The fate of the Income Tax Amendment Bill will be decided today.
Opposition support or not, Government will be taking the vote on the bill at this afternoon’s session of Parliament.
“We’ll put it to the vote and see if the Opposition acts in the public interest,” acting Attorney General Fitzgerald Hinds said during yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
Hinds and Communication Minister Stuart Young slammed the Opposition for lack of response on the bill as the deadline for passage approaches at month-end. They warned that if it wasn’t passed, the United National Congress would be known for “crashing the banking system.”
The bill, which is needed for the exchange of taxpayers’ information in Global Forum tax evasion processes, requires Opposition support for passage. Government says local banks will lose correspondent banking links overseas if it isn’t passed— and two banks have already lost this.
After the ITA bill was discussed earlier this year in a Joint Select Committee— with the Double Taxation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters bills and others— Government only took the ITA bill to Parliament for passage. The administration said it was assured that this alone was necessary for T&T to comply with Global Forum procedures. They said the other bills were long.
But the Opposition insisted on adding a clause to the ITA Bill allowing judicial supervision when taxpayers’ information is made available to police probing fraud and other matters. Finance Minister Colm Imbert recently sent correspondence saying this and other amendments would be done.
On Wednesday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, saying they would respond on Imbert’s proposals, called for a return to the JSC to examine all the bills in the package. She said the ITA bill was flawed, maintaining that alone wasn’t enough for Global Forum compliance.
Yesterday, Hinds said Imbert sent Persad-Bissessar a second letter stressing the importance of passing the bill and the dangers of failure. Hinds said Imbert got no response and Persad-Bissessar “wasn’t taking calls.”
He said all JSC members had agreed the ITA Bill alone would be done. In committee stage, he said, the Opposition kept finding reasons not to support it. He wondered what were the Opposition “fears.” He noted the Prime Minister’s recent statements about matters being investigated by law enforcement, but said any Opposition amendment can be made in today’s committee deliberations and Government’s 23 votes will then be put towards passing the bill.
Young noted Bankers’ Association concern that two of its members had already lost correspondent banking with others overseas. He said he didn’t know who the two banks were, but said non-pasasge of the bill would affect people who needed funds to do business, pay medical bills overseas, send children to school or shop online.
However, UNC officials yesterday cited last month’s council for the European report which stated T&T “has not signed and ratified the OECD Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters as amended, has a harmful preferential tax regime and did not commit to addressing these issues by December 31, 2018. Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to comply with criteria 1.1 and 1.2 will be monitored.”