Allegations of unfairness in the imposition of tax levies on non-governmental organizations helping the disabled made by MP Edmund Hinkson, led to much crosstalk in the House of Assembly yesterday, forcing Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to argue that tax breaks are indeed given NGOs.
Speaking during debate on a resolution to grant 25,000 square feet of land on a 25-year lease to Rotary Club of Barbados South for construction of a facility for children with disabilities, Hinkson pointed to a land tax charge to the club, and spoke of a vehicle for transporting disabled persons stuck at the port for six months pending payment of $52,000 in levies.
Rebutting the charges, Sinckler said there was an overall Government scheme to grant tax waivers to such volunteer organizations. He added that instances like the bus being stuck in the port were due to late notifications to his ministry that such items needing a waiver were being brought into the island.
The resolution seeks to permit Rotary South to build a play area on lands of the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex, enabling children with disabilities to enjoy recreation alongside those who are not challenged.
Reacting to Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth Minister Stephen Lashley’s statement that the club holding the lease will pay land taxes, Hinkson argued that the arrangement was wrong because those to whom land was leased did not pay the tax.
“I query whether that is the best way to approach this matter. Of course, land vested in the Crown is exempt from payment of land tax,” said Hinkson. “You are now going to be asking a service organization, that out of the kindness of its heart is helping Government in terms of creating a recreational facility, to pay land tax on over half-acre of land and on a building after it is constructed. I think that is fundamentally wrong.
He went on: “The Rotary is not an organization that generates profit . . . . It is a service organization, and to ask it to pay land tax on land that it doesn’t own but only leases is not fair.”
Sinckler countered by explaining that it was the norm for governments to grant tax concessions to non-governmental organizations.
“We will continue to do so. Some come as charities and under the Charities Act are entitled to get tax waivers.”
Assuring that Government would grant a waiver on the bus currently stuck at the port, the Minister of Finance said: “The problem is if people would follow the procedures, that bus would not have been there. People have to respect the procedures. Come to the Ministry of Finance first, get your letter of waiver and go and get your equipment. Not the other way around.”