Since only parts of the Income Tax Amendment Bill were passed in Parliament last Friday, Government says the rest of the bill concerning Global Forum aspects will be brought back to Parliament early next year.
And for this second round, the T&T Chamber has sent a stern message to both Government and Opposition: no repeat of the recent long-winded process regarding the bill.
“No grandstanding and delays ahead - please,” T&T Chamber CEO Gabriel Faria added yesterday.
Faria and Finance Minister Colm Imbert spoke about the next chapter for the bill after it was passed in Parliament at 9 pm on Friday after weeks of stalemate between Government and the Opposition.
The bill, which required Opposition votes for passage, was needed to meet Global Forum/European Union formats for tax information sharing processes to facilitate anti-tax evasion systems. Government also needed to meet a Caribbean Financial Action Task Force deadline of Friday after the FATC grey-listed T&T for failure to implement anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism processes.
While Government amended the bill following Opposition concerns, the Opposition maintained objection up to Friday’s final vote. The UNC insisted the bill needed to be discussed again in Parliamentary committee format along with two other bills which were initially part of the package.
In the final stages, Government asked if the Opposition would support the bill in its current form. But this was rejected. Imbert then amended the bill to remove clauses which required a special majority vote. But the Opposition still didn’t support it. The amended bill was passed with simple majority Government votes only.
Yesterday, Imbert said,”Over the last month it became obvious the Opposition wouldn’t support the bill and one of the reasons appeared to be the clause allowing police easier access to tax information from Inland Revenue. But we agreed to their call to add judicial supervision in the situation.
“That clause was one of CFATF’s recommendations and we were able to pass that with a simple majority. If we didn’t, CFATF would have blacklisted us. It’s ironic that the clause that was passed with simple majority vote was one they had concerns about - they shot themselves in the foot. The clauses which required Opposition votes for passage and which we deleted were the information aspects Global Forum (GF) required.”
Imbert added, “We’ll now go to the GF on their aspects. They’re coming in January and we’ll get information and I’m sure we’ll have to do the bill over on their matters. I’m sure we’ll be back in Parliament with it by February. Hopefully, there’ll be no drastic situations.”
However, UNC Whip David Lee said,”They watered down this bill the same way they did the Marriage bill. We’re confused at the value of what they passed since those clauses don’t satisfy the requirements of the Bankers’ Association, Global Forum or the deadlines they discussed. So this was a political con job by PNM.
“I’m sure they’ll have to return the other clauses to satisfy the GF. Inland Revenue said deadline for the GF matters was September 2019. We’re always willing to work things out but this was a sham. We tried to pass good law but they watered down the bill.”
Chamber CEO Faria, who expressed happiness at the bill’s passage, said they were very concerned at the wasted energy in the matter.
“While Government made some concessions, if both parties had addressed it properly T&T would be much more efficient. So more maturity needs to be displayed - don’t wait until the last minute to address issues. That’s why we’re in situations like Petrotrin and WASA,” Faria said.
“It’s very stressful in an already difficult climate for business and consumers. Next rounds it must be better. Members have sent me copies of letters from banks who can no longer maintain accounts due to the country they’re in.”
- by Gail Alexander