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Shelve property tax as energy revenue rises

Thursday, May 10, 2018
Opposition chief whip on mid-term projection:
Finance Minister Colm Imbert PICTURE SHIRLEY BAHADUR

The Government should not institute the property tax since Finance Minister Colm Imbert recently said T&T has “turned the corner” and also projected “good news” in today’s mid-year Budget review, says Opposition Chief Whip David Lee.

“He has painted a more positive outlook for T&T in recent weeks. Also, energy prices are better than before. If the situation is really good, Government should have no need to pursue the property tax and inflict further hardship on the public,” Lee said yesterday.

Imbert will deliver his review at 10 am today in Parliament, detailing the economic and financial outlook in the seven months since the 2018 Budget was presented last October. The $50 billion Budget carried a projected $4.76 billion deficit, with measures aimed at reducing this.

Imbert is expected to give the status of Budget plans - including property tax implementation - revenue streams and energy projects and give possible adjustments.

This might extend to amendments to property tax proposals. Debate on the tax continues in the Senate tomorrow with amendments from Government which - in last week’s debate - noted Opposition and Independent senators’ concerns on various aspects of the planned tax.

In preparation to handle activities over the rest of the fiscal year, Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee on Tuesday approved the shift of $796.2 million from the Finance Ministry to 18 divisions. This was to supplement funding for specific projects and in some cases increase their 2018 Budget appropriations.

At that meeting, Imbert indicated he would answer questions on aspects of Tobago infrastructural preparations for the Tobago Sandals plan as well as other issues concerning Tobago which received $120m in supplemental/increased funding on Tuesday.

Imbert recently told media to “wait and see” if the review would have any gasoline price hike. But at Tuesday’s meeting he hinted there might be none while replying to Lee’s question whether a gasoline price hike was expected.

Imbert said while Budget plans were to introduce a formula via which gasoline prices would fluctuate according to international oil prices the formula has not been started. Imbert said the oil price is now higher than Budget projections and Government would have to return to the “drawing board” on formula plans.

Lee said yesterday, “We expect his review will try to counter the recent Standard and Poors downgrade and talk about ‘turning the corner’. We hope he fully details how we have ‘turned the corner’. If we have, Government shouldn’t pursue the property tax.”

“We are also concerned about Tuesday’s exercise, shifting that $796.2m from Finance’s funds to recurrent expenditure in the 18 divisions. If the oil price is good, why is there need to use Finance’s funds which are normally for infrastructure? We also hope to hear the status of Budget plans for oil royalties and negotiations with the energy companies,” Lee said.

“We at least know there will be no old age pension increases coming. On Tuesday when we asked why Social Development needed $28m - which they said was for old age pensions - we asked if there would be a pension increase. But Imbert said no.”

Normal speaking time for MPs is 45 minutes. However, Imbert can seek to suspend procedural regulations - the Standing Orders- and extend his review speaking time.

After Imbert, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar will give the Opposition’s reply. Lee said all 18 Opposition MPs intend to debate Imbert’s review.

A request will be made to the House Speaker for this.


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