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Gary Aboud, Corporate Secretary of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS).

Public officers should only be entitled to one new vehicle based on a reasonable lifespan of the vehicle – suggested at every eight years – and there should be a “cap” on their vehicle tax exemption at $173,000 or less.

The recommendation came yesterday from Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) following recent reports of the type of luxurious vehicles which Parliamentarians have been enjoying with their tax exemptions.

Parliamentarians on Government and Opposition sides all enjoy tax exemptions on vehicles as part of the perks of their office.

Yesterday, information arose of a $1 million-plus tax exemption which United National Congress deputy leader David Lee received on his $2m Mercedes Benz. The exemption was stated in a May 2019 letter from the Inland Revenue of the Finance Ministry to the Comptroller of Customs. The letter stated a total of $1, 461, 292. 65 in taxes was exempted from the price of the Mercedes Benz AMG G63. The vehicle’s cost was stated as $2, 344, 752 .16.

Lee was in yesterday’s 2021 Budget debate and didn’t respond to queries on the exemption.

Last week, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who’d lashed Government on the exemptions, called on Government to take a five per cent pay cut and put the money in a fund to feed the disadvantaged. If they did, she said the Opposition would do same. She said UNC MPs were also told to increase efforts to assist people in their constituencies.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said last Saturday that he’ll respond to Persad-Bissessar in the Budget debate. Rowley will be among Government speakers concluding Lower House debate tomorrow (Wed) or Thursday.

Yesterday, however, the FFOS stated, “During Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s time in power, she was asked to put a cap and refused. The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the poverty gap and yet it seems that the exclusive club of public officials have coined a new slogan of ‘make the poor pay’. Our “sensitive” PM should reconvene the Salary Review Commission.”

It added, “Instead of depriving the poor and hungry, public officers should only be entitled to one new vehicle based on a reasonable lifespan of the vehicle suggested at every eight years and instead should follow the advice of the 2013 Salary Review Commission and cap the vehicle tax exemption enjoyed by all public officials at $173,000.00’ or less, and that at every eight years.

“Ordinary citizens are being told to suffer in silence and that their strife is inevitable. Even the Finance Minister urging us to conserve foreign exchange, has imported three multi-million-dollar luxury vehicles within five years.

Noting the lifespan of a new vehicle is a minimum of five to 15 years, the FFOS said, “What reason does a single minister have to import three different vehicles in five years? Our Government and senior public officers should have a conscience and make some sacrifices to share the burden instead of taxing the life out of an already burdened middle class, in what appears to be an insensitive gluttony. ”

The FFOS stated it was very concerned about “the robust defence” which Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and his Parliamentary colleagues had mounted regarding their alleged abuse of motor vehicle tax exemptions.

“In what can only be described as the most incredulous statement of 2020, our AG, responding to queries to why it was necessary for him to purchase three brand new Porsche Macans within the past five years, remarked ‘So what’s the point?’

“To respond, the point is that a country already broken by a five-month lockdown, complete removal of fuel subsidies, shortage of foreign exchange, collapse of oil/gas revenue, an expanding budgetary deficit and the looming threat of property tax, is being told these are trying times that necessitate ‘belt-tightening’ yet, in the same breath they refuse to part with millions upon millions of lavish, unnecessary perks.”