26/06/2018 – The Trinidad Guardian. / Who could forget the “Axe the tax campaign” when Kamla Persad-Bissesar (then Deputy Political Leader of the UNC) and Prakash Ramadhar (then Deputy Political Leader of the COP) walked through the Penal market promising to fight the Government on their property tax initiative? That was nine years ago.
On Monday, December 21, 2009, during the last sitting of the House, the Property Tax Bill was passed at 8.45 pm with 22 PNM members voting for the bill and ten UNC Opposition members, including myself, voting against. The Member of Parliament for Siparia was not present during that vote. On January 1, 2010, the act became law.
During the 2010 election campaign, night after night on the political hustings, the Opposition promised if elected they would repeal the dreaded Property Tax. On May 24, 2010, the PNM was voted out of office and the UNC-led coalition took office.
During their five-year term in office the Property Tax was never repealed or abolished, the government through an act of Parliament, simply suspended payment of the tax for the period January 2010 to December 2015. And so, when the five-year waiver expired, the obligation to pay was revived, specifically on January 1, 2016. Until then the act lay undisturbed, quietly asleep.
It was only towards the end of the Persad-Bissesar’s term in office, during then Finance Minister Larry Howai’s budget presentation, that the population was told of her government’s intention to implement the Property Tax.
And so it was surprising to hear Persad-Bissessar, now back in Opposition, say during a meeting in San Juan last Monday that, “the day we form the government again we will repeal the Property Tax.” So what happened when you were in government?
Whilst we may never know the truth, the reality is, had the PP government actually repealed the Property Tax as promised the PNM would have had great difficulty re-introducing it in Parliament when it returned to office in 2015, particularly having regard to the economic recession that they met.
The fact of the matter is that the hapless PNM has the present leader of the UNC and her government to gratefully thank for keeping the Property Tax alive and for protecting the PNM against the massive public outrage the PNM would have faced had it sought to re-enact it.
Ironically, at the Monday meeting, Persad-Bissessar also sought to complain about the recent amendment to the Property Tax Act before the Parliament on Friday, March 2 this year. So why did the Opposition not voice their concerns and speak for the people in the Parliament?
Embarrassingly, during that debate, only two members of the Opposition spoke before the debate collapsed. Embarrassingly, after the tea break, the Leader of the Opposition and most of her members were not in the chamber when invited by the Speaker to contribute to the debate. To add insult to injury, those members of the Opposition who were present, caught like a deer in headlights, sat in their chairs frozen in fear, unsure of what to do.
Not surprisingly, the Government gleefully embraced the Opposition‘s ineptitude and promptly wrapped up the debate and passed the amendment without a squeak from Opposition. Sadly, the Opposition was out-manoeuvred by the PNM and made to look weak and ineffectual.
Enough of the empty promises. It’s time to inform and educate the public about the realities, implications and consequences of the act and on their rights and obligations as the law stands today.
MICKELA PANDAY, via email