RADHICA DE SILVA
Its been five months since Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley promised to review the tax exemptions on vehicles granted to parliamentarians, with an aim of capping it at $350,000.
However, the Opposition says that has not happened.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, who was engaged in a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, deferred comment.
“In Cabinet, will revert,” he said via Whatsapp when asked to give an update on the government’s plans to bring an amendment to change the existing tax exemptions.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not respond to questions nor did Finance Minister Colm Imbert or Works Minister Rohan Sinanan.
However, Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said he always knew that the Prime Minister’s assurances were “mamaguy.”
“This matter is receiving the same urgent and equal attention of the Cabinet as the campaign finance reform law and Tobago self-government,” he said.
Moonilal added, “I always knew this was mamaguy meant to appease an upset citizenry in the aftermath of Ministers being ‘busted’ when purchasing multi-million dollar vehicles and sports cars.”
He further said, “ I guess the government will say COVID- 19 prevented them from attending to this matter as well.”
Princes Town MP Barry Padarath, who has been outspoken about the vehicle tax exemptions said, “As far as I am aware there has been nothing issued by way of the Cabinet or Salaries Review Commission on this matter.”
He added, “It would be the Office of the Parliament to implement any changes in this regard.” Padarath said he had not applied to purchase a new vehicle for this term.
“I can’t say since we do not know if anything has been put in place in terms of the amendments,” he added.
Last October, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he was open to reviewing tax exemptions enjoyed by Parliamentarians to ensure that the tax breaks are not being used for fraudulent purposes.
“In terms of exemptions on motor vehicles, I too am concerned because if those exemptions are being used for the purpose for which they are meant, I have no problem. But if they are being used to facilitate other people in the way that they have been then they require to be looked at,” Rowley had said.
He added, “When my colleague from Siparia invites me to join her I’ll say yes, because when your colleagues buy a vehicle for $2 million and it enjoys $1 million in tax exemption, and the vehicle is for the use of somebody else, then we need to look at exemptions.”
He said he planned to propose to the Cabinet that the average exemption on motor vehicles be capped at $350,000.
During the last Budget, the Government faced a backlash when Minister Imbert announced the clamping down of vehicle importation by removing tax breaks to obtain vehicles even as parliamentarians continue to receive tax concessions on motor vehicles.
A November 2019 letter from the ministry to the Customs and Excise Division stated Imbert, like all other Parliamentarians, was exempted from Value Added Tax (VAT), and motor vehicle and customs duty fees totalling $454,833.27 on a Mercedes Benz GLE 450. The letter stated the car cost $819,570.92