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Wednesday 19 September 2018
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State wins property tax case

UPDATE:

GOVERNMENT now has the all-clear to resume its property-tax collection exercise, as a high court judge has thrown out the constitutional challenge of former UNC minister Devant Maharaj.

In a 22-page written decision, Justice Jacqueline Wilson dismissed all Maharaj’s arguments against the validity of the enforcement of the tax.

Maharaj last year challenged the legality of the Commissioner of Valuations’ decision to “require all property owners to submit a valuation return form (VRF),” saying it was illegal and infringed his rights.

In her ruling, Wilson said it was clear from the commissioner’s evidence that the submission of the VRF was a voluntary exercise.

She said Maharaj’s claim wavered between challenging the validity of the VRF and seeking clarification as to its nature.

She was critical of what she said were “ambivalent statements” by Maharaj, together with the way he sought the court’s intervention before waiting for the commissioner to respond to a pre-action protocol letter.

The judge held that it was reasonable that the commissioner, “in seeking to facilitate the taxation regime after a prolonged hiatus, would in the first instance seek to obtain information from land owners on a consensual basis, while reserving the right to exercise more intrusive powers at a later stage.

“I am of the view that the commissioner’s assertion that the VRF was a voluntary request for information is both reasonable and credible and that the commissioner’s evidence should prevail.”

She also threw out Maharaj’s contention that the deadline for the payment of taxes expired on April 1, 2010, when the Lands and Building Taxes Act was repealed by the Property Tax Act.

He also claimed when the act was further amended in 2015, it provided a waiver of payments.

Wilson disagreed, saying it would be “incongruous and absurd if the obligation to file a return under section 6(1) were construed as a one-off obligation that expired permanently on April 1, 2010, where the return is for the purpose of assessing taxes that are due and payable annually, save and except where a waiver is in effect.”

In throwing out Maharaj’s claim, she also ordered him to pay the State’s costs for defending the action.

Last November, minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West said three legal actions – Maharaj’s and two other challenges on the constitutionality of the tax – had stymied the government’s progress in implementing the tax.

Earlier this month, government passed amendments to the Property Tax Act and the Valuation of Land Act, despite attacks from the Opposition, which accused it of hijacking the Parliament by not allowing members to contribute fully to the debate. This was rejected by Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, Camille Robinson-Regis.

Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Alvin Pariagsingh and Jayanti Lutchmedial. The commissioner was represented by Deborah Peake, SC, and Ravi Heffes-Doon.

Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, Rishi Dass and Sasha Bridgemohansingh appeared for the AG.

Justice Frank Seepersad, on May 19 and May 31, had granted a temporary stay and injunction preventing the Commissioner of Valuations from receiving the forms from members of the public. His orders were overturned by the Court of Appeal in June.

The court, however, in clarifying that the data-collection exercise was voluntary, sent back the case to the judge to determine the merits of the arguments raised.

Seepersad gave up the case when Wilson was appointed a judge.

 

ORIGINAL STORY:

A High Court judge has dismissed former UNC minister Devant Maharaj's challenge of the enforcement of the tax.

Maharaj, last year, challenged the legality of the Commissioner of Valuations’ decision to “require all property owners to submit a Valuation Return Form (VRF)”, saying it was illegal and infringed his rights.

Justice Jacqueline Wilson on Thursday dismissed Maharaj's case and ordered that he pay the state's costs.

Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Alvin Pariagsingh and Jayanti Lutchmedial. The commissioner was represented by Deborah Peake,SC and Ravi Heffes-Doon while Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, Rishi Dass and Sasha Bridgemohansingh appeared for the AG.

Maharaj, last year, challenged the legality of the Commissioner of Valuations’ decision to “require all property owners to submit a Valuation Return Form (VRF)”, saying it was illegal and infringed his rights.

In her ruling, Wilson said it was clear from the commissioner’s evidence that the submission of the VRF was a voluntary exercise.

She said Maharaj’s claim wavered between challenging the validity of the VRF and seeking clarification as to its nature.

She was critical of what she said were “ambivalent statements” by Maharaj, together with the way in which he sought the court’s intervention before waiting for the commission to respond to a pre-action protocol letter.

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