FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert said the government has amended the TT Revenue Authority Bill, 2021, to no longer need a special majority to be passed. He said this had been done to forestall the Opposition’s efforts to block the bill as it had done in 2018 and 2019.
In his presentation in the Senate on Tuesday, Imbert said when the versions of the bills introduced in Parliament in 2018 and 2019 had needed a special majority because it sought to confer the powers, authorities and privileges of members of the Police Service, which are also currently exercised by customs officers and other public officers, on people who were to be appointed by the proposed TT Revenue Authority (TTRA) and not on public officers appointed by a Service Commission.
“The 2021 Bill seeks to confer those powers, authorities and privileges on public officers appointed by the Public Service Commission to offices in the enforcement division of the authority, thereby avoiding the need for a special majority. By clause 14, the enforcement division of the authority would comprise the deputy director general – enforcement and other public officers appointed by the Public Service Commission as well as employees appointed by the board.”
Imbert said the TTRA will be headed by a director general and a nine-member board. He said while the deputy director general -enforcement would receive general policy directions from the board of the authority, the Finance Minister and the director general, his independence in relation to the exercise of his enforcement powers will be protected by not subjecting him to specific directions from these entities.
He said the salaries of the enforcement division officers would be paid from the consolidated fund, while the salary and allowances payable to the deputy director general – enforcement and his other terms and conditions of service would be subject to review by the Salaries Review Commission. He said the officers employed by the authority would not be answerable to politicians.
He said clause 18(2)(c) enables existing public officers to exercise, inter alia, the option to be appointed on transfer by the Public Service Commission to suitable offices in the Enforcement Division. They may also choose to retire from the public service.
Imbert said the definition of “revenue laws” has been unchanged since the 2019 bill.
“However, the schedule of laws has been expanded to include a reference to all laws that either the Customs and Excise Division and Inland Revenue Division have power to act under. This ensures a seamless transition to the TT Revenue Authority, which will now carry out those functions solely.”
Imbert said the TTRA was needed to improve the efficiency of business for all, increase revenue collection, and for prudent management of the state’s main revenue collection agency.
He said a Value Added Tax (VAT) Gap Survey conducted by the IMF in 2019 indicated there was a VAT gap of around five per cent of GDP, consisting of a compliance gap and a policy gap.
He said the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre has referred to TT’s current system as “highly inefficient”, and the country ranked 160 out of 190 in paying taxes in the World Bank’s 2020 ease of doing business index, scoring 53.5 out of a possible 100, below the average in Latin America and the Caribbean of 60.5 and counterparts like Dominica (83), Jamaica (124), Grenada (143), and Antigua and Barbuda (145).
Opposition Senator Wade Mark said the bill undermined and subverted the rule of law. He said it was highly disrespectful for the government to give the Opposition and Independent benches one day to examine and debate a bill which would have far-reaching consequences.
“We call this the Imbertian revenue authority as this authority, which collects 95 per cent of the taxes in TT, will be under the control of the Finance Minister. The public service should be insulated from political interference. The bill will give the sensitive details submitted to the BIR into the hands of the political directorate.”
He said having the deputy director general - enforcement, an independent office holder, subject to the general direction of the board, was unconstitutional and illegal.
He said the 2,175 people employed by the Customs and Excise Division and the Board of Inland Revenue would be retrenched in favour of hiring PNM supporters.
Mark said if the bill was passed, the Opposition will immediately take it to court, going as far as the Privy Council.