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Monday 22 July 2019
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Commentary

TIME FOR INLAND REVENUE TO AWAKEN FROM SLUMBER



"For every evil under the Sun/ There is a remedy, or there is none;/If there be one, try and find it.": WC Hazlitt, English Proverbs.


Is the Inland Revenue department employing all the resources at its disposal to deal effectively with the country’s major drug importers and distributors, as well as corrupt public figures who have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars through raping the Treasury, whether by subterfuge or otherwise? If the resources and the regulations under which the Department operates are inadequate then Inland Revenue should request of Government both additional personnel and greater powers to do battle with those who are savaging the nation’s youth and the hard earned money of taxpayers.


Inland Revenue should seek to target, among others, those whose clearly expensive style of living is not reflected in their tax returns. Or those whose perceived day to day receipts from their business places could not possibly provide them with the sort of lifestyle and almost obscene physical expansion of their enterprises. There are scores of businesses throughout Trinidad and Tobago who appear to attract few customers yet bloom as profusely as the desert rose. Are the nagging rumours of money laundering correct, and if so what is Inland Revenue doing about them?


Almost every schoolchild has heard at some time or the other the story of the notorious gangster and bootlegger, Al Capone, who, despite his well known life of crime and his role in the Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929, was able to avoid being held by law enforcers, until the United States Bureau of Internal Revenue moved in and had him charged and jailed in 1931 for income tax evasion. Capone, who was regarded as Public Enemy Number One, had been able to bribe scores of public officials, including law enforcement officers. And while I do not liken any of our principal drug importers and distributors or otherwise corrupt citizens to the immensely brutal Al "Scarface" Capone, nonetheless they must be dealt with by the law, charged, taken before the Courts and if found guilty then severely punished.


These men and women are false heroes to many of the nation’s impressionable youngsters from low income families. The cancer of corruption must be excised. Admittedly, eliminating the drug trade or making it less attractive to the greedy will not be easy. Particularly, as Trinidad and Tobago, because of its geographical position, has long been a convenient trans-shipment point for the cocaine trade between South America and the United States of America and Europe. But the drug trade apart, a major spoiler of our young people has been the apparently easy manner in which corrupt public officials and others have been able to access taxpayers’ money and flaunt their ill gotten wealth.


Many of our youths, not unlike other young people, regionally and internationally, have turned their backs on education and other long accepted avenues for upward mobility and instead engage themselves in, from petty to major crimes.


Today, there are several former public officials and others, who despite their reportedly actively corrupt past are regarded as exemplars by the gullible. In addition to the flaunting of their wealth they seek to convey the impression to the uninitiated that they are role models. Many simple minded, but nonetheless greedy folk, indeed see them as folk heroes, men who rose from the ranks to "make" it. Some of the corrupt are modern day Robin Hoods, only this time robbing citizens of what is in essence theirs and handing over some of it to the weak minded.


All too often, the corrupt know how to exploit the law for their own benefit. A little over seven years ago, in fact in November of 1998, I exposed in this column, how a senior public official had acquired an expensive house, albeit indirectly, with taxpayers’ money. I knew at the time that no immediate action would have been taken.


Most of the persons who pay taxes live on fixed incomes, or at least are taxed on their declared fixed incomes. There are others who supplement their incomes illegally, and yet others, as I pointed out earlier, whose lifestyles are not represented by their tax returns.


How could a public officer or someone employed in the private sector and earning between $5,000 and $7,500 a month, own a home the value of which runs into millions of dollars, and own two expensive cars as well? And, in addition, live at the well head? Clearly something is wrong, "something is rotten in the State of Denmark." it is here that the Inland Revenue department can step in and request the individual to explain his/her lifestyle and should the explanation not be satisfactory then charge him/her with tax evasion. As an earlier generation used to say: "There is no mathematics in that." But something must be done. Trinidad and Tobago cannot, indeed must not, be allowed to continue to be fuelled by a parallel economy.


The dangers are great and obvious. The time to act is not tomorrow nor the day after, but now.

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