AS much as $15 billion is lost each year to tax evasion, lamented Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West, speaking to Newsday yesterday, ahead of Thursday’s Mid-Year Review.
Those suspected of evading tax cut across the social spectrum from the informal sector up to highly-paid professionals in established practices, she said.
“A study last August-September by Prof Karl Theodore of the University of the West Indies estimated conservatively a shortfall of $10-$15 billion annually. It’s a lot of money, that would address our deficit,” West said.
“Our tax-collection efforts at this time are not where they should be, and we don’t believe this can be properly addressed within the current structure of administration, but we need the TT Revenue Authority.”
Asked who constitutes the tax evaders, she said, “It’s everybody.
When people see they can get away with it, they will try it more and more.”
West said tax evasion must have consequences, or more and more leakages would arise. She said this had already happened with VAT, which had seen a steady decline during the previous administration.
Asked if the best remedy was moral suasion or a big stick, she said, “We need to do a combination.” She lamented that the general public had suffered a lack of information on places to go for help since the abandonment of a specialist outreach unit of the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) several years ago.
West also said too many people are not in the tax system.
Asked about a call by activist David Abdulah for an army of graduates to try to identify and register businessplaces across TT, West said it may not yet be time to pound the pavement, but to use existing sources of information, such as registries of doctors, attorneys and food-handlers.
On Abdulah’s remarks that the Government sees the TTRA as a panacea, West replied that no single measure is a panacea but the TTRA would go a long way to bridge the gap in revenues.
She said she expects the TTRA to be established this financial year, which lasts until September.