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Supermarket Association President Rajiv Diptee.

T&T is getting set to reintroduce Property Tax as one of the revenue streams which is expected to bring in millions of dollars for the Treasury.

While there is no specific date given for the rollout, the Government has started laying the foundation. They are attempting to populate the valuation roll. The Government has put out advertisements calling on citizens to file information on property and land ownership with the Valuations Division, Ministry of Finance. If citizens fail to do so by the end of November 2021, they can face a fine of $5,000. Guardian Media sought the opinion of several people on the Property Tax.

President of the Supermarket Association

Supermarket Association of T&T President Rajiv Diptee said the timing to reintroduce the Property Tax during a period of transitioned reopening of the economy does not exactly inspire confidence when it is easy to highlight the cash strapped plights of individuals and families who have been affected over the last 18 months by COVID-19.

“The economic conundrum of loss of earnings and revenues, the ability to maintain and retain consistent employment against a backdrop of the increased cost of living makes Property Tax a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you consider that the maintenance of cash flows should be a core goal of fiscal policy measures.

“These should, in fact, encourage faster tax refunds in principle while offsetting loss provisions including the provision for the same mooted tax on the table.

“The Government will be keenly aware of the not yet measured psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on a population emerging from lockdown, a population which has been stratified between essential and non-essential, vaccinated and unvaccinated and a population seeking confidence in the longer-term planning of the uncertain landscape ahead of them.”

He said an empathic approach that has compassion aligned to fiscal oversight will go a long way not just for today’s leaders but tomorrow’s also.

Diptee said what we really need was quality of care, a standard of service, a careful approach to send the right messages and signal to a population keenly concerned about income support, stable employment and laser-focused visionary guidance to show them the captains of the ship weren’t simply seeking an avenue for recurrent expenditure.

He explained that new fiscal measures should support those who have been hardest hit as it had been identified that social grants and other relief measures can only stretch so much for families and individuals.

Diptee outlined a paradigm that existed in the population, whether fair or unfair, that perpetuated the perception that not enough was done with citizens’ tax dollars from a holistic point of view.

He expressed that the Maslow hierarchy of needs of families and people cajole them to expect and access running water, electricity, roadworthiness and so much more from their utilitarian point of view.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation which states that five categories of human needs dictate an individual’s behaviour; physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualisation needs. According to Diptee, much will be expected to be delivered from a Property Tax in this regard.

He added that the unprecedented nature of COVID-19 should allow the population to reflect carefully on what new tax measures are to be contemplated while reconsidering traditional ones.

Diptee opined that adapting a tax structure that took long-term recovery with short-term stimuli in place shaped the approach to the post-COVID-19 environment as people must recognise that tax collection was likely to be reduced for a prolonged period.

Government overtaxing the people–President of the TTADA

President of the T&T Automotive Dealers Association (TTADA), Visham Babwah believes that at this point absolutely no new taxes should be implemented, no taxes should be increased and dropped on the population.

“Everything will have a devastating effect right now on the people who have endured almost two years in the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses closing down, people out of jobs; it’s a Draconian measure.

“No country has implemented new taxes and imposed them on their people in these times. They should instead look at assisting citizens as many have not received any assistance from Government.”

As a businessman, Babwah said he pays all types of taxes. “I pay personal income tax, when I import vehicles I pay customs duty, motor vehicle tax and VAT after I have to pay corporation tax, Green Fund, and business levy. I cannot understand where the money is being spent.”

Commenting on the Government’s “talk about building a road to go to Toco for a planned port,” he said “the Pt Lisas port and the port in Port-of-Spain are not generating profit why build another port, it’s just wasting money.”

He believes that the Government is overtaxing the people. “The Property Tax is not something you can get away from, they can take your house, the Government has to be heartless to do this at this point.”

Babwah suggested that the Government put policies in place for business people who are creating employment and should facilitate ease of doing business to create jobs unless they want to pauperise the people.

Homeowners speak

Retiree, Paradise Gardens, Tacarigua

“I feel the Property Tax is necessary to pay for amenities like garbage collecting and infrastructure maintenance.

However, what they plan to do now is a Draconian measure, to make up for the losses incurred in the last two years from householders who are mostly retired like me with their small income, National Insurance small pension, National Insurance or Government old age pension.

They may also not have medical insurance, can’t depend too much on public health care, the little money has to stretch out for light, water, and groceries which have all risen.

They’re hoping to catch people with their pants down to default and hit you the $5,000 fine, to get more money than the Property Tax.

From my observation people doing the Property Tax evaluation have not been properly trained in determining a property’s value.

They have no clue by just watching outside the home’s walls especially if you have two 18-year-old evaluators taking pictures of your property without your knowledge who probably come from a depressed area and have a preconceived notion of what a property should be worth…”

Kay Millington, housewife, Santa Cruz

“I am 56 years old and since I was small we have been paying Property Tax.

So for me, not one thing’s wrong with that. We need to be more responsible, the country has to run.”

Belix: You can’t tax lands belonging to Indigenous Peoples

Arima businessman and President/Cacique of the Partners For First Peoples Development Roger Belix says no government has the right to tax native peoples’ lands.

He said if this was done th Government would be reneging on the agreements T&T was a signatory to in the UN declaration that protected the collective and individual rights of Indigenous Peoples in relation to self-government, land, education, employment, health and other areas.

In light of the Government’s move to implement the Property Tax, Belix said “In 2007 the T&T Government signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Just like other places in the Americas, Indigenous Peoples cannot be taxed or penalised for existing on their native land.

“We as descendants of native people, we need to get our land claims and resources dealt with after 500 years of illegal occupation of our ancestors’ claims.

“Since the invasion from the various colonial governments, recent governments have taken over some of the responsibilities of negotiating with people of indigenous blood their rights to claims of their ancestral past.”

He cited two articles in the UN declaration to justify the First Peoples’ claims.

Article 10: ‘Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.’

Article 11, par 2: ‘States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.’

Belix explained that if someone was a descendant, he had to prove his family link to Indigenous Peoples when it came down to inheriting ancestral land and rights issues.

He said that there was representation by other groups who were not connected to the church or politically affiliated such as the Waraos from San Fernando. According to Belix the various groups will meet to come to a common decision.

Belix opined that the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community cannot represent because they are under the auspices of the Catholic Church which had to make proclamations for them as they gave the church the responsibility to negotiate on their behalf.

He said First Peoples were never compensated by the church and the British for appropriating their land–in Tobago it was the French, Dutch, British and the church.

Meanwhile, Shaman Rauold Simon of the Warao Community of San Fernando said their members had been clamouring for a long while before the institution of the Property Tax that they had been robbed of their land by European colonialists.

Simon declared that if taking away their land was not enough, the same institution wanted them to pay for it when they extracted the oil and riches for which they and their ancestors were never paid.

He said Indigenous Peoples were still on the losing end, placed in the gutter and treated as inhuman. Simon maintained that after the Government signed the UN declaration its present taxation plan was shameless and terrible.

He insisted that First Peoples were not going to adhere to it, the land was theirs and it was free for everyone.

Simon said they will continue their struggle using legal avenues and will also be launching two books to correct the colonial-centric history of Indigenous Peoples.

Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Ricardo Bharath did not respond to WhatsApp queries regarding the Property Tax.