The Opposition isn’t “sticking” on the Income Tax Amendment bill.
The United National Congress is ready to work and have it passed in two weeks once Government returns the bill to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) where amendments can be made and also deal with two “sister” pieces of legislation Government had said must be done with that bill.
UNC MPs Fazal Karim, Rodney Charles and UNC Senator Saddam Hosein made this clear at a Port-of-Spain briefing yesterday following Government’s recent accusation that the Opposition was obstructing passage of the bill.
“We’re not afraid of anything, we want to pass good legislation. We maintained that with the Anti-Gang, Anti-Terrorism and Fatca bills when they blamed us in those issues also. But those bills were all passed with our support and amendments. The sky didn’t fall, why the fuss now?” Karim added.
“.... Especially since Government could have done something about this bill in its three years and only sought at the 11th hour to present it - as usual. We even made ourselves available for talks, even during vacation.”
The trio was on the JSC which had met on the Income Tax bill and the two others - the Double Taxation (DT) bill and Mutual Administration Assistance in Tax Matters (MAATM) bill - this year. They’re inter-related regarding Trinidad and Tobago’s compliance with European Union business taxation codes.
The Income Tax bill, which facilitates the exchange of income tax information with the European Union (and Global Forum member states) requires Opposition votes for passage. Its current form infringes certain rights and privileges.
But Karim said that this bill alone won’t prevent T&T from being blacklisted by the EU as a non-compliant country.
Hosein added that while the Attorney General claimed the deadline to pass the bill is this month, a November 21, 2017 letter from Finance Minister Colm Imbert to Fabrizia Lapecorella (Code of Conduct group chairman) stated T&T was committed to addressing its deficiencies by December 31, 2018. Hosein produced Imbert’s letter, which proposed timelines for passing the Income Tax and DT bills as June 30, 2018 and November 30 for the MAATM bill.
Karim, citing JSC notes, said Imbert, at a May JSC meeting, had said all three bills would be done together. However, when Parliament met last Friday only the Income Tax bill was presented, with changes from format discussed in the JSC, Hosein added.
Hosein said JSC explanations were that the Income Tax bill applied only to exchange of tax information to EU states on EU citizens in T&T and nationals working in EU states. But Government’s now proposing all T&T taxpayers’ information would be available to T&T police and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) - without a court order. He questioned why Government was “overreaching” on that.
“If you get a ‘cuss’ case or any minor case, if police wish they can seek your taxpayer information. It dangerously exposes and endangers citizens’ information which aren’t required by EU.
“The situation has potential for abuse, especially when we hear of ‘police power’, look at the alleged Natalie Pollonais issue,” Hosein said, adding the Opposition would seek amendment for a court order in further JSC discussions
Slamming Government’s “fear-mongering,” Hosein noted that Imbert’s 2017 letter to Lapecolla stated certain proposed clauses for the Income Tax bill - but doesn’t state any clause to allow taxpayers’ information to be allowed to the police or FIU.
He said the Opposition hasn’t proposed amendments for which further JSC discussions are needed. The other reason is to ensure the other two bills are dealt with as Imbert said they would be. But Hosein also said JSC meetings were too brief and when the JSC’s report was done, the Opposition often presented a minority report recommending continued JSC deliberations.
Charles also pointed out that no stakeholder consultations were held with anyone - Bankers’ Association (BATT), Board of Inland Revenue or the FIU.
On BATT’s call to the Opposition to support the bill, he noted that BATT had stated earlier that the package of three bills should be dealt with and BATT therefore knew what needs to be passed for T&T to be compliant.
“BATT’s only one group, but we must protect everyone’s rights,” Charles said.