Imbert extends TT Revenue Authority deadline again

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Finance Colm Imbert. – File photo by Angelo Marcelle

Finance Minister Colm Imbert has again extended the deadline for the implementation of the long-touted TT Revenue Authority (TTRA).

The new deadline is now April 30. The extension was gazetted on April 2 and signed by Imbert. This decision comes after attorneys were advised by the Court of Appeal that a judgment challenging the operationalisation of the authority “will not be delivered by March 31.”

Attorneys for the State asked the court for an update, since Imbert had previously extended the deadline to March 31, and wanted to know when a decision was likely to be delivered “so that the minister may know whether it might become necessary to give consideration to a further extension.” Imbert did so on April 2.

The Revenue Authority Act was proclaimed with an effective date of May 1, 2023, and was scheduled to take effect on August 1, 2023.

However, the Public Services Association challenged the lawfulness of the authority. The lawsuit specifically focused on Section 18 of the legislation which President Christine Kangaloo proclaimed on April 24, 2023.

Initially, the deadline to do so was July 31. However, it was extended to November 30, 2023. On November 28, 2023, Imbert again extended the deadline to February 29, 2024, for “operational reasons.” It was extended again to March 31, on February 28, according to Legal Notice 46 of 2024.

In the lawsuit, the PSA, through its member and customs officer Terrisa Dhoray, is challenging the constitutional validity of the TT Revenue Act 2021.

She contended that certain segments of the legislation were unconstitutional, as they seek to interfere with the terms and conditions of employment of public servants currently assigned to the Customs and Excise Division and Inland Revenue Division.

She also claimed that the Government did not have the power to delegate its tax-revenue-collection duties.

The section gives public servants three months to decide on their future employment on the operationalisation of the TTRA.

Affected public servants have the choice to voluntarily resign from the Public Service, accept a transfer to the TTRA, or be transferred to another office in the Public Service.

On November 17, 2023, High Court Judge Westmin James dismissed the case. James ruled that tax collection was not a core governmental function that is non-delegable.

While he noted that taxation was a key source of a government’s revenue and that the process of assessing and collecting taxes is essential, he said there were currently instances of private entities being able to collect taxes on the government’s behalf.

In his ruling, James said the TTRA was “meant to be a semi-autonomous revenue authority.”

On February 7, Justices of Appeal Nolan Bereaux, Charmaine Pemberton, and Mira Dean-Armorer reserved their ruling on the PSA’s appeal.

Last month, the Government initiated the process of appointing key officials to the TTRA. Three motions have been tabled in Parliament seeking approval for the appointment of individuals to top positions within the authority.

Patsy Latchman-Atterbury has been nominated as director-general, Helen Thomas-Brown as deputy director-general of Domestic Tax, and Riad Juman as deputy director-general of Customs and Excise.

When Dhoray first filed her lawsuit in June 2023, she sought an injunction blocking the implementation pending the outcome of the lawsuit, but Justice Betsy Ann Lambert-Peterson, who was initially assigned to preside over the case, denied it.

The Court of Appeal upheld her decision. After Lambert-Peterson rejected the injunction, Dhoray applied for her to recuse herself, based on concerns raised by PSA members over the alleged friendship between her husband, Gilbert Peterson, SC, and the Prime Minister.

Lambert-Peterson repeatedly rejected the link, saying she could preside impartially in the case. However, she eventually recused herself, resulting in the case being reassigned to James.

Dhoray was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Kent Samlal, Robert Abdool-Mitchell, Natasha Bisram, Vishaal Siewsaran, and Ganesh Saroop.

The State was represented by Douglas Mendes, SC, Simon de la Bastide, Leann Thomas, and Svetlana Dass.