UNC: Property tax ‘unethical, discriminatory, selectively applied’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo – Photo courtesy TT Parliament

Unethical, discriminatory and selectively applied were some adjectives from United National Congress (UNC) MP for Oropouche West Davendranath Tancoo to describe the Property Tax and proposed amendments at the Opposition’s Sunday press briefing.

Tancoo said the lowered rate of assessment announced by Finance Minister Colm Imbert was a distraction from the multiple issues with the use of the annual rental value as the basis for calculating the tax.

It was a temporary reprieve and as long as the tax was based on “ghost income” and was discriminatory the Opposition would fight against it, Tancoo said.

In an almost hour-long presentation, he spoke to several issues surrounding the tax, including the Government’s proposed reduction of the residential property tax rate from three to two per cent.

Last week, the Government announced proposed amendments to the Property Tax Act which is expected to be debated in Parliament on Monday.

In Parliament last Friday, Imbert said the Government heeded issues raised publicly about the valuation of residential properties and decided to take appropriate action to alleviate the concerns as the new system was being rolled out.

During Friday’s session, Imbert also announced a proposed extension to the time owners will have to lodge objections to the valuations they receive. It is proposed that owners be given six months instead of 30 days to do so.

Imbert also apologised for notices posted on the doors of some revenue collection offices which said that property tax payments were suspended until further notice. He then said that these notices were not authorised and should not have been put up.

Responding to the deferral forms which would allow people like the elderly and infirmed to make applications for a deferral, Tancoo said this was not immediately put in place.

He said, “Although Minister Imbert recognised that there would be circumstances in which persons would not be financially able to afford to pay tax on their property – maybe because they were pensioners living on fixed incomes, or infirmed, or unemployed for example, Imbert had no interest in waiving the tax, even to those who he accepted could not afford to pay.

“Instead, they could apply for a deferral under Section 23 of the parent act. These persons, in financial duress, would have to provide documents to justify that they were poor and unable to pay the tax.

“Would you believe that the regulations to facilitate applications for deferral were never put in place?

“So for almost nine years, the PNM have been frothing at the mouth to put the legislation in place but they left out the critical protection for the least among us, the very persons who needed our support: those who could not afford to pay the tax.”

He rejected Imbert’s statement that the Government listened to the public concerns.

Tancoo said had that truly been done there would have been no tax.

“In his statement last Friday, Imbert boasted that as ‘A responsible government, the PNM had listened to the concerns of the population and acted.’ What is the truth?

“The truth is, had they listened to the people of Trinidad and Tobago there would be no property tax.

“Imbert outlined the main objections that persons made. In almost every case, the objection centred on the annual rental value (ARV) – not just the rate of taxation. I noted that the minister has not said how many objections have been received.”

Tancoo said the ARV is based on ghost money (money that does not exist) and, in many cases, valuations which were bogus.

He added that Imbert knew this and that the ARV was calculated on a revenue stream a vast majority of households were not receiving. It was unethical to charge someone an income tax for income they were not receiving, Tancoo said.

Tancoo said he met with hundreds of homeowners who were wondering why they had to pay income tax on income they were not receiving.

“What is worse, is that two identical houses or apartments next to each other, one rented and earning an income for the owner and the other owner occupied, earning no revenue, both face the same tax. That is inequitable. It is just wrong. The difference is that one property is earning a revenue and the other is not and therefore they should not be treated equally,” he said.

He asked if the problem was the calculation methodology, shouldn’t that be under legislative review and if that was the major bone of contention for those objecting, shouldn’t Imbert address that?

Tancoo also said that he had not heard about tax on commercial and industrial properties.

He said in his closing remarks that it was for these and many more reasons that the UNC viewed the tax as “wrong, immoral, and a vindictive, ill-conceived, badly designed, criminal attack on the population…”