Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West

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When compared to the other Caribbean islands like Guyana, Barbados and Jamaica, T&T is ranked last in its ability to collect taxes. This is the contention of the Minister of Public Administration and Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West.

Speaking on CNC3’s the Morning Brew, West said: “T&T is the only one of those (Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica) that does not have a revenue authority. And when you look at its tax to GDP collection, it is at the bottom of the rung of those four.”

According to West, T&T is the least efficient tax authority in the Caribbean and that it is because, in her view, “we haven’t implemented the revenue authority system.”

West said a study recently done that illustrates that the tax gap (what the government collects in taxes opposed to what it should collect) was conservatively valued between $11 billion and $15 billion.

The minister said that the establishment of the T&T Revenue Authority (TTRA) also does not mean that there will be an increase in taxes.

West said, the “TTRA should mean just the opposite.” The minister explained that the government needs a certain amount of money to run the country every year, and as things happen like COVID-19, it will need more.

The Minister in the Ministry of Finance indicated that the government’s ability to efficiently collect taxes from the citizens who are required to pay them is what allows it to continue to operate the country.

“If there are a number of people in the society that are not paying taxes at all or paying taxes below the level that it should pay, what tends to happen, is that the compliant people who are the easiest ones to find, bear heavier burdens—and in those circumstances the government may be forced to increase taxes. “

Another concern that West addressed was the protection of people’s tax affairs. She indicated the Board will have no knowledge of people’s tax affairs and cannot get involved in that aspect.

According to West, the leader of the TTRA (the director general), who is to be appointed by the Minister of Finance, will not automatically fill the position, but “there will be a robust debate” for the appointment of the director general in the Parliament.

Currently, the Board of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise division all fall under the purview of the public service commission, which is responsible for the operation of the public service by and large, overseeing 60,000 employees.

West noted that the commission is responsible for interviewing these employees, appointing them, promoting them, disciplining them but expressed that the system is so unmanageable that it doesn’t work properly.

An example she gave is that promotions don’t go through as everything is moving at a curtailed rate because the commission has too big of a burden.

As a result, West said, “The two organisations are not properly staffed, they are both operating at average of about 50 per cent of the staffing and they have so much work to do and so little resources in terms of human capital to do it; that they cannot get on with the work.”

She continued to indicate that the Commission is periodically forced to determine which of its functions should be operational and which should be put on the back burner as it doesn’t have the capacity to perform all of the functions under its remit.