Independent Senator: Government must listen to the people

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Hazel Thompson-Ahye –

INDEPENDENT Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye says government must listen to the views and concerns by the general population surrounding the property tax. She spoke on Monday during debate on the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill 2024.

Citing US statesman Benjamin Franklin as saying death and taxes were life’s only certainties, she quipped, “Some property owners say property tax will be the death of them.”

She said Government must listen to what people were saying on the tax, not lord over them. Some people now fear losing their property over non-payment of the tax, she said, saying some fears were warranted but others were due to mischief.

Regarding the deferral of the tax to the old and infirm, she reckoned this was merely “kicking the can down the road.” A deferral lasts two years but then must be sought again, she said. Thompson-Ahye asked aloud if some miracle was expected within the two years such that a disabled person would suddenly get well and be able to work and pay the tax.

She said if a 60-year-old was unable to pay the tax but lived another 40 years, his beneficiary would face a huge burden upon inheriting the property in question.

Thompson-Ahye suggested TT has “a Marie Antoinette-styled government,” referring to France’s last queen who went to the guillotine (beheaded) in 1793 in the French Revolution. She said some people have either short memories of what it was to be poor, or never knew what it felt like.

However, Thompson-Ahye said the bill – which reduces property tax from three to two per cent of annual rental value – showed the Government has listened to people. She said people have paid land and building taxes without objection up to 2009, but then the People’s Partnership took government along with an “axe the tax” campaign.

Thompson-Ahye said it had been an unwise decision to stop the previous tax, saying that today, hundreds of thousands of individuals who have since become property owners have never paid any tax. “Get on-board and join the club of property tax payers,” she urged.

While glad for a reduction from three to two percent, she said the problem with the property tax now was the initial calculation of the annual rental value (ARV). “The Government must ensure the people calculating the ARVs are properly trained to do so.”

She spoke about the differences between Parliament passing a bill by affirmative or negative resolution, the first requiring MPs’ active vote but the second becoming law unless MPs actively intervened to stop a minister’s intent. Her recommendation was for affirmative resolution, not in order to be obstructive but rather to uphold the implications for democracy, Thompson-Ahye said.