PARLIAMENT passed 18 out of 26 bills brought before it in 2018, all of which were passed in the third and fourth sessions of the 11th Parliament. It would be truly impressive if it could be said that the slow process was the result of considered challenge by the Opposition party and spirited response from the Government in crafting the most appropriate legislation possible for Trinidad and Tobago. Instead, many of these bills were turned into political footballs, used as a basis for ad hominem attacks, false equivalencies and general parliamentary misbehaviour which did little to advance the nobler goals of governance in either the House or the Senate.
Critical bills meeting parliamentary approval in 2018 included those governing land use, property tax, anti-crime and terrorism legislation along with some critical financial bills. Among them was the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill 2018, which is the baseline legal requirement for information exchange with global financial institutions. Other elements of the required legislation await passage.
The remarkably deleterious approach to the debate and advancement of this critical bit of legislation put TT on a path to being dropped into the outhouse of nations in the international financial sector. The prospect proved so serious that it roused the Bankers Association from its polite reveries to call for action from the Government and Opposition.
In May, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi noted that TT was the only Caribbean nation on an EU blacklist of tax havens because of tardiness in passing the required legislation. At stake was the de-risking of this country, essentially the severing of foreign exchange ties between our banks and global financial institutions. The Government eventually removed the special majority requirement for a diminished version of the bill, pressing it into law without the support of the Opposition.
Still awaiting attention is the Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill 2018, supplementary legislation that must become law to ensure full compliance with the requirements of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Global Forum overseeing international financial transparency.
Among the eight bills which rolled on after the whistle blew for consideration as legislation this year are two critical items – the Cybercrime and Whistleblower Protection Bills, which have been the subject of a spirited public interest rebuttal from the Media Association of TT.
In 2019, the nation is entitled to expect a Parliament that presents itself better prepared: a Government that chooses to be more prompt in tabling legislation and in accommodating views that differ from its and an Opposition that marshals its resources to be a more effective shadow government, using its experience to provide useful alternative perspectives on critical matters.
Such a commitment would represent a significant advance over the parliamentary experience of 2018.