A divided Senate on Friday passed the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) Bill 2021 to create an entity to replace the Board of Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise Division. The bill was passed by 21 votes "for" to seven votes "against" with one abstention.
While most independent senators voted with the Government, Independent Senator Deoroop Teemal voted against the bill along with the Opposition, while Independent Senator Evans Welch abstained. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for which no date has been set for its next sitting.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told senators this was a simple majority bill, to be validly passed even without Opposition support, not needing a three-fifths special majority.
He based his reasoning on the bill not violating two fundamental individual rights under the Constitution – the rights to privacy and enjoyment of property respectively.
On the former, he said a new revenue authority would retain the oath of secrecy now existing under the Income Tax Act (section 8(2)).
Further, he said under the existing Data Protection Act, the transfer of personal information from the Inland Revenue Division to the TTRA did not need a special majority.
On the latter he said people might instinctively feel it was a case of "my money paying my taxation" but in fact taxes were imposed by a simple majority never a special majority.
He said the Customs and Excise Act and Income Tax Act will not be abolished but their functions will be transferred to the TTRA.
Al-Rawi said the new bill could no longer wait on the Opposition's nod, amid an ongoing "analysis paralysis" on this matter since 2002.
"In a best case scenario we'd love to have the assistance of the Opposition to agree that a singular entity, properly clothed with authority, passed with a three-fifths majority, is an ideal situation, but where are we getting that with Senator Wade Mark?" he said.
Al-Rawi said the Government wanted to reduce taxes payable by people by "broadening the net."
"What do we do? Wait for Senator Wade Mark to say yes? Wait for Mrs Persad-Bissessar (Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar) to say yes?
"Or do we watch Trinidad and Tobago burn to ashes?"
The AG said revenue was critical now to relieve the burden on those who pay.
"The people that support this country, apart from the oil and gas regime where taxation feeds us, are the people that have PAYE – Pay As You Earn. These are the hardworking citizens of our country who never see that money hit their bank account because it goes directly to the Treasury.
"The simple philosophy behind this law is that everybody should pay their fair share, so we can reduce the burden, lower the interest rate."
Addressing complaints that the bill overly empowers the finance minister, Al-Rawi said the Constitution says that office holder has control over TT's finances.