Bring it on tomorrow.Issuing that call to Government yesterday, Opposition MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie said the Opposition was prepared to work through tomorrow, when the second session of Parliament begins, and the weekend to pass the controversial Tax Information Exchange Agreement Bill.
This is necessary to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) between T&T and the US before the September 30 deadline. Tewarie, at a Port-of-Spain media briefing, said the Opposition had no reason to want to delay the Bill since UNC supporters were among the general public who would be affected by the halt of on-line trading, credit card operations and funding transfers, if the it was not passed.
He and other Opposition MPs replied to accusations by Prime Minister Keith Rowley at a PNM meeting on Tuesday when Rowley blamed the Opposition for lack of action on the Bill. Government had indicated it would bring the Bill after the 2017 budget debate (in October).
"But the Opposition has said umpteen times it wants to pass this Bill. We can complete it before the 2017 budget debate begins.
"We are prepared to start work as soon as Parliament begins Friday and work through the weekend, Saturday, Sunday. The Joint Select Committee (JSC) which we had proposed to examine the bill, can be completed in that time before the budget," Tewarie said.
Accusing Government of wasting time on the matter, Tewarie said the Opposition had called for the JSC on September 9 and the process could have started then.But, he said, Government adjourned Parliament until September 14 and debate continued but Parliament was prorogued the same day.
"At every instance we wanted to pass the Bill before the deadline. We voted against adjournment of Parliament and we voted to save work done on the bill in the last session and continue it in the upcoming session.
"Nobody wants to pass this bill more than us. We are willing to work on it ASAP. Government should have worked with us to pass it instead of recklessly saying they would seek extension of the deadline with the US before they knew if they could get it," Tewarie added.
Opposition Senator Gerald Hadeed, denying the UNC was afraid of tax scrutiny, said: "If the Government is serious about this Bill, they will start work immediately as we are prepared to."
Opposition MP Suruj Rambachan said 12 days of work had been lost on the Bill by Government's "politicising" of the issue . He urged Government to stop "bullying," blaming the Opposition and bring the Bill tomorrow (Friday) if it was seriously concerned about the public interest.
He accused Government of blaming the Opposition and using the FATCA issue as a distraction from its "mismanagement of T&T.
He said the PM's statements were setting the stage for harsh budget measures on the public but the Opposition's budget replies would include ways of managing the recession.
Tewarie said the PM should have explained, among other things, the implications of the expected $50 billion 2017 budget for revenue, expenditure cuts and social impact so citizens could be better prepared.
He expressed concern the IMF's recent statement about the undervaluation of the T&T dollar could affect confidence since citizens were already insecure and uncertain. He warned migration and movement of funds could ensue.