Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, yesterday, said Government would be bringing legislation to Parliament in two weeks to ensure that TT met its financial obligations to the Global Forum.
Addressing a news conference at the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Tower in Port-of-Spain, Al-Rawi said the issue was even more critical than the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) legislation which was passed in the House of Representatives and in the Senate on February 23 and March 7, respectively. “This is FATCA on steroids,” he declared.
Checks by Newsday indicated the legislation was proclaimed into law on July 6. Noting the Bankers Association raised concerns on this issue, Al-Rawi said he was directed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to assure the population that Government was working “at break neck speed” to ensure compliance with the Global Forum’s requirements. While the former People’s Partnership (PP) government said TT would be compliant by September 2017, Al-Rawi said Government has “written and requested a deferral to September 2018.”
He said the Global Forum was, “warmed that TT has taken the kind of aggressive steps that we have.” Al-Rawi said that included applying to become a party to a multilateral convention on mutual tax assistance matters (MAC), laying the Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters Bill 2017 in Parliament on April 21 and preparing a double taxation agreements bill. Al-Rawi was confident that once those bills were passed in Parliament, the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development would agree to TT’s membership to the MAC.
He said, because the tax matters legislation required a three-fifths majority for passage in the House and Senate, Government would need the Opposition’s support.
That majority is required because of the secrecy provisions in the legislation as it relates to the sharing of tax information. Al-Rawi said a balance must be struck in terms of investigations into potential money laundering or terrorist financing and ensuring ordinary citizens’ tax information remained confidential.
Al-Rawi did not rule out the possibility of the bill being sent to a joint select committee.
Recalling the original FATCA bill would have dealt with TT’s compliance with the Global Forum as well, Al-Rawi said that was,”destroyed by the Opposition’s view” that the bill only treat with compliance with US tax laws. He said loss of correspondent banking with the 142 member Global Forum was a real risk if the legislation was not passed.
Al-Rawi explained that TT’s compliance with the Global Forum is significant, with most of TT’s retail imports coming from the Far East. He also said TT’s commercial association with the European market could be “potentially prejudiced,” if the country was not Global Forum compliant. Al-Rawi said there was constant communication with the Global Forum, which had input into the legislation to come before Parliament. He also disclosed that he leaves today for Argentina to defend TT’s position on being compliant with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) requirements on issues such as counter-terrorism and money laundering. Al-Rawi hinted there could be some “good news” coming out of FATF.
Opposition Chief Whip David Lee said the Opposition had not yet seen the legislation Al-Rawi referred to. Lee said the Opposition would be willing to support the legislation once it did not infringe the rights of citizens. However, he warned the Opposition was not going down the FATCA road again. Lee said the Government tried to scare the population about the sky falling if the FATCA legislation was not passed. Recalling the Opposition was criticised from several quarters for its approach to FATCA, Lee asked if any of the Government’s predictions had materialised.