AG: D Day for Income Tax Amendment Bill
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said Friday was ‘D-Day’ to pass critical legislation which would prevent the country from being blacklisted by financial institutions in the European Union.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday at the Ministry’s office in Port of Spain, Al-Rawi said he met with European Union Ambassador Daniela Tramacere in Barbados concerning the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), who expressed concern over Trinidad and Tobago’s position.
Debate on the Income Tax Amendment Bill was due to continue on Friday in Parliament, which Al-Rawi said is the last chance for Trinidad and Tobago to avoid being blacklisted.
“At the FATFN (Financial Action Task Force) there is deep concern that jurisdictions continue to meet the obligations set out by the Financial Action Task Force. Ambassador Tramacere said in no uncertain terms that Trinidad and Tobago will be blacklisted if we do not pass our legislation.”
“The Ambassador expressed deep concern that Trinidad and Tobago is standing as the only fully non-compliant entity in the entire global forum network of 154 countries.”
“Today is D-Day. Today is the day when we return to the committee stage, adjourned that committee stage for several weeks, to allow for discussions and communication between the Opposition and government,” he said.
Al-Rawi added that government has written to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and held discussions behind the Speaker’s chair for Opposition to put its concerns in writing.
However he said he received no confirmation that their correspondence was acknowledged.
“I am not aware that our correspondence was even acknowledged or safely received by the Leader of the Opposition.”
“Mrs Persad-Bissessar had reported that the Bill is somehow vague and wide, she said there was no provision for judicial scrutiny, she’s made a wild allegation that the government can somehow obtain taxpayers’ information.”
“I wish to address those by pointing you to the simple terms of the Bill. The only entities permitted access are the law enforcement entities, that is, the DPP’s office, insofar as the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), obtains information, and the FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) obtains information. There is a complete wall between the T&T Police and the FIU as it relates to any information which they may have.
“So Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s statement that this somehow allows for the government to get tax-paying information is absolute nonsense,” he said.
He added that the only ‘meaningful’ issue addressed by the Opposition Leader was a request to model the legislation after South African legislation by putting judicial permission for the TTPS and the FIU to obtain access to tax-paying information.
He said they did amend that part of the legislation at the request of Opposition.
However, Persad-Bissessar said in a statement that four other pieces of legislation must be passed in order to satisfy Global Forum deficiencies: The Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters Bill, 2018, the Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill, 2018, an amendment to the Companies Act and the BEPS framework legislation.
She said the bills need to be finalised as a ‘complete package’.
Persad-Bissessar said Opposition listed three issues in its minority report: lack of judicial scrutiny, data protection issues (privacy rights) and the application of the Bill to all Trinidad and Tobago citizens, not just EU citizens.
Al-Rawi referred to the resulting consequences of non-compliance as ‘death by a thousand cuts’.
“The consequences of non-compliance is death by a thousand cuts. This thing slowly finds itself into the application of what is called ‘de-risking’.”
“When the Global Forum publishes its report and this country is not able to respond by saying ‘we have passed the Income Tax Amendment Act’, we are going to be blacklisted and the application of sanctions will be death by a thousand cuts.”
“We have warned Trinidad and Tobago repeatedly over the course of two full years that this requirement had to be dealt with,” he said.
According to a Reuters report, European Union finance ministers removed Namibia from the bloc’s blacklist of tax havens on November 6, 2018.
The list now consists of five non-cooperative jurisdictions: American Samoa, Guam, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago and the US Virgin Islands.
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