The Opposition Leader is describing as ‘hypocritical’ statements made by Government officials regarding the Opposition’s position on the passage of the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
The Rowley Government has once again come at the eleventh hour for the passage of this Bill, and has continuously sought to throw the blame on the Opposition, when it was their own incompetence and laziness that has put the country in this position. The Government’s hypocritical statements come almost a year after Trinidad & Tobago was blacklisted by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes (Global Forum).
Mismanagement of the Legislative Agenda has caused Trinidad & Tobago to be blacklisted
Colm Imbert is on record, in September 2015, within his first few days of becoming Finance Minister, as starting to work with Global Forum on making Trinidad & Tobago compliant with Global Forum requirements.
The People’s Partnership Administration previously committed to becoming Global Forum compliant by September 2017. The Rowley Government, despite having two years to prepare, missed the deadline and consequently, Trinidad & Tobago was blacklisted in December 2017.
Three years and two months have passed since Colm Imbert began working on Global Forum compliance. Due to the Rowley Government’s laziness and incompetence, we are still quite some time away from becoming compliant as several bills will need to be passed.
More legislation is required to become compliant with Global Forum requirements.
The Rowley Government must come clean and let the population know that the passage of the Income Tax Bill will not take Trinidad and Tobago off the blacklist. The passage of the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill alone will not allow for sharing of taxpayers’ information with the Global Forum.
There are four other pieces of legislation which must be passed in order to satisfy Global Forum deficiencies: The Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters Bill, 2018, the Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill, 2018, an amendment to the Companies Act and the BEPS framework legislation.
Despite having received repeated warnings ending with blacklisting by the Global Forum, two of the required bills are still under discussion in a JSC and have not been finalised. Minister Imbert has admitted the bills are inter-related, and as such the bills need to be finalized together by the JSC and presented to Parliament as a complete package.
Despite the urgent need to finalise the bills, the Government put the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2018 on hold and moved on.
The Rowley Government suspended discussion on the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill about eighteen days ago and moved on to the Petrotrin matter, despite knowing that the Government would be reporting to the Global Forum and CFATF this week.
It is hypocritical of the Government to claim the Bill is at an impasse and lament that they must report to the Global Forum on 20-22 November 2018 and CFATF on the 19-23 November 2018, when they decided that the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill would not be dealt with by the Parliament until 23rd November.
Consequently, the Bill will not be discussed in Parliament until after the Global Forum meeting and on the last day the CFATF meeting. Instead of speeding up, the Rowley Government slowed down and has not adequately responded to issues raised in the Minority Report.
The Opposition has raised issues through the Minority Report laid in Parliament which the Rowley Government has failed to respond to.
The Opposition, in its minority report, listed three issues- lack of judicial scrutiny, data protection issues (privacy rights) and the application of the Bill to all Trinidad and Tobago citizens and not just EU citizens. These issues have not been adequately responded to and the issues are also related to bills which are still before the JSC.
The Rowley Government is peddling misinformation regarding the new deadline date for passage of the legislation.
During debate of the Bill, the Government claimed that the deadline was 30th November 2017. However, a deadline date of the31st December 2018 was acknowledged by the Global Forum by letter dated 23rd October 2017 from the EU- Fabrizia Lapecorella to the PS at the Ministry of Finance. See attached.
Let’s move forward together.
The Opposition maintains that The Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2018 lacks clarity, is ambiguous and flawed. The Government is failing to take its international commitments seriously.
Instead of playing politics and wasting time, we ask the Government to recommit the Bill to the JSC to properly ventilate the issues therein.
The Rowley Government is responsible for Trinidad and Tobago being blacklisted and they came in haste to the Parliament to push through a problematic, sloppy Bill which will not even be enough to get the nation removed from the blacklist.
They are jeopardizing the financial security of our nation and its citizens through its incompetence, collective untruths, laziness and irrational resistance to the passing of good legislation to protect our rights, privileges and freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.
The Opposition has received a letter from the Minister of Finance and is currently reviewing its contents and will respond in due course.