Property tax is being introduced at a bad time, says Watson Duke, political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP).
Speaking with Guardian Media at Crown Point on Tuesday, Duke said businessmen and householders are struggling, and pointed to the economic slowdown at Crown Point as an indicator of how bad the situation is in Tobago.
“It doesn’t seem to me that people are in a position to pay property tax because they have lost jobs. Coco Reef, a major hotel in the area, has shut down completely,” he said.
The PDP leader also noted that major hotels such as Grafton and Sunwing also have shut down for the year.
“Every major hotel on this side has shut down. The question is, where will ordinary people who are striving to make it find money in this ‘guava season’ to pay property tax? To me, it is draconian, it is punitive, and it is as if you are using the law to bully and badger people into becoming slaves,” he argued.
Duke said before property tax comes into being, there should be some discussion at the level of the Tobago House of Assembly.
“This is like a local county. If you were in the States, this is a county and the county should be responsible for treating with local taxes and therefore, it should be a matter for the THA to decide,” he said.
“This is why the PDP has been pushing for more autonomy or self-determination, which is the right of Tobagonians to decide in Tobago without any external influence its economic development—like how we want to raise money to generate economic growth, its social development and its own cultural development,” he explained.
He added: “We have not been given the opportunity to determine our own economic development in Tobago. So, Trinidad plans something for us and they say to Tobago do that. That cannot happen.”
Duke said once the PDP wins the elections, the property tax would not be forced on to the people of Tobago.
“They must come through the local THA. We must discuss that and we must determine for Tobagonians what they can and cannot pay,” he stated.
According to the PDP leader, for too long Tobagonians have had to suffer under laws designed for Trinidad. Citing the State of Emergency as an example, he argued that it “has cleaned out every single business in Tobago and brought an end to nightlife”.
Watson Duke also pointed out that the THA has been shut down for almost a year and was not a part of any discussions to implement the SOE.
“When will that election be we still don’t know,” he added.