Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar is knocking the Government’s attempts to push forward with its proposed Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority, with the move to debate the Report of the Joint Select Committee established to consider and report on The Trinidad And Tobago Revenue Authority Bill, 2018.
“We maintain that the proposed Revenue Authority is not the best option for Trinidad and Tobago, and we have a number of concerns with regard to this Bill,” she said. “It is our view that in its current form, the Bill places too much power in the hands of the political executive of the State.”
She added, “The proposed governance model being promoted by the Government is flawed, defective and completely at odds with good governance, accountability, transparency, political neutrality and insulation of workers from the political directorate.”
“The Bill is designed to outsource to a Government-owned statutory authority/corporation the tasks of collecting some 95 percent of government revenues which would be under the direct political control of the Cabinet,” the Opposition Leader said. “This must be rejected.”
The Opposition’s position on this Bill has been outlined in the Minority Report submitted by the Opposition Members of Parliament who were part of the JSC.
The report noted that tax and customs laws are the most intrusive powers of the State and therefore require their insulation from direct political interference and/or control/influence.
Members stated that the position adopted by the Executive “undermines public confidence in an already beleaguered society suspicious of the Executive’s intention to use confidential information at their whim and fancy. The creation of State institutions must have the necessary safeguards from political abuse to ensure that there is public trust at all times.”
The Opposition also expressed concern about the more than 2,000 employees located at both the Customs and Excise Division and the Board of Inland Revenue whose security of tenure would be subverted and replaced by a system of contract employment in which the Executive would be directly and/or indirectly involved.
The Members noted, “As it currently stands the positions in the Board of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise may differ in job description, job title and portfolio to those in the prospective Revenue Authority. There is no insulation from making positions redundant.”
The Minority Report also noted the “complete politicization of the Revenue Authority through the political appointment of the Chairman and the Directors of the Board/Authority including the appointment of the Director General and the Deputy Director General by the Minister through some parliamentary approved process which is controlled by the Executive arm of the state.”
The Opposition strongly disagrees with discretionary powers afforded to the Minister of Finance in the Bill as well as the role the Minister plays via the legislation in the appointment of persons who will oversee the institution and who will have access to the tax information of all citizens. Members stated that no politician should have this power in the appointment of persons to oversee independent institutions, and to suggest otherwise contributes to further undermining public confidence in the Revenue Authority.
Recommendations were made by Opposition Members on alternative mechanisms for the appointment of the Board, Director General and Deputies, but these were not accepted.
Opposition Members stressed that the process of hiring and firing at the Revenue Authority must not be allowed to fall in the hands of the political directorate, especially when persons being hired will be handling sensitive and confidential information of all citizens of this nation. Public Officers appointed by the Public Service Commission are bound by statute to perform a fiduciary duty and therefore the Opposition recommended that all hiring be done through the Public Service Commission.
What is alarming, the Opposition Members stated, is that no evidence or data were presented to justify or support the arguments that the new governance model would generate greater levels of efficiencies, effectiveness and economy in its operations. What the model allows for is easy access by the political directorate to both companies’ and individuals’ records, which ought to be strictly and highly confidential at all times.
It is to be noted that in spite of the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department and the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC) outlining several options for revenue and customs reforms inclusive of the establishment of a Revenue Authority model, the Government has opted to impose, promote and pursue its “one size fits all” agenda rendering the entire JSC exercise worthless, useless and highly unproductive.
The Opposition is of the view that a reform strategy as proposed by the IMF in 2013 is the best option.
In view of the several shortcomings and deficiencies of the Majority Report of the JSC, the Opposition does not support the recommendation “that the Parliament consider and adopt the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority Bill, 2018 as amended.”