That it was a shift in the culture at the Inland Revenue Department, and not simply the observance of moving from old quarters to new premises, was the overarching theme at Friday's official opening of the new offices of IRD.
The Woods Estate premise, speaker after speaker said, is the most modern in the sub-region. It boasts, Acting Commissioner of Inland Revenue Ralph Warner said, the largest space, best laid out plans, state-of-the art operating systems and a rejuvenated staff committed to service excellence.
But a building a department does not make, and the speakers noted this. They highlighted the work of the management, staff and technicians from various regional and international agencies, in establishing operational systems and protocols that would govern the establishment.
Technical and financial assistance has been received from the European Union, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Caribbean Centre of Development Administration (CARICAD), the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Agency (CARTAC), the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the World Bank.
In fact, Inland Revenue was held up Friday as the model department for the public sector.
Minister of Finance, the Economy and Public Administration Harold Lovell called the opening ceremony a "milestone in (the ministry's) transformation agenda (to) reengineer and rebrand the Inland Revenue Department."
Minister Lovell highlighted the implementation of the Public Financial Management (PFM) project, which is the system by which financial resources are planned and directed efficiently; the government-wide implementation of the FreeBalance software, which will result in an integrated financial management system; and the modernization of the management of personnel expenditures through assistance from the World Bank as proof that a new era has dawned at the Inland Revenue Department.
"We are marking the realization of specific objectives toward our ultimate goal of service excellence," Minister Lovell said.
Customers, he noted, will find at the Woods premises, a friendlier organization, faster moving queues, comfortable facilities and, overall, a more positive experience.
"This outcome is the result of the hard work and dedication of the management and staff of the Inland Revenue Department," Lovell said. He added the agency has shifted from an "inward thinking to an outward thinking ethos."
Prime Minister Dr. Hon. Baldwin Spencer, who delivered the feature address, examined the global economic climate and placed the local situation in that context. He commended his administration for managing well.
PM Spencer also praised the work and the dedication of the management and staff of Inland Revenue Department, and expressed confidence that the new culture would augur well for the department's aims and objective and to the benefit of customers.
The gathering also heard from Manager of the Revenue Administration Reform Project Everett Christian, who said the controversy that erupted with the decision to purchase the building had been laid to rest by the fact taxpayers, received value for money.
"It cost this government a sum of $8.5m to purchase the property; an amount of $2.756m was incurred to renovate and retrofit the property, and this included the installation of new air-conditioning ducting and ceiling tiles, which was not originally a part of the contract; a further $962k was expended to acquire and install all of the furniture, work stations and filing cabinets; $130k was spent for a new telephone system; $41k was spent on the external signs and the architect was paid a sum of $23k. The total cost of purchasing, renovating and equipping this property amounted to $12.412m," Christian reported.
"The Inland Revenue Department has a home of its own," Christian added. "It provides approximately 30,000 square feet of office space. Premises of this quality would command rent of not less than $7 per square foot per month, so if we rented similar premises, it would cost taxpayers over $210k per month. This equates to $2.52m per year.
"We are therefore speaking of a pay-back period of approximately five years, even after making provision for insurance and common area maintenance. Put simply, what the government saves on rent would be adequate to pay for this property in approximately five years. One would have to be either disingenuous, rabidly partisan, or both, to suggest that such a move does not represent good value for money," Christian said.