“Government’s failure to earlier establish a JSC on the TIEA Bill (FATCA) was due to Government incompetence”
Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP is criticizing the Government’s continued attempts to mislead the population over the FATCA issue, even after the Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill (TIEA) was passed in the House of Representatives.
The Opposition Leader issued the following statement:
The statement of the Ministry of Finance issued on 27th February 2017, Carnival Monday, on the passage of the Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill (TIEA) is yet another example of the deceit and the dishonesty of the Rowley-led Government, and highlights the extent to which they will go in their attempts to hoodwink the population and conceal their incompetence.
Now that the country has seen the benefits of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on this Bill, the Finance Ministry’s statement represents a desperate attempt by the Government to ex post facto provide a justification for not having established the JSC earlier. Through its media release, the government sought to convince the population that its failure to earlier establish a JSC on the TIEA Bill was the Opposition’s fault. Nothing is further from the truth. The reasons they have advanced are totally without merit and concocted to deceive.
The facts are, from day one, the position of the Opposition that it was committed to the passage of good law and of the need for a JSC was clearly articulated. The Opposition has been consistent in and outside of Parliament in its calls for a JSC, starting with the call made by the Opposition Leader on 9th September 2016 in the House of Representatives when the Bill was laid and debate on same began. The Government had multiple opportunities on that day and thereafter to establish a JSC but failed so to do until 6th January 2017, despite their repeated assertions about the importance and urgency of passage of this Bill.
In its attempt to justify the Government’s failure, the Finance Ministry states that an advance copy of the Bill was presented to the Opposition on September 5th 2016 and that the Bill was debated for the first time on September 9th 2016. This has no relevance to the decision of the Government to refuse to set up the JSC and indeed, the Bill could have been referred to a JSC that same day. Further, the Ministry fails to reveal that notice that this Bill would be brought to Parliament was given to the Opposition on 2nd September 2016 during the anti-crime talks with the Government (initiated by the Leader of the Opposition) when it was then agreed that this Bill, and others, would be discussed by the Opposition and the Government before being debated in the Parliament. Despite this undertaking by the Prime Minister, it was yet another broken promise by his Government.
The Government then seeks to rely upon the proroguing of Parliament to justify their inaction to earlier establish a JSC. This is simply nonsensical. The proroguing of Parliament was never an issue and the Opposition supported the carrying over of the Bill to the next Session, which was always an option open to the Government.
The Government’s reasoning has no credibility in light of the fact that after meeting with the Opposition on the 12th September 2016, they agreed to establish a JSC without any issue of the proroguing of Parliament being raised as an issue of concern. I challenge the Government to point out in the Hansard of debate on this Bill, any evidence of the proroguing of Parliament being a reason advanced for the refusal to establish a JSC.
Further, their disingenuous intention and dishonesty is ironically exposed by their own words. The Minister’s own words expose the lie of the statement. In his letter to the American Ambassador dated the 21st September 2016 the Minister of Finance says:
“In the request dated September 14th 2016 mention was made of the requirement to relay and debate the Bill since it would have lapsed on the proroguing of Parliament. It should be noted that there will no longer be a requirement or this step in the plan outlined. The Government and the Opposition approved a motion to carry over the Bill in the next session of the House upon the resumption of Parliament. The effect of this move is that the proceedings on the Bill will be resumed in the new session of Parliament due to commence on September 23, 2016”.
It should be noted that the motion to carry over the Bill to the next session was approved in the House on the said 14th September, 2016, the said date of the request letter referred to above.
The statement of the Finance Ministry then proceeds on the premises that the excuses now being advanced, ex post facto by the Government, had been “pointed out”. Curiously, nowhere in the Finance Ministry’s statement is this statement of fact followed by any identification as to whom it was “pointed out” to. It was surely not the Opposition.
These actions of the Government are similar to the fictitious ‘“widespread consultations” with stakeholders on this Bill which the Attorney General boasted that he had held. When called upon to provide evidence of same during the JSC hearings, they were proven to have been imaginary as no evidence was forthcoming and, admission, in effect, was made that there were no widespread consultations.
The treachery of the Government is further exposed when they could now advance the rationale that there was not enough time for public comment as a reason for the failure to establish the JSC earlier. The verbatim notes of the JSC show that it was an Opposition member of the Committee at the Committee’s fifth meeting who insisted that there should be public consultations in the face of refusal from the Attorney General and an Independent Senator to allow the public to comment on the Bill.
The Government continues in the statement to weave its web of lies seeking to deceive the population by attempting to rely upon the Hansard record to evidence consideration by the Government of the establishment of a JSC. The Hansard record of the Parliament, however, evidences nothing of that nature and points to the contrary:
(i) The Hansard shows that the Finance Minister makes fleeting reference to a JSC without any positive assertion guaranteeing the establishment of same (the references of the Minister are to be found at page 57 and 58 of the Hansard of the 9th December 2016).
(ii) The Hansard also shows that the Leader of Government Business was outright condemnatory of any JSC on the Bill, even going into the realm of the surreal by questioning why would the Opposition want the Bill to go to a JSC for twelve members behind closed doors to consider same, when the Bill could be considered by the whole House (12th December 2016). The Leader of Government Business thereby completely misrepresented the facts, neglecting to acknowledge that after a Bill is considered by a JSC, it is reported to the whole House and to the whole Senate and, all forty-one members of the House and all Senators are free to consider and speak on same. This in fact is what transpired on the TIEA Bill when the Report of the JSC was considered and adopted by the House on 23rd February 2016 and, will happen next when it goes for consideration of the Senate.
The Government must be called upon to answer – why did the Ministry of Finance seek to mislead the United States of America in its letter dated the 14th September 2016 (almost two months before the 9th December 2016 debate on the Bill) when it informed the United States Department of the Treasury that the “expected timeline” on the passage of the Bill would include the following:
(i) Establishment of a JSC of the Parliament by mid-November 2016.
(ii) The JSC would need at least two months to complete its work and provide a report. In this regard, it is anticipated that the JSC’s report could be laid in Parliament in January 2017.
If the Government did not seek to mislead the USA in its September 14th 2016 letter, then, it must have intended to mislead the people of this country. It must be that the Government never expected that the Opposition and the people of this country would ever have sight of the contents of this letter to the USA. Fortunately, this letter had to be disclosed as a result of the work of the Opposition members of the JSC.
Having regard to this letter dated 14th September 2016, it is hypocritical of the Leader of Government Business to proceed to make statements on the 12th December 2016 criticizing the request for a JSC by the Opposition when two months before, the Government was telling the USA that a JSC would be established as part of the count down to the expected deadline. It is clear that this Government has no respect for the intelligence of the people of this country.
The Government must provide an explanation as to why they misled the country and did not agree to the establishment of the JSC at the sitting of the Parliament on the 9th September 2016, when the position of the Opposition was made known. They must also tell the country why they did not agree to the establishment of a JSC on the 23rd September 2016 when the Parliament debated this Bill. They must explain why they did not agree to the establishment of a JSC on the 9th December 2016 before the Leader of the Opposition was ejected from the Parliamentary Chamber. They must honestly tell the country why they waited from September 2016 to January 2017 – almost four months – to establish the JSC rather than resort to blaming the Opposition for their delay and incompetence.
The Rowley Government can no longer mask its incompetence and seek to conceal the embarrassment of not having agreed earlier to the establishment of a JSC on the TIEA Bill when requested to do so by the Opposition. The country has not only seen the wisdom of the request of the Opposition but they have now realized that the Bill passed in the House of Representatives is better law with improved protection and security in the best interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. The Government should do what is right and apologize for its bad judgment and incompetence and undertake to the people of this country to do better. The Opposition and the people of this country will accept nothing less.
Leader of the Opposition
28th February 2017