They may look like ordinary kids, but the invention they have created is likely to be an extraordinary boon to the government.
In an era chock-full of apps, four Bangladeshi students have created a mobile application that will turn every consumer into the taxman’s trusty aide.
VAT Checker is a mobile app launched on October 16 that allows consumers to check whether the Value Added Tax (VAT) they pay to retailers actually goes to the exchequer.
The app allows users to check the VAT registration status of traders and send complaints to the government.
In a country where traders, especially restaurateurs, routinely dodge VAT payments even though they charge their patrons for it, the app is a way for consumers to fight back.
The app lets consumers enter an outlet’s Business Identification Number (BIN) to check whether the VAT registration number is valid and whether there are irregularities with it or not.
If the BIN does not appear to be in order, consumers can complain to the authorities using the app.
VAT Checker was created by programmer Jubayer Hossain, programmer Asif Kamal Turzo, marketer Nishan Ishtiaque and project planner Marzia Prova. Asif is a Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) student, the rest are students of the Military Institute of Science and Technology (MIST).
VAT Checker has been widely talked about on Facebook and shared by several thousands of users, including the official pages of several NBR field offices.
“We want to see fear among traders if they evade VAT after taking it from consumers. We look forward to helping the government collect several hundred crores in revenue using the VAT Checker app,” Jubayer said.
Nishan told the Dhaka Tribune: “The initial idea for the app came from the Bollywood film ‘Nayak’ where all you need to do is complain and things get fixed. When I saw complaints on Facebook page ‘Foodbank’ regarding VAT evasion by food stores, I asked my university friend Jubayer to help do something to change the system.”
He proposed a mechanism to enable people to check whether the amount of money paid as VAT to restaurants was being properly deposited with the government exchequer.
Asif said: “We started the process to do something for the country. We pay VAT but the government does not get it. We want to make people aware of this problem.”
Jubayer continued: “We sent a message to the Customs, Excise and VAT Commissionerate Dhaka (North) asking what could be done about it and they responded very positively with details of the VAT collection process.
“Turzo and I began programming for the app day and night after Eid-ul-Azha to create a user-friendly interface that would let people communicate with the government without requiring a tutorial or prior knowledge.”
After the launch, Marzia and Nishan set out to publicise the app through Facebook.
But Nishan added: “Our posts alone cannot reach that many people. We are trying to set up celebrity endorsements to popularise the app.”
As of yesterday, VAT Checker had been downloaded 10,000 times from the Playstore.
“The initial response was overwhelming. We received around 100 complaints within an hour of launching the app and received 3,000 likes on Facebook in the first three days,” Marzia said.
“Complaints are regularly filed using the app. But consumers are unsure whether the complaints are received by the authorities or not. The NBR has to ensure that consumers get a confirmation that their complaints are received,” she added.
The app has been updated thrice to cover all shops across the country.
“A person in Bandarban can complain using the app,” Jubayer said.
On October 21, Customs, Excise and VAT Mirpur Division raided Bonolota Coffee Shop in Mirpur following complaints posted through the app.
The shop was found to have a nine-digit BIN whereas registered BIN numbers are 11 digits long.
The authorities fined the shop for collecting VAT from consumers but not depositing it with the government exchequer.
Nishan said success for the team’s venture means seeing VAT Checker installed in every mobile phone in the country.
But he added: “VAT Checker alone cannot do much. The government will have to strengthen its monitoring to ensure the prevention of corruption.”
The team expressed their gratitude for the support they received from Mirpur VAT division, the NBR and Aamrai Bangladesh co-founder Arif Hossain.