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Looking for the justification of the May 22/June 5 Deadlines?
Posted: Friday, June 9, 2017

By Stephen Kangal
June 09, 2017

The Minister of Finance had pulled out of a hat a May 22nd deadline for the submission of the illegal return forms(VRF's) to the offices of the Valuation Division.

He had further compounded the debacle by extending it to June 5 because Cabinet decided so. Since when Cabinet has to sanction and approve a voluntary exercise that is the sole prerogative of the Commissioner of Valuations?

Did the Appeal Court have access to this Cabinet Note to ascertain the validity/ bona fides of the voluntary submission and in fact did it do a due diligence study and investigation of this fall-back position adopted by the defence?

Cabinet had no locus standi in this matter because Cabinet cannot change the texts of Acts of Parliament. Deadlines are also not part of the corpus of a truly voluntary scheme.

The Minister of Finance was forced to back down and call it a voluntary scheme based on the self- benefiting advice of his expensive team of so-called lawyers.

I am concerned that although the trial judge had ignored this statement first credited to Senior Counsel Deborah Peake as a last minute face-saving teleconferencing device the Appeal Court readily accepted this position even though there was ample evidence that I will cite presently to show that it was not indeed such a scheme but one purported to be based on what the Finance Minister called the law of T&T.

Why would an Appeal Court intervene therefore in a voluntary exercise that cannot be based on any law and proceed to set down conditions for the operation of this so-called scheme when that would appear on the face of it to be an extra-legal consideration not sanctioned by any law including Acts No 17 and 18?

Taking into account the specific provisions of Acts No 17 and 18 on which the Property Tax regime is underpinned there is a number of concerns that must be addressed to give legal credence and justification to the actions of the Minister of Finance or what he dubbed the first phase of the implementation of the Property Tax Acts and which he had to refer as a mere voluntary information gathering exercise:

1. What is the legal basis for selecting the May 22 deadline for the submission of returns by land-owners in possession of residential properties and on what authority can he change it to June 5 virtually amending Act No 17 on the Valuation of Land?

2. Why did he tamper with, amend and mutilate the form passed in Parliament and contained in Schedule II of the amended Land Valuation Act?

3. On what basis and on what considerations of equity can the Minister of Finance selectively implement the Property Tax regime by targeting in a highly discriminatory manner the residences of citizens for property taxation under the Acts and exclude commercial, industrial and agricultural even though the former have been consistently paying their dues as assessed by the Commissioner of Valuation since 1948/1920?

4. Do the Acts make provisions for a phased/selective introduction/implementation of the new property taxation regime?

5. Is this action tantamount to a unilateral ministerial amendment of the laws of the land without parliamentary intervention?

6. Can Parliament delegate its exclusive constitutional remit and authority to make and amend laws to a Minister?

7. What are the legal considerations that prompted him to deviate from the implementation/commencement/ operational/ enforcement schedules as set out in Acts No 17 and 18?

8. Did the Parliament legislate that Act No 17 will become operational in 2010 and why was this date ignored by the Executive until 2017?

9. What were the intentions of Parliament/ Legislature and the Government/ Executive of the Day that were incorporated into the text of the two Acts?

10. What considerations may lead you to conclude that the new property tax regime was intended to be implemented by at least the beginning of the calendar year if not at the beginning of January 2010?

No amount of lobbying by priests and Senior Counsels talking in favour of the property tax and matters related thereto including this voluntary scheme can sideline the fact that tax-collection must be sanctioned by law and laws alone.

People are willing to pay reasonable taxes in accordance with the laws and not by Ministers playing Parliament, circumventing the laws and writing their own and usurping the role and functions of the Commissioner of Valuations as the Appeal Court so lucidly concluded and when caught so doing cowardly retreats to a voluntary exercise stamp.

Both the Supreme or High Court and The Court of Appeal severely reprimanded the Minister of Finance for transgressing and usurping the legal role and function of the Commissioner of Valuations and doing his own illegal thing in the full glare of the people and Parliament including conducting himself in a manner that amounted to a contempt of court proceedings.

That is why the Prime Minister had to lambaste him for unadulterated incompetence. But he will not learn and change his ways or modus operandi.

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