By Stephen Kangal
July 12, 2017
Taking into account the startling but incredible disclosures made by the Acting Commissioner of Valuation, Mr Baldeo Ramoutar in his 21st June affidavit filed in the San Fernando High Court, it appears to be pellucidly clear that the Minister of Finance, Mr Colm Imbert deliberately and knowingly misled and misinformed Parliament on the measures being undertaken for the first phase implementation of the Property Tax regime.
His statement dwelt on initiatives geared to increase tax revenues during his Mid-Term Review delivered in the House on 10 May 2017 when he indicated that the:
- return of the VRF’s by residential owners was the first phase of the implementation of the current property tax regime (Acts 17 and 18 of 2009) that therefore, in my view could not be classified as voluntary and was never described as such by him;
- Schedule II- VRF’s were mailed to residential property owners when they were only placed indiscriminately in all mail-boxes available;
- the deadline for the submission of the VRF’s was 22 May 2017 and that it would not be extended emphasizing the compulsory, legal and urgent nature of the exercise;
- purpose of the current exercise was to establish the legally required assessment rolls and thereafter to use this information to determine the property tax liability of each home-owner to be paid by 30 September 2017 (the Minister’s date);
- group of Ministry of Finance/Valuation Division officers who was making the rounds of the media was doing an excellent job (applauded by Government MP’s) including by inference their threats of a penalty of $500 for non-compliance by home-owners by 22 May;
- these officers represented the official position supported by the Valuation Division by implication.
The Ag Commissioner of Valuations in his sworn affidavit postulates that:
- the scheme involving the amended VRF’s in his view was entirely voluntary. It was not based on the Property Tax Act No.17 of 2009 although this eleventh hour last minute alibi purporting to be of an entirely voluntary nature was only disclosed and announced by SC Peake when the exercise was challenged in the Court by plaintiff Mr. Devant Maharaj on 19 May 2017;
- the officers who did not have his prior authorization to appear on the media deliberately misinformed the public on the current legal import of the VRF exercise as it was not legally-based. The question is did the Commissioner object/intervene when he got wind of their first of many so-called unauthorized interviews/ misrepresentation of the law as he was under obligation to do?
- the valuation exercise targeted all land-owners whereas the Minister said only residential owners were being asked to pay the tax;
Was the Commissioner aware, as indeed he must of his Minister’s statement of 19 May? Land-owners had four conflicting positions that left them totally confused as they were before in December 2009 i.e the Commissioner’s view, the view of the Minister, the law as set in the Acts and the position of the Valuation team as expressed on the media.
The Minister of Finance must be subjected to the scrutiny and censure of the Privileges Committee of the House because:
- he did not disclose to Parliament that the exercise was voluntary;
- he heaped praises on the Valuation officers knowing that they did not have prior authorization from the Commissioner and that they were quite wrong in their pronouncements during the media appearances.
It would now appear obligatory on the part of the Commissioner for him to issue another sworn statement dissociating his Division from all the statements/insinuations so far made by the Minister of Finance inside and outside of the House.