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Senate President Christine Kangaloo during yesterday’s sitting of the Senate.

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The Government succeeded in getting the T&T Revenue Authority Bill, 2018 passed in the Upper House yesterday with support from the Independent bench.

Around 2.30 pm, Senate President Christine Kangaloo read out the division of 26-6 in favour of the passage. The Bill will now go to the House of Representatives for debate.

The bill seeks to establish the Revenue Authority (TTRA), an autonomous revenue collection body to replace and absorb the primary functions of the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) and the Customs and Excise Division (CED).

In presenting the bill in May 2018, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the TTRA will enhance public revenue, resulting in higher tax ratios and revenue growth while reducing tax evasion.

In her contribution yesterday, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West reiterated Independent Senator Patrick Viera’s statement that the COVID-19 pandemic showed how much people depend on the State.

Viera said it was more important now that an efficient tax collection system was implemented.

West took a jab at those citizens who boast of their independence from the State and who claim that they do not benefit from tax collection.

“Every member of society in some form or fashion is stepping forward to the Government and saying, ‘you need to provide this for me. You need to not only to let me go back out to work, but I cannot pay my employees while they are home because I am earning no income. I can’t pay my rent, my interest payments are too high, I need relief to ensure that my business continues, I need tax relief, I need more direct relief.

“The government is working on all of these things. But the government cannot provide that support to all members of society when the government itself is out of funds.”

She continued: “Don’t you think it unfair to say to people who have been working and paying their taxes all of these decades that we are taking this little bit of money and we can only give you $1,500? Because we don’t only have to take care of you, but we have to take care of the masses of people who have not been contributing to the coffers over the years.”

The bill got through the committee stage without amendments, but there were requests for clarification. Clause 18 (2) of the bill stated that public officers employed with the BIR or CED can either voluntarily retire from the Public Service on terms and conditions negotiated with the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO), transfer to the Revenue Authority or remain in the Public Service but in a different office that is on par with his or her previous function.

Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine questioned how employees would be treated if an agreement with the CPO is not reached. In response, West said the Service Commission Department got instructions to identify the various positions that are line with the qualifications and experience of those employees who chose to remain in the public service.

She said training for the new positions in the proposed TTRA has not started in the absence of legislation. But in mapping out the operations, the Ministry found that more people will be required than what currently exists in the BIR and CED. She said the TTRA required manpower was around 2000.

West recognised that one of the objections to the bill was the Minister of Finance’s power to appoint the TTRA’s board of directors.

She said the board’s responsibility was to formulate and implement management policies. It would not be involved in the administration of tax collection, therefore not exposing taxpayers and staff to those members.

She said there should be no problems in allowing the minister to appoint a board for this purpose.

She added that this system would allow the officer-in-charge of tax administration to focus on that role. Currently, the chairman of the BIR and Comptroller of Customs has to deal with, remuneration, staff and maintenance matters, which West believes takes away from the time spent on the technical aspects of their jobs.

“We need somebody completely focused on the collection of taxes, protection of the borders and collection of duties and excise. We are dividing the powers between technical, which has to do with the collection of taxes and administration, which the board will handle.

“It is only when we do that, we can have people properly focused on what they are required to do, therefore, better able to do those jobs.”

She said the legislation prevents the minister and the Board from getting involved in the TTRA’s operation.Under the legislation, the minister would also appoint the director-general, who will oversee tax collection.

However, West said that a clause was added to allow for that appointment to be subjected to affirmative resolution of the Parliament, which is the same process for appointing the Commissioner of Police.

The Senate was adjourned to May 5 when the government proposes to deal with Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, 2020 and the Administration of Justice (Electronic Monitoring) Amendment Bill of 2020.