PSA condemns Government's tax plans

PSA president Leroy Baptiste. - File photo
PSA president Leroy Baptiste. - File photo

PUBLIC Services Association (PSA) president Leroy Baptiste says the union has remained true to its word to take its challenge of the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) Act to the Privy Council.

In response to the Court of Appeal granting a limited stay of the operationalisation of the TTRA until September, the PSA's president chastised the Government for wanting to push ahead because it was "depending heavily on tighter and greater tax enforcement to raise revenue to run the country."

"The TTRA is earmarked to implement and enforce the dreaded property tax," Baptiste said.

On June 4, the Court of Appeal granted the PSA conditional leave to pursue its challenge at the Privy Council, as the application was not opposed by the State.

However, there was opposition to a stay being granted to halt the process. While agreeing not to grant an open-ended stay, Justices of Appeal Mark Mohammed, Charmaine Pemberton and Mira Dean-Armorer agreed to allow a stay until September 25.

The PSA has three days to file an appeal to the UK-based court and attorneys will return to the Court of Appeal to provide an update on the progression of the matter.

Baptiste was critical of an affidavit filed by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in opposition to a stay.

Imbert admitted the next three years would be challenging for Trinidad and Tobago from a revenue perspective. He also said unless additional tax revenue could be collected through improvements in tax administration, with a fully operational authority, "The Government will soon be faced with very difficult choices in terms of maintaining the current levels of subsidies, grants, free services and social programmes.”

He also said the Government could not continue to sustain budget deficits increasing government borrowings and government debt much longer while warning that international credit rating agencies have already cautioned the Government on the need to achieve fiscal consolidation or face rating downgrades.

"In the absence of increased tax revenues in the short term there are two options open to Government in terms of reducing government debt: reduce Government expenditure significantly; or withdraw funds from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund.

"However, both options will or may have adverse consequences and the latter is not sustainable."

He said to reduce budget deficits, if Government chose to reduce its planned expenditure, this would affect its ability to spend while also reducing the public sector investment programme.

Baptiste said, "The PSA condemns this plan to tax the nation into prosperity. Workers are already barely surviving and living paycheque to paycheque. Small and medium businesses are closing at a rapid rate and there is severe employment and underemployment.

"Trying to squeeze more tax out of our financially beleaguered work force through the TTRA via property tax is unfair, harsh and oppressive."

Baptiste said the PSA's lead attorney, Anand Ramlogan, SC, has advised it would be a breach of the rule of law if the TTRA were found to be unconstitutional by the Privy Council because it would have illegally collected taxes from citizens to their detriment.

"Workers would have to uproot themselves (from) their positions in the BIR and CED, only to find that their decision was based on a false legal premise because it would cause administrative chaos and confusion as workers would have to be retransferred back into their old positions.

"From the onset, the PSA gave the affected and aggrieved workers of the Inland Revenue Division and the Customs and Excise Division to take this case to the highest court in the land.

"We have remained true to our word and have fulfilled that commitment. We stand in solidarity with our members and vow to fight this legal battle to the very end."

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