Imbert: Kamla wrong again, Government has no plan to increase VAT

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Colm Imbert –

FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert says Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is wrong yet again in her claims that government intends to raise revenue by raising value added tax (VAT) and imposing other punitive measures on citizens.

He made these statements when he opened debate on the Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) (Financial Year 2024) Bill, 2024 in the Senate on June 11.

The House of Representatives passed the bill, commonly referred to as the mid-year review of the budget, on June 7.

The bill approved a $2.3 billion supplementation to the 2023/2024 budget.

Among the major supplementations approved were $570,900,000; $155,677,500; $527,800,000; $495, 286, 000 and $144,200,000 for the ministries of Energy, Works and Transport, Public Utilities, Health and Education respectively.

There was also a $50 million increase in funding for the Tobago House of Assembly.

Persad-Bissessar first made the claims of increased taxes during debate on a motion in the House on June 7 to approve a report from its Standing Finance Committee to approve the supplementation.

She said she had got her information from a Finance Ministry document

The Prime Minister rejected her claims later in that debate.

Persad-Bissessar repeated her claims at a meeting of the UNC Star slate in Barrackpore on June 10. On this occasion, she claimed to have a Cabinet note which supported them.

As he rejected all of Persad-Bissessar’s allegations, Imbert attributed them to events playing out in the campaign for the UNC internal elections on June 15.

“As the internecine and internal warfare continues in the UNC in their leadership struggle. I don’t know what is going on with that party.”

As UNC members fight amongst themselves, he continued, “Every single one of them is looking for relevance. Every single one of them wants to make the papers. Every single one of them wants to buss the mark first.”

Looking across the aisle at Opposition Senator Wade Mark, Imbert added, “No pun intended.”

He said Persad-Bissessar is included in this group.

“Arrant foolishness. Misleading. Untruthful. Downright political dishonesty.”

Imbert said some elements of the media are complicit in this.

Referring to an article in the Trinidad Express on Persad-Bissessar’s claims on June 10, Imbert said, ” I am sure that the reporter who wrote that story, and the editor that reviewed it and approved, it had in their possession the documents referred to by the opposition leader.”

He repeated it is total untruth that Cabinet has decided to increase the rate of VAT.

“The document that was available to the media had calculations of how much revenue you would lose if you reduce VAT by one per cent and how much revenue you would earn if you increase VAT by one per cent; how much revenue you would lose if you reduce personal income tax by one per cent; how much revenue you would earn if you increase personal income tax by one per cent.”

He said this was no Cabinet note but a working paper presented regularly to all finance ministers.

“It has been for the last 30 years.”

Imbert said a careful analysis of the document Persad-Bissessar quoted on June 10 will show there was “no decision and no recommendation to the Cabinet.”

He told senators he had this document and quoted some excerpts from it.

“It has ‘decrease “x,” increase “y,'” and how come the newspaper and the leader of the opposition didn’t read the whole document that said that if you decrease VAT by one per cent, you could lose $500 million in revenue? If you decrease corporation tax by one per cent, you would lose $300 million. Why you didn’t read that part?”

Imbert repeated this was political dishonesty by Persad-Bissessar.

“I condemn it.”

Imbert also told senators appropriation and supplementation of funding was nothing new for any government.

“Those who want to talk about what this supplementation is all about: do some research and see whether the government in any given year spends the entire appropriation.

“But we must appropriate, because the other thing that people don’t understand, if you don’t appropriate, you don’t have the legal authority to spend the money.”

Imbert said this has to be explained to some of his parliamentary colleagues from time to time.

“Sometimes some of my ministerial colleagues figure you could just wave a magic wand and money will just drop from the sky.

“It does not. You have to appropriate it. That’s our legal system. But we manage based on cash flow.”

Imbert gave examples of various types of expenditure government deals with.

Earlier in the sitting, in response to a question from Mark, Imbert said the average net back price of natural gas realised for fiscal 2022/2023 was US$4.66 per mmbtu.