FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert said the Opposition UNC are confused about the reasons why Trinidad and Tobago needs a revenue authority and could not address TT's revenue shortfalls during their five years in office.
Imbert made these observations as he concluded debate on the TT Revenue Authority Bill 2021 in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Referring to the eight opposition MPs who contributed to debate on the bill in the House, which began on November 12, he said seven of them (inclusive of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar) fell into one of two categories.
"Rambling incoherence and irrelevancy and we don't need a revenue authority, you should just fix the public service."
Princes Town MP Barry Padarath was the only opposition MP who tried to make a coherent contribution to the debate. But Imbert said, "In his (Padarath's) research, he got everything all wrong."
Recent data shows that countries such as Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Paraguay, Rwanda and Vietnam, showed they all benefited after they established revenue authorities.
"There was a more than 100 per cent increase in revenue in tax collection, after the establishment of a revenue authority in those countries."
Closer to home, Imbert said Guyana saw increases in revenue from tax collection of six per cent in 2016, seven per cent in 2017 and 2018 and 14 per cent in 2019, after a revenue authority was established there.
"These are real life examples. This is not talk. This is not rhetoric. This is not rambling. This is not incoherency. These are facts."
The record also showed the UNC, as part of the former UNC-led People's Partnership coalition, did nothing to fill revenue gaps between May 24, 2010 and September 7, 2015
"They couldn't solve the problem of understaffing in the BIR (Board of Inland Revenue) and the Customs Department." The former NAR (1986-1991) and UNC (1995-2001) governments, Imbert continued, could not solve the problem either.
The contributions of all eight opposition MPs in the debate had a common thread. Imbert described that as "a lot of misunderstanding as to the real situation."
Earlier in the sitting, Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis dismissed claims from Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh that the job security of public officers at the BIR and the Customs and Excise Division were in jeopardy with the establishment of the authority (which will replace both entities).
She reminded MPs, the bill clearly spelt out that public officers have the option to retire voluntarily, transfer to the authority or be relocated elsewhere in the public service. Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales slammed the Opposition for attempting to weaponise the bill and mislead the public about the true intentions of the authority.
Imbert paused his wind-up contribution to allow Robinson-Regis, who is also Leader of Government Business, to adjourn the House to a date to be fixed. In doing so, she acknowledged that Friday would have been private members day and promised Opposition Whip David Lee that the Opposition would be given a date in December to make up for this month's private members day not being held.
Robinson-Regis said, "I know my friend (Lee) will now protest but he has his job to do."
As she sat down, Lee stood up and asked Robinson-Regis how soon would the Opposition be given a new date for private members day. He added that Robinson-Regis told him he would be advised of this at the earliest possible opportunity.
Robinson-Regis replied, "I have prided myself on being consistent and honest. My character will not be impugned."
Lee countered, "I never said anything against my friend's character."
Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde told Robinson-Regis and Lee that he would not allow a back and forth argument to ensue between the government and opposition benches on this issue. Robinson-Regis reiterated her earlier commitment to Lee and the House was adjourned to a date to be fixed.