KINGSTON –– Newly appointed opposition leader Dr Peter Phillips yesterday pledged to challenge government’s increase in property tax as his first order of business.
The increase, which took effect April 1, forms part of plans to fund the cost of the second tranche of the income tax give-back promised to 252,000 taxpayers earning up to $1.5 million annually. That also took effect April 1.
The move, which will see property tax liabilities being based on the adoption of the 2013 valuation roll, has drawn criticism from Jamaicans, including members of the private sector.
Last month, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association urged stakeholders to withhold payments until there is consultation with government.
Phillips, who was yesterday sworn in as opposition leader at a King’s House ceremony, told the Jamaica Observer that it is the responsibility of the opposition to be vigilant in defending and protecting the interest of Jamaicans.
He said the vexed property tax issue is an immediate one that the opposition will be speaking on when it comes up in parliament.
“We certainly don’t think that the property taxes are tenable. We hope the government has the good sense to withdraw from it and this party is certainly going to be taking the strongest possible position,” he told the Observer.
Finance Minister Audley Shaw said a valuation was done in 2013 and property taxes have not been adjusted since then to take account of that valuation. The last adjustment that was done, he said, took into account the 2002 valuations.
Phillips was finance minister in 2013.
In the meantime, the opposition leader said matters, including special areas of operations for the security forces, will be looked at as the opposition has very strong views about them.
He dismissed government’s plans to give more power to the security forces as an ineffective method of solving the country’s crime problem, arguing that the solution to crime is not to be rooted in having the state “unleash more violence” on the people or in passing laws that “take away people’s rights”.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness tabled the Law Reform Bill last month, which seeks to establish a legal framework in which he may declare any high-crime area of Jamaica a zone for special security operations and community development measures.
It will authorise members of the security forces to search places, vehicles or people within specific areas without a warrant.
“Beyond that, we are respectful of the constitution and the laws of Jamaica and we will always be committed to upholding the laws and constitution of the country to ensure that the sovereign powers, the constitutional orders, the democracy, which our party struggled so hard to secure for Jamaica, are in fact protected and preserved,” Phillips said.
Added to that, he said politically, and as president of the People’s National Party, he has “a lot of work” to do.
He explained that work needs to be done to ensure that the fundamental traditions of the party are maintained and upheld.
“. . . Traditions involving groups doing community work and political work; traditions regarding stimulating a public dialogue about policies and programmes that can improve the quality of life of the people and also to put focus on political education and our membership,” he said, are high on his agenda.