By Stephen Kangal
September 11, 2017
Minister of Finance Colm Imbert is bent on foisting another layer of ministerial-imposed, badly- conceptualised tax bureaucracy on the hapless and besieged expansive property – owning class of Trinbago by his most recent concoction of a new land- tax regime to temporarily replace the still-legally admissible 2009 Property Tax Act. This Tax Regime has been the Achilles Heel of the PNM in that they bungled its implementation since Proclamation on 31st December 2009.
It appears from what is carried in the Sunday Express that he has abandoned the conventional valuation criteria of capital value and rental value and is using size and use/classification exclusively. So that a 5,000 sq.ft lot of residential land (new definition) located in POS will attract the same tax burden as a similar residential lot located in Caroni that is to say $350. That will be a 3500% increase over the Land and Building Taxes regime of 1948. Equity has been abandoned once again.
He plans to waive for the period 2016-2019 imaginary taxes that were not due nor quantified nor calculated on the basis of the criteria contained in the 2009 Act. In my view there are no property tax outstanding and therefore no need to waive a non-existent tax as this can only be done in accordance with law and the up-to-date valuations conducted by the Commissioner of Valuations.
This man is groping helplessly in the dark consistent with his dwen image but convinced that he can collect the new Land Tax by 1 October 2017 when he could not collect the 2009 Property Tax after an interregnum of eight years after proclamation.
This new tax escapade/land regime will be met by so much opposition that the previous steps will be considered as a tea party. The minister has not thought out things thoroughly again and will conduct us along an unnecessary path of utmost confusion and uncertainty.
The latter is still on our law books. It will be placed again into suspended animation by Imbert’s own devious manipulation that cannot stand the test of legal scrutiny because they cannot be operative concurrently because of:
- contradictions relating to taxing lands exclusively without properties being included as is proposed in the new Land Tax Bill 2017.
- He has given land a new definition that excludes houses and buildings that is inconsistent with the 2009 Act.
- The 2009 Act is based on the prevailing rental value of land and therefore location plays a decisive determining role in achieving the desired equity.
While September 30, 2017 was the date for the inauguration of his now abandoned but complicated and complex property tax he has now put it back to 2019. He proposes to amend the relevant suite of legislation that we all pointed out was obsolete and in urgent need of consequential amendments post- 2010.
Contrary to the advice proffered by legal Counsel Ms Deborak Peake SC this development relating to proposed amendments to the Property Tax Act, The Valuation of Land Act and the introduction of a new Land Tax Bill 2017 will impact quite negatively on the forthcoming challenge of the legal validity of the 2009 regime because they collectively are an admission of the inability of the state to defend the legal integrity of these Acts of 2009 and to implement it as stipulated quite rigidly in the 2009 Act including rigid time-frames and dates.
What is really needed is a comprehensive and clinical approach to determining the full range of amendments that must be introduced including whether Section 4 and 5 of the Constitution are being violated by the original 2009 provisions. The Minister must wait the Judgment of the Court that is the final law-determining agency and not give precedence to the opinion of Senior Counsel who has indeed mislead the Ministry in the most recent past.