Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP, is sounding a warning on the Government’s move to rush through two important pieces of legislation – the Valuation of Land (Amendment) Bill, 2018 and the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
The Opposition Leader issued the following statement:
There are dangerous provisions in these two Bills, which the Government pushed through the Lower House using their simple majority. Some of these provisions are set out below.
With regard to the Property Tax Bill, a frightening development is Clause 23, which, in the Bill that was originally laid, sought to amend section 52A of the parent Act to move the moratorium from 31st December, 2015 to 30th September, 2018. During the Committee stage, however, the Finance Minister deliberately changed this to 30th September 2016. So not only did the Government play games in order to shut down the debate, they made a last minute change which means two years of property tax will be due this year, in September.
The government had since September 2017, indicated that property tax would begin in 2019. However, Colm Imbert, without a word of explanation, moved this amendment which will force people to pay property tax for 2017 and 2018. In his debate contribution, Colm Imbert did not say that he planned to amend the bill so that 2 years of tax would be due this year. The Opposition, like the country, was blindsided once again by this Government’s deceitful tactics. They’ve shown yet again, that they cannot be trusted.
What is also of concern is the amendment of Clause 24, which inserts a new section 53A which empowers the Minister of Finance to amend Schedules I and IV by Order. Schedule I outlines the percentage of tax to be levied, and therefore this amendment now gives the Minister to power to change the quantum of tax without parliamentary scrutiny and oversight.
In addition to these devious changes, the Government has still offered no clarity on the formula that will be used to calculate the property tax.
The question that must be asked is whether the Government decided to scuttle the debate in the House of Representatives because they are afraid of scrutiny?
With regard to the Valuation of Land (Amendment) Bill, 2018, the Government inserted clause 15, which seeks to establish a Valuation Tribunal to replace the Tax Appeal Board for the purpose of hearing appeals of decisions regarding property valuations. However, what is worrying is that the members of this Tribunal will be appointed by the Minister of Finance.
I raised the concern more than a week ago, that if people have a problem with the valuation of their properties, this would now be heard by a Tribunal appointed by a politician, which is frightening. Not only does the Minister have the power to hire the members of this Tribunal, but under the new law, he has the power to suspend as well.
With the appointment of this Tribunal, the Minister’s specially appointed members would act as judge and jury with the property tax.
Under the current law, the Tax Appeal Board is akin to the High Court, and its members are selected by an independent body, the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC), and so there was separation of powers between government and judicial activity.
It is against democratic principles and Constitutional principles to have a Tribunal appointed by a politician to hear and determine the rights of citizens with respect to their property.
We have seen, and we continue to see a pattern of action from the government to place power in the hands of politicians. We saw it with the Selection of the Commissioner of Police (CoP) Order, to the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), to FATCA and the list goes on. The Minister of Finance also tried to put himself in the process to select the procurement board.
We in the Opposition maintain that the provisions in these Bills which were railroaded through the Parliament during last Friday’s sitting are dangerous.
The Rowley-led Government continues to demonstrate contempt for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and has no care for the impact of its actions on the quality of life of citizens.
The Opposition will continue to sensitize the public and expose these dangerous and oppressive moves by the Government, and redress in the Courts will be sought, if necessary.