VAT Checker is an award-winning app, financed by the Ministry of ICT, and developed to help consumers to check whether the Value-Added Tax (VAT) they pay retailers is going to the government exchequer. Facing legal charges from the revenue authorities, the app was disconnected from the National Board of Revenue (NBR) servers around three months ago.
Developers claim that NBR disconnected the app without notice, which has been causing a lot of problems. On the other hand, NBR sources claim the developers illegally accessed the NBR website in order to run the application in the first place.
The app is rated favourably on Google Play Store and has been downloaded around 50,000 times. But recent user reviews are complaining about the app malfunctioning, and how the NBR website provides the same services.
In a country where traders routinely dodge VAT payments even though they charge their patrons for it, it is indeed useful to have an app that allows users to check the VAT registration status of traders. NBR said they have plans to make a similar app of their own that will not require illegal access to information.
Developers’ side of the story
VAT Checker was created by the team of Jubayer Hossain, Asif Kamal Turzo, Nishan Ishtiaque and Marzia Prova. It launched on October 16, 2015 and received the National Mobile Application Award (NMAA) that year.
Jubayer claimed that VAT Checker was used by consumers to file 11,000 complaints to the NBR. Revenue authorities have allegedly realized around Tk200 crore using the app.
According to the NBR sources, following up on the complaints through the app, the VAT audit and intelligence officials have unearthed VAT evasion by two renowned food enterprises in Dhaka: Iqbal Catering and Fakhruddin Catering in December 2015. In addition, five months ago the VAT officials found a popular restaurant named Sultan’s Dine had evaded Tk1 crore in VAT.
Jubayed said: “Without any notice, the revenue authorities have disconnected our app from the NBR’s server.”
App developers contacted the NBR, urging them to reconnect the app to the server. While NBR has reassured them, no steps have been taken so far, the developers lamented.
A month ago, Jubayer called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from his Facebook account asking for her intervention to revive the app.
When contacted, a senior NBR official on conditions of anonymity said: “VAT Checker was using NBR data by hacking into the server. The server was being maintained by a private company back then. Now, the server is under the control of a government body and is more secure, which is why the VAT Checker cannot get illegal access anymore.”
He said according to Section 62 of the VAT and SD Act of 1991, taxpayers’ information cannot be made public. Hence NBR cannot give access to their server to any external personnel.
However, the NBR has prepared a plan to develop an app of their own to provide different services including detecting VAT evasion, said the NBR official.
“VAT Checker has some laxities as it is created by the local developers. NBR has planned to acquire it and use it by upgrading it,” he added.
What is the future of the app?
VAT Checker has been nominated as the best national digital solution for Bangladesh at the International World Summit Awards, which will be held on March 20-22.
“What will we say about our app in front of 148 foreign countries’ representatives attending the event, if it is not of any use?” said Jubayer.
VAT Checker was funded by the ICT Division.
When contacted, State Minister for the ICT Division Zunaid Ahmed Palak said: “We have already sent separate letters to the finance minster and NBR chairman informing them that VAT Checker was developed with ICT Division funding. We are hoping that the app will be restored soon because of its usefulness in expediting revenue collection.”