Day 2 – As you may recall we all arrived over the weekend so while it is day 2 of our project, a few have been on the ground for four days and have grown quite familiar with our surroundings. In fact, both Barbara and Mats can already give pretty good directional guidance in and out of our hotel. I have been quite impressed with their ability to navigate around our home away from home. Today was a very productive day with four critical meetings planned for the day – city project team, residential association groups, the trade association and then a meeting with the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage.
City of Chennai – This was our first face to face with our core project manager and his manager. We started the way all good meetings start – introductions. We shared our backgrounds and roles and responsibilities so they would have a good view of our skills and backgrounds. The team from the city then went further to describe the property tax system and how it is implemented to further augment our understanding of the project as outlined in our initial briefing package.
Later were joined by representatives from a variety of residential associations. The residential associations represented the first citizens group with whom we were planning to meet as part of our discovery process. After introductions and sharing some Ghiradelli chocolates from home, they expressed interest in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge program and asked that we provide them with brochures to read more about what IBM is doing through the program. We then engaged in an animated conversation with the association representatives about their views of the city’s taxation policies and practices. The first thing to note is that they represented groups that wanted us to know that they were quite agreeable to paying taxes. They acknowledged the importance of paying taxes to the well being of the city and it’s citizens. They did express some concerns however, over their ability to understand the full taxation system and how the funds were being utilized to deliver services – they acknowledge it is a matter of transparency. In fact a couple of members of the association went further to say ‘I will gladly pay my taxes and maybe more’ if I know what it is being spent on for the city. The group went further to compliment the city’s handling of payment processes, but noted that they would like all processes to be as simple as the collection process.
Our next citizen group meeting was with the Hotel Association. This group was much larger and had similar input in some ways as the residential association, but different in others. While they also acknowledged their willingness to pay taxes, they expressed a desire to move toward some level of change in the way taxes are assessed for their properties. The consistent them was uniformity and transparency. We learned that the head of the association had worked in Washington DC and Miami for several years. And when he learned Barbara was from the DC area, he was quite keen to know if she had an update on how hotels in the DC area were being taxed. We now had our second follow up action.
Then it was off to meet with the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board their headquarters building. It was quite impressive to enter their meeting auditorium – a room filled with rows of stately desks and large wooden chairs. The head of the board was addressed as Madam and it all felt quite formal. We were then provided with a comprehensive view of the operations and the relationship with the City of Chennai property tax system. It’s interesting to note that while in most areas of the world and even in India, water taxation is usually apart of the property tax assessment, however, in 1978 the City of Chennai separated the water and sewerage operations as part of a grant from The World Bank. This separation has worked well to allow the board to focus solely on the improvement to water and sewerage services. The team will spend some time further exploring how the separate operations has impacted the tax process from the citizen’s point of view.
After debriefing from the day’s meetings we concluded we have more questions to explore with our project team to be sure we have a very tight project definition on which to complete our assessment and build our recommendations.