For yet another year, citizens of T&T will not have to pay any property taxes as the Finance Minister said it was unlikely the Government would be able to collect in the 2012 fiscal year. In an interview yesterday after the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce's post-budget discussion at its Westmoorings offices, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran confirmed no property taxes would be paid this year. He said: "We do not anticipate we will be able to collect any land and building taxes this year, and, as a result, we have not budgeted for it." The People's Partnership had campaigned heavily against the former government's plan to impose new property taxes, vowing to "axe the tax." Dookeran said there were some legal hurdles that the Government did not anticipate. He said: "There are legal issues which have not yet been satisfactorily addressed and we cannot return to the land and building taxes unless we are able to get over these hurdles and, as a result, we have not budgeted for the collection of any land and building taxes this year."
Asked whether this meant the Government had not thought out its position prior to its decision not to implement property tax, the Finance Minister said: "It was a policy position taken. You take a policy position and then you look at how you implement that policy. "When we went to implement the policy, we realised that there were legal challenges which we had to overcome. "Until we overcome those hurdles, we will not be in a position to collect the taxes. But we have said that we are not going back to the property tax and we will implement the land and building tax." Wade George, a partner at the accounting firm, Ernst and Young, raised the issue of the property tax, saying T&T was losing revenue at a time when it was in need of money. He said: "By some estimates, the country has forgone somewhere between $300 and $400 million by it not being in a position to collect land and building or property taxes and that is money that the Government can use."
George added that the Government faced the challenge of dealing with a situation where the value of properties around the country had now been upgraded and under the old land and building taxes, the rates were higher than those proposed in the property tax. Dookeran conceded that the property tax continued to be a challenge for the Government. Luckily, that lack of collection was not hurting the Government's revenue overall, Dookeran said. He said his mantra was not to place additional burden on the population but rather to establish the framework to allow the economy to grow. Dookeran said there was significant effort to ensure all the taxes owed to the Government were collected and that whenever the Government owed people money, including VAT refunds, that it was done in a timely fashion. He said: "I am from the old school. My mother taught me if I owe you, I should pay you and if you owe me, you should pay me."