has good contact with NZICT.

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