By Raffique Shah
October 04, 2009
THE battle over Government’s proposed property tax has intensified. On the one hand, the vast majority of citizens, civic organisations and NGOs have been very vocal in their bid to have government reverse “this oppressive new tax that will pauperise the working and middle classes.” On the other side, the Government has undertaken a media campaign to convince people that the tax is not a new imposition, nor will it be harsh and oppressive.
Who will win the war? At this stage I would hazard a guess saying that while Government may scale down the percentage increase, it won’t back down on implementing the new tax regime. I suggest, too, that all the war paint on the faces of those who are ranting against it would dissipate with the first rains that hit the anti-tax Carnival. And by the time the measure, in whatever diluted form it evolves, becomes effective, the “line in the sand” would have disappeared, and people would gripe-but-pay.
These bold predictions are based on my experiences with Trinis (more so than Tobagonians) over decades of “struggle”, seeing them rant and rave and misbehave-only to end up “wining” as soon as the music truck strikes the first soca note. Those who are older than me would attest to this dewdrop-like-bravado that has been the bane of our people’s fight for any cause. In the wake of the 1970 Black Power revolution, for example, a pitiful few retained their Afro-or-Indo-consciousness, the majority blending back into the Euro-centric mainstream, woollen suits and silk ties replacing dashikis and kurtas faster that you could shout “Power!”
The oil windfall that followed the harsh economic times that partly triggered the events of 1970 showed that money was what most people were after. That has not changed. If government’s economic fortunes were to change tomorrow (already we see rising oil and gas prices), and a smart government were to “run something” the way of the masses, all this anti-tax talk would die an unnatural death. For a few dollars more, most people would sell their souls. So let’s not even mention principles.
As someone who stated that I agreed in principle with the proposed property tax, I am not about to change my position. I made it clear when I argued in favour of the tax that revenues coming from that source should be used to maintain, even enhance, the quality of services payers of the tax-as distinct from taxpayers-enjoy. I spelt out that if roads and drainage and other amenities in a community were in a sorry state, residents there should be exempt taxes. I even added that where WASA could not deliver water to communities on a regular basis, those people should not be made to pay water rates. It seems that my friend Jai Kernahan missed out on these points when he and others sought to flay me for what they perceived to be my pro-government position.
For those who argue that the restructured tax (so many still say “new tax”) would bring undue hardship to the middle and working classes, let me ask them this. Is it fair that I, owner of a modest house in a barely-paved road in Claxton Bay, should pay the same (or more!) property tax that those who own multi-million-dollar mansions in exclusive residential districts? Worse, should I, semi-retired and living on a modest annual income, be taxed on income on the same basis as those who earn millions of dollars a year? I have repeatedly pointed out to government that the $60,000 per year tax break should in fact be level of the minimum wage-not the base tax rate.
But I am also bold enough to chastise those who choose to live idle lives, to depend on you or me handing them a dollar (or “ah twenty, borse”), or the state using our funds to encourage this rampant slackness. Ask any of these “lochos” to clean your yard or help do some simple job in order to earn the money you give them, they would cuss you till you wince. It is why I have repeatedly called on government to scrap the URP and maybe offer unemployment relief instead. That single act would cut the murder rate by one-half!
That the Manning Government has engaged in wasteful spending is without question. I shall not enunciate the many projects that should never have been, the billions of dollars that we could have saved for this rainy day. They are well documented, so much so that a whole lot of the big-league spenders of taxpayers’ money, with little or nothing to show for it should be in jail-not sitting in luxury offices on in Parliament.
Those of us who campaign for what we believe is right must not display double standards. We must never condone wrong, whether it’s committed by those on high or others who choose to “larhay” on the sidewalks. Topping up the ubiquitous cell-phone can never be as vital as securing one’s property. Let’s get our priorities right.
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