Opposition Leader Mrs. Kamla Persad Bissessar today stressed that as a responsible Opposition and the country’s alternative Government is mindful of Trinidad and Tobago’s international obligations with respect to FACTA and the implications of non-passage of the Tax Information Exchange Bill, 2016, will support the legislation, suitably amended to protect as far as possible the rights of all citizens and the best interests of the country. She gave the assurance that the Opposition will not rest until properly drafted legislation is passed in Parliament.
“It is now in the government’s hands to do the right thing to ensure that properly drafted legislation is passed in Parliament”, she said.
On Friday the government rejected her call for the government to meet with the Opposition to work every day and night for a week in a Joint Select Committee to complete a review of the Bill; instead the government opted for a private meeting on Monday.
The Opposition is of the view that there is sufficient time for the Bill to be reviewed in detail, and allow for appropriate consultations with stakeholders. Mrs. Bissessar is of the view that the parliamentary agenda can be adjusted immediately to accommodate a comprehensive review of this most important piece of legislation. She pledged her party’s willingness to do all that is necessary to ensure that improved legislation can be passed before the September 30th deadline and still meet our national and international commitments and obligations.
“We will not support faulty legislation by a government incapable of managing a meaningful governance agenda. Under the Bill, the Minister of Finance, will have access to your private financial information; I will not allow such an invasion into the lives of our citizens. That power should be vested in the Board of Inland Revenue and not the Minister.
“We will meet with the government tomorrow… and once a workable solution is found, we will all work together. That is my role as Leader of the Opposition… It is to ensure that the government is not working against the citizens of the country.
“The Finance Ministry advised weeks ago that the draft Bill was completed and would be presented to the Opposition in early August for review and would be laid in Parliament in September. However the Opposition received a copy of the 121 page Bill containing 30clauses, for schedules and direct impact on at least seven other laws, giving us a mere 3 working days to examine, scrutinize and prepare for last Friday’s debate.
“Moreover, by the government’s own admission, there has been no consultation with stakeholders on the Bill,” says Mrs. Persad Bissessar.
In other jurisdictions, there has been extensive consultation on draft legislation with respect to FATCA, BUT in T&T, there has been no consultation on the Bill. This demonstrates total, continuing, undisguised and unmitigated disrespect for Parliament, the Opposition and the People of our country.
As leader of the Opposition and as a Parliamentarian of many years standing, I will not approve nor be party to the passage of half baked, hurriedly prepared, poorly understood and not well thought out legislation based on inadequate consultation especially where citizens constitutional rights are being infringed.
No amount of threats by the PNM that the heavens will fall, will change my resolve to act always in the interest of the citizenry”, she stressed.
In her contribution to Parliament last Friday Mrs. Persad Bissessar identified a number of weaknesses in the draft legislation such as the excessive overreach of the executive (politicians) on privacy of persons by giving the Minister of Finance, a politician, significant intrusive powers to request and receive personal information and lack of either Parliamentary scrutiny or judicial scrutiny.
This overreach extends to all legislation not only to the seven Acts named in the Bill but also to any other Act as it relates to financial information and, she called for the proper identification of these additional pieces of legislation so that citizens will know the true extent of the intrusive arrangements and the necessity for them.
She also pointed out that similar legislation by other Caribbean countries had features which catered for the special circumstances of each country and a comparative analysis was needed to improve this legislation to better serve the interests of our country.
“I emphasize that my ultimate duty is to protect the interests of the people and those of our country and I will do so in all circumstances” she concluded.
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