Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler Tuesday tabled an amendment to the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) Act with the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) immediately warning of possible court action, should the Bill be passed into law.
“It will not get the blessing of these Opposition benches in trying to achieve a two-thirds majority. Now, the Minister of Finance hates lawyers but has now developed a new found love for the courts. He is in court tomorrow. He did not go before the Public Accounts Committee, but he is going to court tomorrow,” said Opposition spokesman Dale Marshall, in apparent reference to the recent court action taken by Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell to stop Sinckler from removing him from his post.
“I venture that if this Bill is passed . . . the Minister of Finance will have to go to court a little more,” Marshall insisted.
The Bill, if passed, will require all persons wishing to convey property to first make an application for a tax clearance certificate, which will only be issued if “all taxes, interest and penalties are paid, or if no less than ten per cent of the taxes, interest and penalties, which have been accrued, have been paid, as required under the Income Tax Act, the Land Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act and the Value Added Tax Act”.
The Bill also allows for the issuance of a provisional tax clearance certificate.
However, Marshall complained that there was no public consultation on the Bill, which he said stood to impede the ability of thousands of Barbadians to own a piece of the rock.
He argued that it should be sent before a select committee for “careful” review before it was returned to the House of Assembly for debate.
“It might make his tax collection efficient but it will destroy the financing community in Barbados, it will stop people from selling land, it will remove all those attributes of a modern society that Barbados has claimed as our home. I, for one Mr Speaker, will bow my head in shame if this Parliament were to allow this Bill to pass. Courts eventually determine the constitutionality of legislation. I would urge the minister to take into account the cautionary views of 1,200 or 1,400 trained lawyers,” said Marshall, who is also attorney-at-law.
Just Monday the Barbados Bar Association warned that the proposed amendments to the BRA Act would have “unconstitutional implications” and would “cause more mischief than it cures”.
However, leading off the debate in Parliament Tuesday morning on the proposed amendment, Sinckler defended the move, saying it was time to put a stop to tax evasion.
Sinckler, who has come under immense pressure in recent times over the performance of the economy, dismissed suggestions from lawyers that the changes were unconstitutional.
And while acknowledging that laws were not always perfect, the Minister of Finance said based on “knowledge and advice” there were too many instances of people, who were indebted to Government, able to dispose of property without paying what they owed.
“We have seen that happen on many, many occasions, where people have transactions, some in the millions of dollars, and owing the Government $100,000 or $200,000 in taxes, but take all onto themselves, pay the lawyers and they are happy as they go off to the bank to deposit their fees,” said Sinckler.