The joke of certified copies and clearances
This business of every prospective employer or tender offer demanding certified copies of documents and clearances from the taxman, Social Security Commission and the Employment Equity Commission has deteriorated into a banal exercise in pushing paper. This has created a barrier to SME participation in the economy.
If we are serious about our Growth at Home Strategy and our focus on developing small businesses, we need to ease up on the useless paper games that are required for bids for contracts and employment opportunities.
In the system that currently exists, we are excluding people who could possess the capacity to tackle some of these tenders or job opportunities, because we have invented layers of unnecessary hoops that people must jump through to try to better themselves or their businesses.
We are virtually guaranteeing that the only people who will qualify for bids, tenders and jobs are those who ALREADY have the resources and cash flow to chase the papers needed, those who can afford to take the time from their work/businesses to wait in lines, those who can read enough English to fill out the forms and of course those who already know how the paper chase game is played.
For example, the police certification stamp has not kept pace with technology. Let us be honest, the police stamp on a page that declares something ‘certified’ is nearly meaningless. It does not guarantee that the copy presented is made from the true original.
A scanner can be used to recreate anything and given the high resolutions of the coloured printers and scanners these days, it is hard to know a ‘real’ original from a copy.
Imagine this. You have a high resolution colour copy of a document like a birth certificate. Then, you take a black and white copy of that brilliant coloured copy birth certificate (printed on a high quality of paper) and take both for ‘certification’ by the police. I assure you, they will stamp the B&W copy of the colour ‘copy’ as certified without asking if it is an original.
This is more so the case for foreign or unfamiliar qualifications and documents where the police have no idea in heaven what an original looks or feels like at all.
I’ve watched mind-numbed police officers on busy days facing long lines, blindly stamping and signing paper after paper. I’d bet that all those ‘students’ in the courts recently that ‘allegedly’ submitted fake Zimbabwean academic credentials in order to get jobs had police stamps on all their papers.
Worse, I defy the people in offices and tender boards all over the country to tell me that they know a ‘real’ stamped certification from a faked one.
That police ‘stamp’ with the scrawled initials of a police officer, using a signature that cannot possibly be verified, is no guarantee of the veracity of the document presented and yet, it is demanded with almost every submission for anything as a mindless routine.
As for the clearances that are now needed for everything, I get it. We do need to do something to make sure that people are at least aware that they must register for social security and taxes.
But, here is the other side of the coin. If a tax clearance is needed for bids and applications, then Inland Revenue needs to step up its game and get the information onto their data files faster.
It is a fact that Inland Revenue is months behind in updating their records. I received an SMS requesting a filing for 2014 that had been done long ago. I brought my stamped copy down and then they adjusted their records. But, what if I had NOT had a stamped copy for whatever reason? Then what? Someone with an erroneous notation on their files could lose out due to the slow administrative processing at the Ministry of Finance, NOT because they actually owe any back taxes.
The finance ministry has VAT and company income tax filing backlogs with files piled high on the floors of satellite offices due to the overflow of work. Every available space in offices upstairs in the finance ministry is covered with mounds of files. The amount of tax filing work needed surpasses the staff capacity and yet, the tender bidding and job application system in play now requires this information. This is a barrier for SME participation in tenders/bids and job applications.
Why is a clearance at the Employment Equity Office (EEO) required for an SME with less than 25 employees? The law says that employers with UNDER 25 employees do not need to register with the EEO. So why send out a tender that is only for SMEs and require an employment equity clearance? By definition, SMEs don’t have more than 25 employees. Ergo, there is no ‘clearance’ to get because they don’t have to register. And yet, this is still required in some tenders and job applications. And yet another barrier is presented to SMEs.
Then there is the Social Security Commission (SSC) clearance. OK, I get it… and this is a good stipulation. The amounts to be paid over for social security are relatively low, but for small employers operating outside of the climate of paying taxes and fees like social security, even this presents a barrier.
FACT: people earning at the lower levels of the pay scale do not like a single cent deducted from their pay for any reason whatsoever; they will go to war with an employer who does this. So, the SME employer would be forced to pay both halves of the social security contribution, which presents yet another barrier.
So, many besieged SME employers go down and register their ‘employees’ as only themselves and list lowest amount of income possible (regardless of the actual income earned) just to get the clearance.
Then of course, there is the game of opening up new companies or buying shelf companies in order to make bids, obtaining a tax clearance under that new, clean name, whether the other companies owned by the same legal person(s) are ‘cleared’ or not. Are the clearances then addressing the stated goals or are they just a joke that is creating a barrier for SMEs?
Those asking for these clearances need to set the due dates of their tenders or applications for jobs to fit the time it takes for these various overloaded, under-staffed service offices to process requests for ‘clearances.’ A clearance can take up to 10 working days! And yet, the tender notices are advertised usually with only a week or so to spare before the deadline. This is yet another barrier for SMEs.
To add insult to injury, these clearances are only good for 30-90 days! That means that each time you need to bid for something, you have to go through the paper chase again. This is again, another barrier for SMEs.
Why not just ask those who are SHORT LISTED for bids and jobs to present these clearances? Or why not rank the ‘winners’ of a bid or job and make their employment or contract award dependent on submission of the clearances by a deadline. Inform the winning candidates of their rank. If winner #1 has no clearances in time, the contract moves to winner #2 and so on.
If we are serious about promoting SMEs, then we need to lower the paper barriers. The big companies have staff in offices that do nothing else except handle the paper chase. The consultants are paid a king’s ransom to chase the paper for those with the resources to hire them. SMEs don’t have these options.
Please, stop the paper chase joke.