San Juan MP foresees chaos in property tax appeals

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

San Juan/Barataria MP Saddam Hosein. FILE PHOTO –

BARATARIA/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein argued that the appeal process to be used by individuals upset at their property tax valuations was “a recipe for chaos,” speaking on Monday in the House of Representatives on the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill 2024.

The bill reduces the tax payable from three to two per cent of a residential property’s annual rental value and proposes the Finance Minister set the rate subject to Parliament’s negative resolution rather than affirmative (“negative” meaning his proposals will automatically stand unless actively opposed by Parliament’s intervention.)

Hosein considered the case of someone upset at his valuation and wishing to object. He suggested a recent governmental order allowing six months to appeal would clash with the bill saying an assessment must be done by June 30.

“The BIR is going to already process your property tax with the original assessment. So the objection does not really have any meaningful effect, because the assessments would already be prepared by June 2024, your deadline for filing an objection.”

He also asked if early recipients of assessments would get the full six-month appeal period.

“This entire thing is not well thought out.”

Hosein said the bill was rank with inconsistencies, including the appeal/objection system.

“If you are dissatisfied with that (assessment), you do not go to the Commissioner of Valuations, you go to the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR).

“And if you are dissatisfied with the BIR your appeal lies with the Tax Appeal Board, not the Valuation Tribunal.

“So there are two separate streams, but the two acts are married with each other.

“So Madam Speaker, that is a recipe for chaos in this country.”

Hosein said taxation matters must be as simple as possible for the ordinary person to understand and uphold his rights. He lamented the complexities of the appeal system.

“Any ordinary citizen must be able to go into the BIR, fill out a form and lodge an objection.

“It cannot be that they don’t have money to pay property tax but have to hire a lawyer for legal representation to take these matters forward.”

Hosein also lamented that an appeal did not create a “stay” to the process, but the tax would continue under the initial level of assessment.

“You still have to pay the tax on the value and until a final adjudication on that value (until/unless eventually reduced.)

“They can object but still have to pay the tax on what was assessed.”

Hosein also objected to the bill proposing the minister set the tax rate by negative resolution, rather than positive as set in the existing law.

“He simply has to say, ‘Today the tax is two per cent, next year it could be ten per cent, the following year it could be 15 per cent. I do not have to come back to the Parliament.’”

Hosein alleged the Government was afraid of accountability.

He said, “Why do you want to sit in your ivory tower and with a stroke of your pen tell people what they must pay?”

Hosein recalled a man getting two different assessments for his property, respectively $57,000 and $107,000.

He read Valuation Division guidelines to field assessors, and wondered if it could be the reason for discrepancies.

He read a Valuation Division memo to the Ministry of Finance complaining about the hiring process of contract graduate valuation surveyor II of the ministry, suggesting no applicants had the requisite stated qualifications, including the final examination of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

“It says all of them (interviewees) should have been disqualified.”

He said the memo said the interviewing panel was not properly constituted, as some members were not properly qualified but probably sub-ordinate to the interviewees.