In September the Ministry of Finance, Credit Libanais, Fransabank and online payment gateway NetCommerce launched Lebanon’s first online taxation gateway, allowing credit card holders to pay their taxes online. Executive sat down with Credit Libanais’ assistant general manager, Alain Hakim, to discuss the achievements and limitations of the new platform, and what type of road it paves for electronic government.
Can this platform be considered as a step towards electronic government?
This is the opening of a new era in Lebanon of electronic government through the payment of everything — tickets, taxes, whatever. For us to speak about electronic banking, electronic government, in 2013 with all that’s happening, is an achievement. It’s an achievement for the government, and for the banking sector. It’s a breakthrough because of the relationship between the public sector and the private sector, represented by the Ministry of Finance, and by two of the major banks in Lebanon. The Lebanese government is on track to grow into electronic government, which is a premiere in Lebanon. Due to our surrounding problems and internal problems, it’s a pioneering thing to think about electronic government in such a surrounding mess.
Could you explain how the e-taxation platform works?
The e-taxation is coming in two parts. The first part is the online process. This is a first in Lebanon, which will be available through a direct transfer from their bank accounts to the account of the Ministry of Finance. The second part is to pay the same taxes but through credit cards online through a gateway called NetCommerce. It is implemented and available, and the advantage of that is that even non-customers of this bank or another bank, or any credit card holder, can pay his taxes through this gateway. The taxes can be settled via the Ministry of Finance portal www.finance.gov.lb using Visa or MasterCard credit or debit card in the most easy and secure way.
What are the benefits of the platform?
First of all, it will decrease bribery, since clients will not be dealing or transacting directly with any employee. Second, it will help to reduce waiting lines, and cut penalties that the client will incur when he is late for his tax payment due to his busy schedule, or outside the country. The benefits are huge especially that he can pay for his taxes anytime, anywhere even during holidays and outside working hours. Plus, on the government side it will open the door for the public sector to move toward e-government.
Can users pay any kind of tax online?
To begin with, it is the built property tax and the income tax, which are the major taxes in Lebanon. But, eventually it will be gradually implemented on all taxes.
Do people have concerns about online safety?
The taxes e-payment is very safe knowing that NetCommerce supports the Verified by Visa and the MasterCard Secure Code, in addition to customer authentication programs, ensuring a secure internet acceptance e-payment experience. Besides, NetCommerce offers extensive and vigilant monitoring services, keeping the fraud risk at a minimal low rate.
There’s still no law on the electronic signatures. How is that affecting the e-taxation platform?
Negatively, but we cannot do anything. This is the duty of the government to do something about it — not even the government, the parliament, but they have other things to think about.
What is the percentage of people in Lebanon that have bank accounts?
1.5 million people in Lebanon have bank accounts in Lebanon: between 40 and 45 percent [of the adult population]. And from those, almost 50 percent have deposit accounts. And deposit accounts you cannot do transfers with. So roughly 20 percent have accounts that can be used on the online system.
How will the adoption of e-taxation be affected by the fact that not everyone in Lebanon has a credit card or a bank account?
We are pushing a lot — us banks — to push people to have a bank account or debit or credit cards. Of course, it is an issue. But we are working on it. We have a steady increase of online users on a banking level. You have an increased number of online users and transactions per day, per month, per year, and this increase is continuous and stable.