MSJ: Make businesses pay property tax first

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

MSJ political leader David Abdullah

Citing the local adage ‘Those who have more corn should feed more fowl,’ the leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) suggested that property tax should first be applied to industrial and commercial users.

“There’s a social justice issue involving that. In other words, those who are rich and wealthy should pay property taxes because by doing that, they will be contributing more to the national purse,” David Abdulah said at a media conference held virtually on Sunday.

“Instead, you want to tax pensioners, people who are earning small amounts of money but have been able to buy their own home and so on. You want to tax them first before you tax people who put up all kinds of properties.”

Abdulah added that after going after the industrial and commercial users, the Government could gradually make its way to homeowners, starting with the wealthy and then others.

He added that regular people are already burdened with the high cost of living and accused the Government of putting more weight on their backs.

Many of these people are drowning or barely keeping their heads above water.

“Now their heads would be pushed underwater, drowning them in debt and in a situation where their finances and income cannot meet their expenditures,” Abdulah added.

“Most people do not make it from payday to payday. On top of that, people have to pay more for house insurance, which went up tremendously last year.”

On Friday in Parliament, Finance Minister Colm Imbert laid the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill 2024, which is set for debate on March 18.

Imbert announced the halt of property tax payments using the existing system, adding that the 801 people who made payments would be refunded.

Under the original system, the tax was calculated based on three per cent of their residential properties’ annual rental value (ARV).

The minister also announced the reduction rate of residential property tax from three per cent to two per cent, which he said represents an effective reduction of property tax by 33 per cent.

He added that the 30-day period to challenge property tax valuations was extended to six months (until June 30).

Imbert said the Government also intends to allow for the extension of all applicable periods by Order, as is the case under the Valuation of Land Act.

But on Sunday, the MSJ leader questioned what he called Imbert’s last-minute announcement.

Abdulah referred to statements Imbert made in the last budget on the property tax, saying the minister purported that all was ready to implement it.

He also said that there were major errors in the ARV calculation.

Abdulah said the real issue was not simply the formula for calculating the property tax. He added that the real problem centred on the amount the valuation division came up with to identify peoples’ ARV.

“The minister ought to have known in October that there were major problems with the assessments by the valuation division.

“Why did the minister not come back in January or the end of December and say we are not yet ready? He was adamant in his budget speech that it was going to be three per cent,” Abdulah said.

“What then has caused him to change his mind and the Government to change its mind? We need to get a very clear answer. Is it, for example, an attempt, as many people believe, to appease voters, given that the election is due sometime within the next 18 months? Is that the reason?”

He questioned whether the Government was worried about winning votes or losing votes.