EMPLOYEES of both the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) and Customs and Excise Division are welcoming the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) Bill, which they hope will eradicate corruption in collecting taxes.
Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye made the revelation during her contribution to the debate on Friday.
“The question has been asked, why the need for revenue authority when there is Inland Revenue and Customs.
"These bodies are not functioning efficiently. There is widespread, institutionalised corruption and the country is suffering from these two inconvenient truths which leave a bitter taste in the mouth and should be expelled.
“Who are to guard the guards? Honest employees are frustrated, they feel helpless and hopeless.”
Thompson-Ahye said the TTRA is a “revolutionary bill” which suffered long delays. The bill aims to address many factors threatening the economic health of the country, she said.
Customs employees, she said, raised issues of businessmen having senior customs officials on duty whenever they have goods to clear. This allowed for corrupt activities to continue, such as under-invoicing, importing counterfeit goods, unmanifested cargo, incorrect description of goods, and illicit and prohibited goods entering without the needed permits.
She added that to combat the corruption, a group called the Towers of Strength Community, composed of BIR and Finance Ministry employees, met every Monday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The group's aim is to get a “spiritual vaccine” to fight the pandemic of corruption.
She told the Senate employees were tired of kickbacks and lack of manpower, among other grievances that make their job difficult.
The bill, she said, gives the TTRA a fresh start to show what it can dob adding that there are good and righteous people in government who want to make a difference. Thompson-Ahye pointed out that the BIR is unable to collect the correct revenue because “corruption is eroding the ability to collect due taxes.
“It was never a question of what to do or how to do it, but the political will was lacking. Courage was absent. The old practices were so embedded so deeply that it seemed that when visions changed, it was like we were dreaming the impossible dream, to right the unrightable wrong.”
She argued that concerns raised about the Finance Minister having the power to appoint members of the TTRA board stemmed from a lack of trust in parliamentarians and institutions. Thompson-Ahye said the bill already caters for those concerns with affirmative resolutions in the appointment process, unavailability of individual information and other clauses to alleviate fears. She suggested that one solution may be allowing the President to appoint the members, rather than the minister, as in other Caribbean jurisdictions.
“Fact is, there is an attempt to bring a better revenue collection authority.
"We are not at all happy about paying taxes, but we love the amnesty. We need to change the culture so TT will do what is right for the good of the country.”