Senate approves head for TTRA

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. – File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

THE Senate on April 16 approved a head and two deputy heads for the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA), despite the Opposition objecting and one Independent senator abstaining.

The House of Representatives had done likewise on April 12.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert moved motions to approve officials he had named under the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority Act which then required Parliament’s affirmative resolution.

Patsy Latchman-Atterbury now becomes TTRA Director General, while Helen Thomas-Brown and Riad Juman become Deputy Director General, respectively for domestic tax and customs and excise. For the vote on each position, the Opposition voted against while Independent Senators voted for except Sunity Maharaj who abstained.

The Senate first discussed Latchman-Atterbury’s merits, approving her by 23 votes “for’, six “against” and one “abstain.” Senators then had a combined debate on the two deputies, and then voted separately on each one. In each debate with Imbert reading a detailed account of a nominee’s qualifications and professional experience.

However Opposition Senator Wade Mark expressed deep reservations about Latchman-Atterbury, despite saying he had never met her.

“Withdraw this! This lady is unsuitable for the job. Recruit again! She is conflicted.”

Mark alleged she was not qualified to do the job of leading the TTRA and alleged a conflict of interest between her professional past and heading the TTRA.

He said Latchman-Atterbury’s professional experience included Scotiabank, KFC, Bermudez Biscuits and the US securities sector.

“What does that have to do with tax administration, revenue laws or customs and duties?” Saying she would be entering the Public Service which has a different ethic, culture and

responsibility than the private sector where Latchman-Atterbury had previously been, Mark said, “The minister needs to wheel again and come back.” He said it was a “recipe for disaster to appoint someone with no expertise in tax collection not customs and excise.

Mark also objected to the post being on contract, which he said the minister has the power to terminate. “We reject the politicisation of the collection of revenues.”

He also complained that Latchman-Atterbury as head of Grace Kennedy had once signed a contract to introduce a mutual fund to Jamaica with the United Trust Corporation headed by Nigel Edwards, with both now being proposed for the TTRA. “This is a conflict of interest.” Mark claimed Latchman-Atterbury was Jamaican, but Imbert said said she was a Trinidad and Tobgao citizen. Mark said, “Reopen the nomination process. Get someone else!”.

Independent Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy said Latchman-Atterbury had been outside of Trinidad and Tobago for 28 years. Dillon-Remy said Latchman-Atterbury will be tasked with a grave responsibility in heading an institution beset with controversy.

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial said a resume reveals very limited information, as she advocated hearings for potential hirees just like the US Congress.

She clarified that the Public Services Association’s lawsuit to stop the creation of the TTRA was still active and was on appeal.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial said Latchman-Atterbury was no expert on tax not customs and excise but would have a heavy reliance on staff in a new organisation under contentious circumstances. “This is mergers and acquisitions.” She wondered how someone could lead a merger but not have a personal security of tenure. Lutchmedial-Ramdial found it hard to believe that someone with no public sector experience could lead a major overhaul. She asked if Latchman-Atterbury was “fit for purpose” to be TTRA head.

Independent Senator Sunity Maharaj was sure the new director had not been chosen just from her resume but after interviews. Saying Parliament had been co-opted into the recruitment exercise, she said the current exercise was just a rubber stamp. Maharaj said this was all an issue of public trust, in an institution mired on controversy. “We have to be extra vigilant finding a leader who has the moral authority to lead and survive the period.”

Imbert replied to Mark’s conflict of interest claim by saying by definition a hiree to head the TTRA would have had to have been in the financial sector prior.

He said the TTRA was a completely new entity, bringing a completely new approach to tax collection. The director would need to think outside the box, and bring a new culture.

Imbert said Latchman-Atterbury was chosen from 101 applicants. He said she had what it takes to lead the TTRA, being needed to bring a efficient and proactive mood. Imbert lamented that many people were reluctant to get into public service because their names may be unfairly smeared. He expected the post to be filled in July.