THE reintroduction of property tax, particularly in the midst of a pandemic and economic uncertainty, could well be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back, says Ancel Roget, president of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM).
Roget, speaking among a host of other union representatives during a virtual press conference on Tuesday, said he needed to address the matter in light of the "fear and trauma" facing the population over the tax, which he suggested will become another contributor to the ever-rising cost of living in Trinidad and Tobago.
Roget opened by acknowledging that property tax is not a recent phenomenon.
"Citizens, from as far back as we can remember, would have paid property tax."
He highlighted former prime minister Patrick Manning's proposal for a new property tax regime before the 2010 general election, which drew opposition from wide cross-sections of the country, and is widely believed a major factor that led to the People's Partnership defeat of the People's National Movement.
Roget said, "When that issue was raised then, the population raised issues about it and their concerns about the way in which that property tax was going to be implemented – the burden it was going to place on the citizens at the nature of its implementation."
The Oilfield Workers Trade Union (of which he is now the head), he said, led a charge against the government's intention to implement a revenue authority and by extension the property tax.
"I want citizens to also remember that it was the PNM government at the time, headed by Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who was leading the charge, and our general secretary at the time, David Abdulah, was arrested – as all of us were – beaten outside and battered by the state police, instructed and commanded by those who were in the Parliament at that time to remove us..."
The unions have been consistent, he said, unlike the current Prime Minister. Armed with Hansard transcripts, Roget highlighted Dr Keith Rowley's stance on the matter before the 2010 election.
"People have already been burdened by covid – small and medium businesses, most of them gone through. Most of them would have been removed from the malls.
"We are saying with absolute clarity that there could not be a worse time to bring this property tax on the citizens of TT.
"It is as though their policy is geared to subjugate or to suffer or to keep one section of the community, the masses, under suppression. You must not own something that is appreciable."
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Finance issued a notice saying land owners must submit a form with supporting documents by November 30.
Roget described the form as complex and detailed, and more suitable for professionals to complete accurately.
Failure to complete the forms accurately can result in imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine, a pittance for the elite but a large sum for most of the population, Roget said.
"The little extension that you would have made (to your property) as an ordinary person, through your ambition, through your sou sou, through saving over the years, through recognising the family, is extra room in your home.
"Through no fault of yours, you are now burdened with a property tax...that requires you to pay more because you are attached to some rental value for which you are getting absolutely no rent...you never did build your property with the intention to rent it.
"But throughout the years, your property would have appreciated naturally in value and so you are now required to pay for that."
He said the new taxes will not be absorbed by landlords but passed on to the tenant.
Roget accused the government of choking citizens to make up the loss," after it makes poor decisions about state assets.
"Why must one small set of people who were given the responsibility, employed to govern, to make life easy for the citizens – why must they be allowed to enjoy all the benefits, tax-free vehicles, and all kinds of allowances?
"You, the ordinary man, who gave them the job to make life easy for you, improve your quality and standard of living –they are imposing hardship on you and they are imposing it at a time when they know you cannot respond."