FORMER government minister Devant Maharaj, who has started legal proceedings against the state over the Property Tax, says the present amendments to the tax laws was “a vulgar attempt to politicise” the tax by removing powers which were previously given to the Commissioner of Valuations and the President, and place them in the hands of Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
In a statement, Maharaj, called on Imbert to withdraw the present amendments to the property tax laws with immediate effect.
“The government is trying to reintroduce the infamous property tax while my case is still pending before the High Court. “This is gross disrespect to the court and the rule of law. Minister Imbert is trying to out-manoeuver the court by introducing this bill which seeks to fundamentally alter the policy and structure of the existing property tax laws to the detriment of an unsuspecting and innocent citizenry.”
Maharaj said the minister will now be in a position to “exert direct political influence and control as Clause 23 A of the Valuation of Land (Amendment) Bill gives him the power to appoint the members of The Valuation Tribunal.”
“ The abolition of appeals to the Tax Appeal Board which is a superior court of record appointed by the President and its replacement with appeals to this Imbert-appointed tribunal smacks of political bias. It is a recipe for chaos, victimisation and social disaster.”
He said the 150,000 property owners who submitted property tax returns did so because they were misled into thinking that they had no choice. “The Court of Appeal has since clarified that the Commissioner of Valuations had no authority and power to make such a mandatory and compulsory demand and ordered the Commissioner of Valuations to publish full page ads in the newspapers clarifying that this request was purely voluntary and that citizens would not face any sanction if they failed to comply.”
“The proposed amendment will remove this protective safeguard which provides much needed political insulation.” Maharaj said president-elect Paula Mae Weekes, who is due to be sworn in shortly, should be consulted on the removal of these powers which the present law gives to her office.
Justice Jacqueline Wilson has completed Maharaj’s property tax trial and has reserved her ruling, Maharaj said.
“The government has a duty to show respect for the judicial arm of the State and should not pre-empt the court in such an obscene manner,” he added.