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Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

In the midst of all that is going on right now in the fight to stave off the spread of the COVID-19 virus here in Trinidad and Tobago, citizens are being advised to make sure and pay their taxes.

This was the advice from Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday, as he said the country needs all the money it can get to be able to deal with the financial difficulties currently being faced as a result of the COVID-19 fallout.

Imbert made the comment as he hosted a virtual media conference utilising Zoom to provide updates on the revenue for fiscal 2020, the planned Salary Relief Grant and other financial matters.

During the question and answer segment, Imbert was asked if Government would consider the deferral of tax payments at this time to help citizens.

“Well, the problem with that is that that is cutting off your nose to spite your face because we have to give people help, so where is the money supposed to come from?” Imbert said.

“If we were to say yes we will defer collection of taxes, we will allow people not to pay taxes, then where is the money coming from to produce the Salary Relief Grant and all the assistance to businesses. So at this time no we cannot defer it. It is unfortunate but that’s just how it is we need every single cent.”

As a result of the dramatic collapse in oil prices internationally and reduced income from natural gas, Imbert said this country is expected to have a shortfall in budgeted revenue of around $7 billion. For the first quarter of this year alone, he said the shortfall was $700 million while the revenue collected this quarter from taxes and customs and excise amounted to $3.6 billion. The Government originally estimated collecting $4.3 billion.

In addition to this, the Government is now also faced with $2 billion in unanticipated expenditure as it assists citizens affected by COVID-19 financially, as well as having to pay off outstanding bills to help companies access funds during this difficult economic time.

“We have to try and collect as much tax as we can. I have heard this request but it doesn’t really make any sense in the context of asking the Government to help.

“The only way the Government can help is if we try and collect as much taxes as we possibly can,” Imbert said.

One source of funds that the country can expect to get is US$450 million from the major multi-lateral financial institutions, Imbert said.

One of the integral measures put in place by the Government to help citizens who may lose their jobs at this time is the provision of a monthly Salary Relief Grant of $1,500 for three months.

Imbert said the first phase of this grant is intended to assist those who are currently registered in the National Insurance database.

He stressed that the grant is not intended to replace the affected person’s salary but instead meant to offer them some relief at this time if they were involuntarily terminated because of COVID-19 health and safety measures.

Imbert said 80,000 are estimated to be eligible for this phase of the grant.

Phase two of the grant is expected to address self-employed individuals and those who are not enrolled in the NIS system, he said.