By Stephen Kangal
July 20, 2017
The last minute submission/alibi by SC Deborah Peake to the San Fernando High Court presided over by Mr Justice Frank Seepersad on May 19 that the valuation exercise was voluntary was indeed rejected as unconvincing and inadmissible by the Judge who proceeded to grant the injunction requested.
The Court of Appeal without undertaking the requisite due diligence judicial assessment of the voluntary alibi proceeded to set aside the Seepersad injunction on the basis that the ‘voluntary’ alibi was legitimate and admissible. The same Court and Judges also denied the plaintiff the right to appeal to the Privy Council against the contaminated ratio dicidendi.
As to on what basis the Appeal Court arrived at this decision is puzzling for the following reasons:
1. At no point prior to 19 May 2017 did the word voluntary appear in the lexicon of the Property Tax discussions and statements and indeed was a face-saving bolt from the blue when the Commissioner was caught off-guard.
2. The voluntary period for the submission of the VRF’s can only have taken place up to 1 April 2010 after which the compulsory regime (Section 6) takes over involving a possible conviction and fine for non-compliance/non-submission.
3. The Appeal Court was encouraging non-adherence (disobedience) to the prevailing laws of the land by misleading the public as well as the Commissioner of Valuations in their unsolicited advice de novo as to how a voluntary scheme should be configured and transacted by the Commissioner without determining the prior validity and applicability of the voluntary alibi so presented by the defendants.
4. Mr Justice Seepersad obviously did not attach much legal weight and credence to the last minute voluntary status because according to him taxation and related matters must have a foundation in law and the law as it obtained on 2 April 2010 or later did not provide for voluntary submission of the VRF’s in determining the important Assessment Rolls.
5. Neither the Press Release nor the undated letter sent to Owners/Agents under the name of the Commissioner had any reference to voluntary.
6. The Appeal Court did not carefully examine the positions advanced by the Minister of Finance that were antagonistic to the voluntary label put forward tenuously by the Commissioner of Valuations who appears ill-advisedly bent on discrediting the several statements of the Minister and the Ministry of Finance in his ill-conceived June 21st affidav
The latest position as stated by Minister Allyson West is that a voluntary scheme cannot be reasonably constricted by deadlines but up till today there was a July 14 deadline for the receipt/submission of the VRF’s.
The public is now caught in the tightening grip of;
– The voluntary policy of the Commissioner of Valuations and his 21 June Affidavit;
– The time-tabling rigidities/provisions of Acts 17 and 18 of 2009;
– The categorical statements and positions espoused by the Minister of Finance;
– The Expert Panel of Valuators on the media shows;
– The Appeal Court Judgment; and
– Minister Allyson West.
There is neither credible resolution nor respite from confusion within sight in this debacle.