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Tuesday 18 September 2018
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Clarify property tax

UNFORTUNATELY all of the barbs being exchanged in relation to the question of a proposed property tax have distracted us from the deeper question: what is the policy of both of the major parties on the imposition of taxes on property assets generally? The property tax was a proposal of the last PNM administration and it would have introduced a brand new regime of taxation which would be tied to the rental and taxable values of property.

This, some said, would result in an increase in real amounts to be paid. Previous to the Property Tax Act of 2009, an older scheme of land and building taxes existed.

The PNM’s 2009 Property Tax Act was repealed, and the old land and building scheme has been returned to the statute books. However, these land and building taxes have not been collected for the last five years under a moratorium imposed pursuant to Cabinet policy.

At the launch the PNM’s manifesto last Thursday, PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley was asked whether a government run by him would take us back to the new property tax which the last PNM administration had passed.

Rowley did not directly answer the question. Instead, he referred to “property tax” and “land and building taxes” interchangeably.

“That property tax has already been dealt with,” Rowley said. “As I speak to you now arrangements are already put in place for land and building taxes to come back into being for September 7.” Rowley also later referred to the fact that Finance and Economy Minister Larry Howai had announced the phased re-introduction of the land and building taxes, but these would only apply to industrial land.

But according to Howai, Rowley was wrong. The announced “industrial land tax” was aborted after consultation with business.

“I will say again, no property tax has been implemented or is being planned for after the general election by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration,” Howai said in a statement on Sunday, also being somewhat casual in terminology.

Howai added, “Dr Rowley quoted from a Hansard of 9th September 2013, but has not taken the time to check on the status of this matter at the ministry. I have said categorically that Cabinet has not considered this matter nor has the matter been brought to Cabinet for consideration at any time in the last two years (2014 or 2015).” The minister added: “I also said categorically that I consulted with the business community on the sequencing of an industrial land tax, and subsequently land and building taxes on residential and commercial properties. This was after my statement to the Parliament in 2013. The issue was not taken forward because the Government took on board the feedback received in those consultations.” In addition to all of this, a moratorium over the 2009 property tax remains in place. Rowley himself on Saturday alluded to the Finance Act 2015, Section 23 of which states the waiver stays in place for the entire period from January 1, 2010, to December 31, 2015.

In all of the he said, she said, neither party has said what will happen after December 31. Will the Property Tax Act 2009 be applied by the PNM? Or will the old land and building tax apply? Will the People’s Partnership pursue its “industrial tax”? Or will it revert to land and building taxes? Or will it take up the PNM’s property tax? The parties need to clarify. The fact remains that the Treasury will forgo a lot of revenue if it continues to not collect any tax on these forms of assets. It has been estimated that about $180 million has been lost per year due to lack of collection. Can this continue in the face of dwindling revenues in terms of oil and gas? Howai says “no property tax has been implemented or is being planned for after the general election by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration,” but is any replacement being envisioned? What is the policy on property and tax collection generally? Tell us and tell us clearly.

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