I am sure many of you saw or received this document I hold in my hand.
And rightfully so, many of you are worried about what this means for you and family.
This document is what I consider a slap in the face of the citizens of this country in the middle of a pandemic. This document is an instruction to submit what is called ‘A Return’ to the Commissioner of State Lands.
This my fellow citizens IS A PROPERTY VALUATION FORM. It is not Property Tax (as the Ministry of Finance website boasts) but it is the first stage of this government’s implementation of this regime.
To add insult to injury it is stated in the third line of the notice “failure to comply with this requirement constitutes a criminal offence which is punishable by a fine of 5,000”
It is ironic that this Minister can clearly outline ‘criminal offence’ when it comes to twisting the arm of regular taxpaying citizens but cannot recognize criminal offence when it comes to NGC.
If you ever doubted how much this Government looks down on the population, this should make it clear.
Like a thief in the night, the Minister pounces on the unsuspecting popular,tion, jacks them up and demands that they hand up their information, otherwise it is criminal charge and a fine of $5000. THAT, my fellow citizens should be a crime!
Let me tell you what this is.
This form requires citizens to find a series of documents and work out the approximate value of their property, full out a specific and detailed form and send it to the Valuation Department. THIS IS THE FORM.
This is an extremely technical form, 7 pages long, requiring a variety of information that most persons will not have easily available to them.
It is almost as if the Government is deliberately setting out to make these forms difficult to complete so they can punish citizens with fines.
This is the form that a 74 year-old pensioner is expected to fill out and submit or they will be charged $5000. Almost twice their pension grant.
What is interesting is that we heard from the Prime Minister on Saturday as he informed the population of decisions made on the three-day excursion he took his cabinet on (paid for by the same taxpayers they are now preying on)
Why no announcement of this measure?
Why was this a secret?
This is a Government that governs by Press Conference…as we have seen through the entire Covid19 Pandemic…where was the Press Conference for this?
Where is the public announcement to inform the population of what this is and what is needed?
This Government is sneaking up on the population with these callous measures in the middle of a Pandemic.
When citizens are reeling financially from this pandemic, farmers suffering after major flooding, many homeowners are trying to recover from property damage from adverse weather conditions…this Government cannot be bothered to help but can find the time and resources to ruthlessly employ these oppressive measures.
Ironically, the Ministry’s website has a clear statement that this is not the Property Tax. Who thought so?
I think it is obvious to everyone what this is. Once before the Government had tried to ram the requirement to fill out self-assessment forms and submit under the same threat of criminal action against citizens.
The UNC took this to court and proved that the Minister and the Government was acting illegally and made the Minister back down.
Today the Minister of Finance is back, pursuing the very same objective, using the very same arrogant attitude.
You see the law requires the Minister to have more than half of the properties in Trinidad and Tobago, assessed and valued, BEFORE he can introduce the property tax.
So, when the Minister of Finance publishes this demand, he is doing so with the clear intention of slapping citizens with the property tax in the very near future.
This could not have come at a worse possible time for citizens and businesses.
Do you think that the Minister does not know this?
This is the same Minister who boasted that his government was forced to provide financial and social support to over 75,000 households, comprising over 200,000 Nationals of Trinidad and Tobago in 2020. These are the people he is looking at to tax now.
This is the same Minister that boasted that over 90,000 salary relief grants had been paid out last year. He is looking to tax these people too.
This is the same Minister who one month ago boasted that his government had already spent over $5 billion in COVID relief. Now he wants his pound of flesh.
This is the same Minister that told this country that there were tens of thousands of applications in 2021 for support from individuals and businesses reeling from the shut-down of the economy. Now he is threatening them with criminal prosecution.
But this is the same Minister who shamelessly told us that he had failed to provide support to 7,000 of the most needy citizens in this country, who were so poor that they didn’t have a bank account to their name, who had applied and qualified as desperately and legitimately in need.
And he saw nothing wrong with that.
He saw nothing wrong with the fact that these people did not have money to buy food last year and they were still waiting 365 days later for this uncaring Minister to do the right thing.
This is the same Minister who KNOWS that 6000 small and medium sized businesses have closed down.
Minister Imbert knows that over 150,000 persons have lost their jobs because of actions taken by him. Now they must find money to pay taxes or fines.
And instead of trying to find ways to ease the burden of adjustment, with no initiative to create employment and business opportunity, he is creating more expenses for already struggling businesses and for the average citizen.
And this affects every single citizen – whether you own property or not, because what property tax is, is another cost of doing business. This cost will be passed on by business to the average consumer by way of increased costs of goods and services.
So, every consumer will have to pay, but if you are in possession of property you will have to pay twice – one to the tax man and one more time via higher prices for food, medicine, services etc.
We, of The United National Congress have repeatedly said that we are not in support of the imposition of this property tax under the current economic, social and financial circumstances.
We are not of the view that citizens and businesses, many of whom are holding on for survival by their fingertips, can afford this property tax.
What is also glaring is that there is absolutely no mention of industrial properties in this advertisement. The legislation which the UNC opposed and which was passed by the PNM clearly differentiated between four types of land, residential, commercial, agricultural and …industrial land.
I am certain this was no oversight because last year the Minister warned that residential properties will be taxed first and then commercial and industrial properties.
But most homeowners are struggling. I am curious as to why Minister Imbert has deliberately left out assessment of industrial land from this assessment because industrial land was listed at a 6% tax rate which is the highest rate of applicable property tax.
We already know that we cannot trust this Minister and this Government….So why the exclusion Minister Imbert? What is the secret? What is happening to industrial land?
Another issue is the severity of the deadline. There are 425,000 households in Trinidad and Tobago according to recent estimates and more than 25,000 SMEs  and another 2500 large businesses. Again, this does not include industrial enterprises.
Does the Minister realistically expect that all of the people will be able to download and complete this complex form within the next two and a half months? That is an absolutely ridiculous expectation and is completely unattainable.
So why set such an impractical deadline? All this does is create unnecessary panic. It is as if the Minister and his government enjoys seeing the population, especially the elderly, line up in sun and rain to do his bidding. Why are you continuing to persecute people?
I ask the Minister today, is the rush to complete this exercise, this desperation to add another tax on the population, based on the fact that your government presided over the loss of half a billion dollars in a most unintelligent pursuit of Train 1.
Imagine the shareholder companies who own 90 percent of Train 1 declined to pursue further investment and the NGC with a mere 10 percent, threw 440 PLUS million dollars behind an exercise doomed to failure. AND this with the FULL knowledge and approval of the Minister of Finance.
Now you know why Minister Imbert was anxious to indemnify the directors, because he himself is implicated, as he had full knowledge of the investment decision from inception to completion and authorised it.
Is it that taxpayers are now being forced to pay three times for Minister Imbert and his NGC friends wanton wastage of scarce tax dollars and foreign exchange? In the first place, the $440 million dumped, came out of taxpayers pockets. On top of that we also pay the exorbitant salaries, fees and concessions of Mr Mark Loquan, Mr Enill and his directors.
And now again Minister Imbert is squeezing the last cent from taxpayers under threat of criminal charges if they do not comply? Just so he could tax them to fund his extravagance without having to account for it?
I call on Government to Give taxpayers an indemnity!
The same indemnity you are anxious to provide your friends on the board and executive management! Surely taxpayers who fund your extravagance deserve an indemnity more than you and your friends.
But you see it is different strokes for different folks.
Throw away half a billion dollars and you get a pardon from the Prime Minister, from the Minister of Finance and from the Minister of Energy.
But ordinary citizens? Never forget the glee on Imbert’s face when he laughed that he repeatedly taxed citizens and was likely to do so again because according to him “they haven’t rioted yet.”
So, threaten them with criminal charges and fines.
Do you know what a $5000 fine is to citizens struggling to make ends meet? The Minister of Finance was of the view that the $1500 he was giving for a couple months to the few persons who had become unemployed only in three or four months of last year, was enough for them to survive for a year.
You get 1500 for 3 months, $4,500 and that is supposed to feed you and your family for 365 days. These are some of the same people he is threatening to fine $5000 if they do not file on time, and after than they can lose their properties.
That is a penalty of more than three times the monthly stipend Imbert was willing to give to these same people. That is cruel and unusual punishment.
Paying taxes is not the issue here. If you think about it, taxes can be compared to an investment in your country. You pay taxes for proper goods and services.
But what are the return on investment for the taxes we already pay? Our hospitals are in shambles, you can never get a reliable supply of pipe borne water, government services leaves much to be desired, public transport is a nightmare, the country is falling apart metaphorically and also quite literally – we have poor drainage, unprecedented flooding, scores of landslips and not to mention the absolutely horrendous condition of our roads.
Where are our tax dollars going? How does the Government plan to convince the population that they will not be reckless as they are accustomed being with the money generated from this Property Tax? This is yet another strain on the people of T&T and especially when we have all been knocked down by the economic impact of this pandemic. It is like adding insult to injury.
In my constituency of Oropouche West we have citizens, taxpaying citizens who have been flooded in and suffered significant property damage. There are thousands of families throughout Trinidad and Tobago who have had their homes damaged, roofs blown off, water damage, lost appliances and equipment, not just this year but for several years, and these persons are going to have to abandon clean-up efforts, stop sweeping mud out their dining room, stop bailing water from their bedrooms, and find time and money to rush to get the documents and fill out the Ministers forms otherwise he will make criminals out of them and fine them on top of that.
And even when they manage to do that….they will be slapped in the face and pocket with property tax by Minister Imbert.
The Minister in his predictable conceited manner will tell the population that the country needs money and this is one way of getting funds.
How else can we pay bills? Because you see that is his ONLY concern.
How does he pay Faris Al Rawi millions in rent? How does the Young family get millions from this Government? How does NGC directors get half a billion to throw away?
This Minister of Finance is completely incompetent. The only way he can generate revenue is by borrowing, selling off state assets or tax, tax, tax.
There is absolutely no sustainable income source created by Minister Colm Imbert. He is a complete, unrepentant failure.
There are multiple arguments against the property tax which we shall be repeating. Critical among them is the fact that it is based on annual rental value. But properties and homes that are not rented out, that do not earn an income are being treated exactly the same as properties rented out. That is inequitable and punitive.
Additionally, it is based on appearance.
Can you imagine now you are punished for doing well in life? Imagine you worked for years upon years and rake and scrape every last penny you had, especially in a depressed PNM economy, just so you could build your home and live comfortably with your family and now, they want to tax you for that! I am sure that there are a few spin doctors dizzy right now somewhere in a room in Balisier House trying to concoct their narrative to quell the impending public furore over this draconian Property Tax.
So the homeowner who has pride and ambition, and who sacrificed consumption, invests his money in improving his home, and who would have paid taxes both on the income when he earned it and on his purchases, increasing the value of his home, is penalised for investing and saving.
But you see, that is the mindset of the Minister. He cannot fathom investment which is why he will protect a Board that has cost taxpayers half a billion dollars in a single doomed initiative.
Today I echo the appeal of the Leader of the Opposition to the Minister of Finance to have a heart. The vast majority of our citizens are not opposed to paying reasonable rates for reasonable service. I am convinced that many may be inclined to provide the documentation he demands but will not be able to meet his unreasonable deadline. It cannot be the deliberate intention of a government to bully and embarrass citizens, especially when they are in the serious economic and financial challenge we all recognise we are in.
Have a heart. Many citizens cannot afford the impending property tax.
And the unfortunate fact is that we all know that the Minister’s incompetence is creating no hope for a change in our economic circumstances.
Things will get worse before they get better.