Arithmetic lessons for the Finance Minster

By Raffique Shah
April 28, 2017

Raffique ShahTrinidad and Tobago is one cantankerous country-we always quarrelling. In fact, we invariably have several quarrels raging at any point in time over issues or personalities such that we go off on tangents, forgetting who or what was in dispute in the first instance.

It is often said that you cannot please all the people all the time. With respect to Trinis, you cannot please anyone anytime. This characteristic is not to be confused with the proverb, “you can fool all the people some of the time…but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. In this latter regard, you can fool all Trinis all the time: just inform them via email that they have won the jackpot in a lotto they know nothing about, and you can relieve them of a “processing fee”.

But back to our quarrelsome nature: before the row over the Tobago ferry could subside, we are barking and biting, pot-hound-style, over the introduction of the revised property tax, which we knew would be implemented as far back as when the PNM won the election in 2015, and which we know is a standard form of taxation in most countries.

Now, I should say up-front that I believe that Finance Minister Colm Imbert and those who are advising him in the exercise are playing the ox. The one-month window they have decreed for property owners to submit piles of documents to the Valuation Division for appraisal is unimaginably inadequate. Bearing in mind that citizens can be penalised for failing to comply, let me explain why I say Colm is an ox.

Taxable properties under the law are residences, commercial, industrial and agricultural businesses, agricultural lands and other vacant, privately-owned lands. The State is exempt, which means that anyone who is squatting on State lands, whether he is operating a quarry or living in a shack, is not obligated to pay the tax. But you and I, law-abiding citizens, must comply. Which tells you what? The law is an ass, and those who formulate it or rigidly enforce it are jackasses.

Now, in the 2011 census exercise, the Central Statistical Office determined there were 401,000 residential households in the country. By now, that number might have risen to 450,000. Add, say, 50,000 commercial and industrial properties, and a minimum of another 100,000 parcels of land either vacant or agricultural, and you have a massive 600,000 property owners straining at the bits to board the Valuation Division.

As readers may have guessed by now, Valuation, which falls under the Ministry of Finance, has a grand total of nine offices! Yes, you read right-nine. And if we factor in under-staffing, subtract lunch-hours and social media time, more than likely not more than 500 officials are being asked to accommodate 600,000 sets of documents in no more than 20 working days!

Simple arithmetic ought to tell super-bright Colm (so his friends say) that we are talking about 30,000 transactions per day! Madness!

The only government agency that has such capacity is the NLCB, whose hundreds of Play Whe outlets cater for tens of thousands of gamblers every day. No other, not Inland Revenue, not the police, not the courts or the health system, even if they are combined, can handle such a flow of people.

Mr Minister, you will need at least one year-and that is optimistic-to simply allow all property owners to submit their documents, and for Valuation to commence appraisal where that is necessary. I note this latter because I am crediting officials at Valuation with having established some methodologies for applying the tax, hence not needing to physically assess all properties, a process that could take forever.

I have no problem with having to pay property tax, once it’s reasonable and fairly applied. While the timing of its implementation is not propitious, what with the depressed economy, many persons on the breadline, and generally people catching hell, it must be done at some time-if not now, when?

Government should offer deferrment to retrenched workers who may have acquired homes when they were employed, but are currently under stress. They will not remain unemployed forever. Also, pensioners who will have worked long and hard to own modest homes, should be given consideration: maybe those who inherit their properties when they die can fulfill this obligation before taking possession.

Property tax laws, unlike those that apply to incomes, profits and consumption, should be administered with a heart, if we can conceive of politicians and tax collectors having hearts.

I cannot, however, agree with people who willingly pay higher taxes when they visit or reside in developed countries, but who insist on paying nothing in their native land. Such persons are aptly described in Sir Walter Scott’s poem “Patriotism”: “Breathes there the man with soul so dead…Despite those titles, power and pelf…The wretch, concentrated all in self…shall go down to the vile dust from whence he sprung…”

6 thoughts on “Arithmetic lessons for the Finance Minster”

  1. In developed countries your property tax is paid to the city or municipality in which you live. The tax is used for the specific services provided in neighbourhoods with taxpayers having direct input into the process. The benefits are observable,experienced and utilized with great satisfaction.
    The pride of ownership and payment is tangible and rewarding.
    In Trinidad and Tobago the tax is devoured into a hole in the Treasury and rationed out in a political partisan basis to influence elections.
    I am positive that there will be corruption in the assessment process and political interference also

  2. This property tax that they planning to collect will be place nicely in the Consolidated Fund and property owners will not see a penny of it used in a transparent manner to enhance their communities.

    I have no doubt that this tax will be implemented. But in its current framework and time frame it will fail simply because the people north of the Caroni does not understand how Trinidad works. The minister of finance should take a long look at two PNM projects (1) The Scarborough Hospital. After many years of delays finally delivered at the cost of $100 million per bed. (2)Brian Lara Stadium set to be delivered in 2007, but over 10 years late and built with substandard materials.

    The 13 documents required is simply not necessary. It is a case of government over reach. The government should concern itself with collecting the tax instead of creating this huge beaurocracy of paper pushers and sub qualified evaluators. All that should be required is a housing plan and a list of property and type of property declaration. It is the “kiss” rule “keep it simple stupid”. In the legislation that was passed in 2009 the requirement was for one document. But the short man making up for length added an additional 12 documents. Documents that no one can find or have in 4 weeks. That is his Port of Spain brain at work.

    Now I know prior to this legislation people built massive homes, they invested heavily in their property. Those people will now suffer for their ambition. Meanwhile half of PNM supporters living in HDC housing will be tax exempt. A further 25% renting will feel a very small pinch. And the other 15% some living in Beetham, Laventille and parts of Chaguanas will flatly refuse to pay this tax and if they are challenged it will take the police and army a lot of man hours to try and impliment this law. The other 10% living in posh areas will pay up.

    This tax is not a property tax since you will not see community improvement by its use. Franklyn and Rowley spoke highly about local government reform. To date they have sat on their azz and done absolutely nothing to create a system where this tax could be channel for the benefit of their employer the tax payers of this nation.

    As such this tax must be resisted (1) for not going where it is suppose to (2)too many requirements (3) not enough time for home owners to submit information (4) demanding too much information, (5) legal over reach of officers to seize personal possession to satisfy government lust for money.

    The government will be giving RHA workers 1/2 billion dollars in BACKPAY and so to other government interest the yield no revenue will be the prime beneficiaries of your blood, sweat and tears.

  3. “I cannot, however, agree with people who willingly pay higher taxes when they visit or reside in developed countries, but who insist on paying nothing in their native land.”

    Property tax in foreign nations is used for what it is collected. The ethical nature of governance demands that if a tax is collected for a specific purpose it should be used for that purpose. I have sat on boards and discussed in great detail designated funds. As an example if funds are raised for the purchase of a piano then the money collected cannot be used for purchasing a refrigerator. It is highly unethical and repugnant to take a nation as a set of fools. This tax should not be name property tax rather it should be named the Rothweiler tax or the Imbert tax or better yet the late Dr Williams tax. Give it some other name so citizens would not feel cheated.

    Property Tax collected in foreign nations (1) stays where it is collected, (2)it is spent on schools, police, fire, parks (any direct impact services). (3) everyone is given a roll number that contains building blue print and property accessment information. (4) payments are broken up into six payments, three months in the first half of the year and another three months in the second half of the year, you see clearly where the spending is going (5) you have an appeal process if you are incorrectly accessed. (6) you can pay it online, at the bank or directly in the municipal office. (7) all jusdictions raise taxes at diffrent levels. Some place it is higher and other places a bit lower.
    The government have a list that they cover, whilst the municipality covers another list some I have mentioned in the delivery of goods and services.

    Until this government start being honest, this name property ta do not apply.

  4. A man built his business from scratch but now he will have to pay $30,000 a year to operate his business. The money is not even going to the municipality.

    He will have no choice but to pass that tax on to the consumers who are already seeing hikes in food prices, gas prices and in everything they purchase. The PNM must realise there is one tax payer, not three and four tax payers. They are the biggest blight on this nation especially in a time of recession when people are spending less and less. They want to turn this nation into another Beetham.

    I am not against taxation I pay a lot of taxes, if I didn’t I would be rich. Government is the biggest mafia run organization in TNT. The government mafia have one mission in mind to extort as much money from the citizenry as possible.

    The man who have to pay $30,000 a year have to make a choice, who is he going to lay off. The government is quietly layoff people especially in Opposition areas. They close Caroni green, OJT in central gone, they are cutting back aka restructuring and sending home people with nothing to survive just the last week pay. In addition big businesses are moving out Mittal, Angelin,etc. with TNT downgraded this year one cannot expect investments to come in large numbers from abroad. So social problems such as banditry will continue to rise all across the nation as bandits seek softer targets.

    People passing in the areas where Caroni Green was notice the peppers ripen and falling to the ground remaining unreaped. But that is the PNM style. They assume power the Rastafarian was given Works portfolio sat on his azz and made no effort to secure highway material. Thieves made off with these materials. Just a few days ago brush fire burnt down a lot of material. Is that the way to rule a nation? This government is functioning as in past PNM administration with the mentality “we in charge deal with it”. They have no clue how to manage this economy except to tax everything out of the reach of the citizenry. Meanwhile 1/2 billion dollars in backpay for RHA workers. $1.9 billion in salary for a little over 5000 Petrotrin employees. No cuts there despite oil downturn. Yes they are giving and pouring out where their supporters are, to hell with the rest. $90 billion spent so far with nothing to show…

    Minister Frankie and Dr. Rowley boasted of local government reform none of that has been done, nor do I think it will be done anytime soon. Time to fire these mafia leaders.

  5. The immediate solution to the economic problems in T&T is to replace the Finance minister. He is incompetent and unqualified, demonstrating on a daily basis that he lacks the skills and temperament required to steer this economy onto the road to recovery. The Prime minister, who relies heavily on him, is no better. He stumbles around aimlessly, revelling in the local parlance, in a desperate attempt to endear himself to the people.
    His emotional outbursts resonate well with many of the “PNM till a dead” crowd, but are viewed with disdain and amusement by most intelligent people as he desperately attempts to defend his pack of incompetent clowns in Cabinet.

  6. The longer they remain in Power the longer the slide. The reality today is directly related to the choice you made in September, 2015, you really thought that Rowley and Imbert could run T&T? What amazes me is the fact that Dr. Rowley never thought he would become PM, if so, why would you rush to publish your memoir while being PM? So T&T you reap what you sow.

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