Excerpts of speech by UNC Political Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the Rally Against the Property Tax
Citizens from ten constituencies in South Trinidad joined in a motorcade led by the United National Congress on Sunday 30th April, 2017, to protest the Government’s move to introduce the Property Tax.
The motorcade ended in a rally at Funsplash Water Park in Debe, where UNC MPs addressed the gathering of concerned citizens.
Below are some highlights of the speech delivered by Political Leader and Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP – Siparia:
Today is a very important day in the history of our party – today is the birthday of the great UNC. Twenty-eight years we record today, and I want to pay tribute to the founding fathers of our great party, in particular the Honourable Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
As we stand today we would want to remember that 28 years ago when this party was born, it was done because of the conditions existing then. It was born out of hope – in the fires of hope and prayer, with boundless faith in our destiny. Our party was formed for equity, for justice, to stand up for the rights of people, and today we recommit to the principles of justice, fairness and equity in our land.
As we moved through the constituencies in the motorcade, one of the main problems we kept hearing was – no water. I remember when I first became MP this was a major issue; people would flock to my office to complain about water. We walked to the WASA office in San Fernando to protest because of water. And in the other constituencies it was the same.
When I became Prime Minister water flowed through our taps in every constituency. What has changed? The change has been that the Rowley PNM is in Government. No water. Crime levels at an all-time high. Job losses. An old lady came out, she said: MP I can’t get medicine. The children cannot get their laptops. In every way they have cut everything, but at the end of the year, the monies they have budgeted, the billions, you see it was spent. The question we have to ask is – where the money gone?
I can show you where the money we spent went – over 100 schools built; I can show you the thousands of laptops; I can show you a brand new facility, fully equipped, the Couva Children’s Hospital. Right over the road – the South Campus of the UWI. I call on the Rowley Government to show us where the money gone!
They say they have no money so they have to tax you. Tax upon tax upon tax, and this latest backbreaking tax – the property tax – which is designed to take you into poverty, which is why we have dubbed it the “Poverty Tax”.
Rowley knows this will bring hardship but they don’t care! They say they don’t have money to they have to tax people to get money. But you cannot grow an economy by taxing people every day. You will not get development, you will not get growth, you will in fact further depress the economy. We are in a recession; the economy has dropped to its lowest in 30 years.
While I was driving through I noticed so many places had a little business below their house – a little parlour, we are in Debe – all the doubles vendors take note; you will have to pay commercial rates because they will dub you a business. You put a little table outside and selling your produce, whatever you grow, you know what? Commercial property tax – 6 percent.
When you pull all the money out of the system what will happen? More jobs will be lost. The prices of everything will escalate and by the way – the WASA rates are tied to valuation so when they assess your property and the value is higher, your water rates go up automatically.
Other things will be increased as well, indirectly.
If you are renting – the landlord now has to pay property tax and he will possibly try to pass that on to you – your rent goes up. Manufacturers now have to pay commercial property tax and this added cost will be passed on to you – prices will go up.
We have been downgraded and downgraded and I hear the tax man wants to pay a third agency to do an assessment. If two already said you are bad, why waste money to pay for a third opinion? That would be one out of three. Two have said we are in junk bond status.
They will continue to borrow because they have no plan. They have no plan so they will tax you and continue to borrow and you know what? Because of the downgrade the cost of borrowing goes up. And the more you borrow you go into what is called a debt trap. As you pay back the debt you have no money to invest so you are just paying back what you borrow. You run a household – if you are borrowing more than you are receiving you will go bankrupt. And this is what I am worried about. If things are so bad after 18 months, heaven help us! Should this Government stay for the five years there will be nothing left, and none of us would be alive and standing.
That is why today we have to band together, we have to stand together, we have to fight. I give you the assurance, we will do everything we can as MPs. As MPs we will fight them in Parliament, as lawyers we will fight them in the courts, but at the end of the day the people will have to fight them in the streets and say No! No! No! to the property tax.
Even if they need the money, what is their plan? We had a plan – the blue, green and silver economies as laid out in our manifesto. Our plan was to develop the economy so that we move away from oil and gas, so that we don’t place all our eggs in one basket.
So what will we do? The first battle is in your hands. You are getting in your mailboxes a form that they will send to you. Does it have a name on it? Does it have an address? I have consulted with lawyers and we have gone through the Valuation of Land Act and the Property Tax Act, and it is clear that this form is null and void.
I tell you – you have no obligation in Law to fill out this form and send it in. They cannot prosecute you, and if they come to lock you up, let them lock me up first!
Do not help them to send people into your homes. In this time of high crime – the worse ever in our history- they want to send a stranger into your house. Do not send the form because if you do they will send someone to come in your house. We are not letting them into our homes!
They can do nothing to you – your name is not on it; your address is not on it. No to the form! We will not help them to tax us.
We fought this battle before – in 2010 I was clear: no new tax. In all those years I was your Prime Minister we delivered roads, water, laptops, schools, health care and not one tax did I levy on you. In fact, we did the opposite, we took off tax – VAT on thousands of food items.
You ask why we didn’t repeal it, I am telling you we were in the process of repealing it, but we made sure, we passed Act 2 of 2015, making sure that no one would pay the tax for the period 2010-2015. And we told you, should we win the election, you would never have to pay this wicked property tax.
Today, I give you the assurance that when we form the next Government, we will scrap the tax, there will be no property tax of 2009 on your heads.
So let us fight it. We are here as we celebrate 28 years of our great party. We are here as a beacon of light to bring hope in a hopeless situation. Our country has reached to depths we have never seen before, even in the hardest of times.
The only way forward for us, for our children, is for the light to rise from the east, to cross the lands of the west, north and south, the light of the rising sun. As sure as the day follows the night, the sun will rise again!
Funsplash Water Park, Debe
Sunday 30th April 2017