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Wednesday 19 September 2018
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Lottery tax law never sent to President

NLCB chairman Eustace Nancis

The Lottery Tax has not yet been proclaimed by President Paula-Mae Weekes because the legislation for it has not been received by the Office of the President (OTP).

Responding to a question from Sunday Newsday yesterday, communications adviser Cheryl Lala said the President’s legal team had been checking for the document.

“We do not have it in our proclamation file which is where it would be if it had been proclaimed. We checked with the Cabinet secretariat to confirm. They too cannot recall it being proclaimed,” Lala said.

Sources told Sunday Newsday that Clause 9 of the Finance Act 2017, the part that needs to be proclaimed to make the collection of the tax law, is still with Cabinet and, as such, has not even been sent to the OTP. The clause stipulates an amendment to the Miscellaneous Taxes Act to provide for the implementation of a ten per cent winnings tax on all prize money over $1,000 to be paid by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB). The NLCB had begun taxing winners from July 30, including last Wednesday’s lone $19 million Lotto Plus jackpot winner. In a release on Friday evening, the NLCB said players affected will be refunded their tax deductions. The NLCB blamed the mix-up on the technology used to automatically deduct the taxes coming on stream before the legislation had been proclaimed.

Sunday Newsday attempted to ascertain the current status of the act, but neither Communications Minister Stuart Young nor Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi would comment, instead referring all questions to NLCB’s line minster, the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert. Sunday Newsday also attempted to get clarification from the Finance Ministry’s permanent secretary, Vishnu Dhanpaul, who also declined to comment and also referred all questions to the minister.

Imbert did not respond to Sunday Newsday’s call yesterday. When initially contacted about the issue on Friday, Imbert declined to comment, instead referring all questions to NLCB.

Speaking briefly with Sunday Newsday yesterday, NLCB chairman Eustace Nancis said his priority was refunding players, not the status of the tax. He said there would be a meeting tomorrow to discuss the logistics of refunding players, and after that the board would update the population. Asked how the board would be able to accurately verify customers who needed to be refunded, he said it should be easy because they all had to buy their tickets from a vendor.

Sunday Newsday also repeatedly tried to speak with NLCB’s acting director Michael Jogee, who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the state enterprise, but he did not return any calls. Former NLCB deputy director Devant Maharaj, who was the first to suggest the tax may not yet be legal, called for the board to resign after this “embarrassment”.

It is unclear how much money the NLCB had deducted and will now have to return. There has also been no update on a new date for the implementation of the tax.

The Lottery Tax was first announced in the 2018 budget and was due to come into effect on December 1, 2017. The NLCB is a net contributor to the Treasury, with revenues of $3 billion last year, although it has not submitted financial statements to the public for over five years.

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