THE Prime Minister on Wednesday said Cabinet will consider capping tax exemptions for the purchase of new vehicles by public office holders at $350,000 – all except judges, whose existing tax breaks will remain untouched.
In his budget contribution in the House, Dr Rowley said, "I will propose to my colleagues at the Cabinet, that the Cabinet take the position that the average exemption on motor vehicles be capped at $350,000."
According to the 98th Report of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC), the Prime Minister is allowed a maximum loan of $350,000 at an interest rate of six per cent per annum for the purchase of either a new or used vehicle. This same arrangement is allowed for Cabinet ministers, non-Cabinet ministers, the Opposition Leader, elected MPs and senators who are not government ministers.
After observing some people would like to see MPs punished if they do not get tax exemptions to buy vehicles, Rowley said, "Those of us who genuinely serve the public and those of us who genuinely share what we earn with those we represent and those who we don't represent, we don't have a problem."
Accepting Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar's challenge to revisit these exemptions for MPs – when she kicked off the budget debate last Friday – Rowley said, "Yes. I will join you, but when your colleagues buy a vehicle for $2 million and enjoy $1 million in tax exemptions and the vehicle is for the use of somebody else, then we need to look at exemptions."
He suggested the proposed cap "will give you a fine car – and it's not a car that the Government is giving you." Rowley explained, "If you buy the car and you get the exemption, it doesn't go to the Treasury. You don't buy the car, the tax is not due."
He also roundly rejected both a Trinidad Express newspaper editorial and Opposition claims that Government was not making sacrifices to deal with the pandemic.
"I don't need the Express or the UNC to tell me how to share my income," he declared. Rowley disclosed that without fanfare, "I spend between 15 and 20 per cent of my income giving to people who are not on the payroll."
He said, "This Government has demonstrated its willingness to make personal sacrifices but at the same time, protect the people of TT." He pointed out, "Even in a pandemic, you cannot rely on the UNC."
He disclosed that while taxpayers paid $48.6 million for Persad-Bissessar's prime ministerial entertainment expenses from 2010-2015, similar expenses for him were slashed to $5.9 million from 2015-2020. Rowley showed expenditure for functions for Persad-Bissessar was $16 million compared to $2.3 million during his first five-year term as prime minister.
"That is how we have managed to keep the ship afloat, by being prudent, not being extravagant."
On UNC calls for an audit of covid19 expenses, Rowley said Finance Minister Colm Imbert identified what Government's expenditure on covid19 would be from day one and added that every dollar can be accounted for. He claimed the UNC is engaging in a "resolve-to-prevent" strategy to stop Government from taking measures to help the population through this difficult period.
Rowley observed all UNC MPs in the debate, including the first-timers to Parliament, showed they did not know when to put politics aside and put country first.
At a later date, Rowley said, "I want to invite the Express to a discussion...when we have to undergo the question on who has the moral authority to speak to the people of TT."