As the tit-for-tat between the Government and the Opposition over tax exemptions for the purchase of luxury vehicles continues, Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal says there is nothing wrong with Opposition members using the exemption during the pandemic.
Last week, Moonilal heaped criticism on Energy Minister Stuart Young and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh for their purchases of luxury vehicles in March and June respectively.
Moonilal said the purchases were insensitive and ill-timed.
As the issue continued to be ventilated over the last week, documents surfaced from the purchases of two more luxury vehicles- both in late April- but this time by two Opposition MPs.
The first, dated April 26, 2021, was from the Ministry of Finance to the Comptroller of Customs, advising that exemptions totalling $356,967.68 had been granted to Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram.
Ratiram was exempted from paying $75,056.37 in VAT, $90,787.50 in motor vehicle tax and $191,123.81 in Customs duty on the purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado valued at $600,450.99
The second document detailed the exemptions granted to San Juan/Barataria MP Saddam Hosein in his purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser.
Hosein’s vehicle was valued at $742,841.32.
He was exempted from paying $92,855.17 in VAT, $121,050 in motor vehicle tax and $181,791.32 in Customs duty- a total of $395,696.49.
That document was dated April 30, 2021.
A third document, also to the Comptroller of Customs and dated May 23, 2019, showed MP for Pointe-a-Pierre, David Lee, being granted exemptions in the sum of $1,416,292.65 for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz AMG G63 valued at $2,344,752.16.
That exemption included $293,094.02 in VAT, $298,650 in Motor Vehicle tax and $824,548.63 in Customs duty.
Questions and copies of all three documents were sent to Ratiram, Hosein and Lee via WhatsApp.
There were no responses from any of the three up until press time.
Guardian Media Limited contacted Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, who last week heavily chastised Ministers Young and Deyalsingh for their purchases of luxury vehicles during a pandemic.
But yesterday, when he was asked whether Ratiram and Hosein’s purchases could be seen as insensitive and ill-timed, he said, “Well let’s put it this way, the Government did not lose and the Government did not gain because when you don’t purchase a vehicle, the Government doesn’t gain and when you purchase a vehicle, the Government does not lose in a sense because they get nothing from the purchase. But the further point I want to stress is that the Opposition members are buying vehicles, as I intend to now, because the Government has taken a position that they don’t damn care and they are in leadership, they must demonstrate sacrifice.”
Moonilal said there would be more documents from exemptions for Opposition MPs but the public should focus on the Prime Minister’s refusal to issue a moratorium on the purchase of luxury vehicles during the pandemic.
In the absence of that, Moonilal said he intends to purchase whatever vehicle the Prime Minister bought as soon as he is able to access his exemption again.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he too had used his exemption to purchase a luxury vehicle.
In the past four years, Moonilal has accessed the exemptions twice- on April 26, 2017, for the purchase of a Jaguar F-Pace and again on November 6, 2019, for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz GLE 450 4M. The exemptions for both vehicles totalled $799,583.40
He will be eligible for another exemption on November 7, 2021.
Yesterday, he said he intends to use it as soon as it becomes available.
“On the 8th (November) I intend to purchase the exact vehicle purchased by the Prime Minister,” Moonilal said.
Asked about whether he is concerned about public perception, Moonilal said, “The ordinary citizen will look on and say the Government is showing absolutely no leadership, the buck stops with the Government, there is a propaganda law in Trinidad which suggests that the Opposition should lead. The Opposition is not leading and it cannot lead by law so let the Government take a decision on a moratorium, why is it so hard to do that? And why do they have to look at Saddam Hosein and Ravi Ratiram and whoever? They can behave properly if they want to, their complaint is looking everybody buying so we buying too.”