Rowley alleges hypocrisy by UNC on property tax

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Keith Rowley –

THE Prime Minister accused Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar of “hypocrisy and pandering” in the UNC’s objection to the property tax, speaking on Monday in the House of Representatives on the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill 2024 to reduce the rate from three to two per cent of the annual rentable value (ARV) of a property.

A divided House passed the Government’s bill by 20 votes “for” and 15 votes “against” and no abstentions. Dr Rowley said Persad-Bissessar, after becoming past prime minister on an “axe the tax” platform, had only waived property tax for 2010-2015, such that when he took office he found a decision had already been taken that property tax was then “due and payable.”

He praised the work of Minister of Local Government Faris Al-Rawi who spoke earlier on the bill. Rowley chided Princes Town MP Barry Padarath whom he alleged had tried to make the property tax an issue personal to Finance Minister Colm Imbert, when in fact any future finance minister will have control over it.

The PM hailed Imbert for having zero-rated personal income tax for 200,000 people by raising the tax floor to $90,000 per year. Rowley said Imbert had also raised corporation tax payable by banks from 25 to 30 per cent, while reducing consumer VAT from 15 to 12.5 per cent.

He said the Government has consistently stood by the property tax, including in last year’s local government elections. Building on his earlier remarks that nobody likes to pay tax but it funds governance, he said if everyone pays a little bit this creates a pool of money to fund development.

He lamented that some people live in costly homes for which they demand all sorts of public services but now object to paying for them by way of property tax. Rowley was unimpressed by Persad-Bissessar earlier saying she owned no property abroad, nor any in TT which other family-members owned.

He said his grandfather gave him land at age 17 for which he faithfully paid land taxes for years. The PM said the finance minister does not direct the ministry’s Valuation Department. He alleged the Opposition was trying to mislead the population.

Rowley quoted a newspaper story in which UNC-run Couva Tabaquite Talparo Regional Corporation chairman Ryan Rampersad was reported as lamented that a drop in property tax from three to two per cent of ARV would see his corporation lose $13 million in anticipated revenue, affecting landslip, watercourse and flood reduction measures.

He said that council had hitched its wagon to the property tax to develop their community, while their peers, the UNC MPS, were now in Parliament “talking hooey.” Rowley accused the UNC of seeking to pander to voters, but said the Government was not afraid to be voted out of office for having done the right thing.

“You all should be ashamed of yourselves!” he stormed. “We will support this in the interest of the people of TT.” Persad-Bissessar earlier denied her government had been committed to the property tax but rather was committed to “a good and fair tax.”

She said in 2009, Rowley as a dissident MP had stood up against the Patrick Manning government to complain that for some of his constituents “$100 is a lot of money.” “What changed someone from fighting for his poor constituents to now saying property tax is the most important thing?” Persad-Bissessar mulled of the PM.

She hit the Government on the tax, saying a person’s right to shelter was a basic right. Persad-Bissessar said rather than being a property tax, it was in fact “a poverty tax.” “It is a direct attack on the people!” She lamented reports of “unfair, exorbitant valuations.”

Having no valuation tribunals set up yet was a very serious matter, she warned, noting the legislation to facilitate such establishment was 16 years old. She said the tax would also be “a death tax”, which would have to be paid by anyone inheriting property from an impecunious owner.

At one point she complained of her speech being interrupted by cross-talk by “a dotish man.” Regarding people overpaying on assessed rates higher than actually due, who will be owed refunds, she quipped that people were still awaiting VAT refunds.

“We are totally against the property tax. It is an unfair tax. It will cause hardship to the population. “I want to remind that tax revolts have resulted in regime changes.”