Govt’s Property Tax gamble – Trinidad and Tobago Guardian

The T&T Guardian newspaper interviewed Afra Raymond on the issue of the new property tax regime and its re-introduction into the country. Following is the article with the series of Q&As with Editor/Journalist Debra Wanser for the article, published on Sunday, Sep 19 2021. Click here to read the complete article on the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian website

The Government collected $143 million in 2009, the year that the old Property Taxes ended.

The current estimates of the Property Tax to be collected are to the tune of $504 million annually, so that is about three-and-a-half times more than what property owners paid in 2009, according to Afra Raymond, chartered surveyor and managing director of Raymond & Pierre Limited.

The revenue lost over the last 12 years since the axing of the tax could be more than $5.50 billion, Raymond estimated.

Raymond, a past president of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), said the move to implement the Property Tax would be widely unpopular at a time of many burning issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the existing socio-economic situations.

Raymond believes that with only a slim parliamentary majority, the introduction of the new Property Tax will be a considerable gamble for the Government.

T&T is getting set to reintroduce Property Tax as one of the revenue streams which is expected to bring in millions of dollars for the Treasury.

While there is no specific date given for the rollout, the Government has started laying the foundation. They are attempting to populate the valuation roll. The Government has put out advertisements calling on citizens to file information on property and land ownership with the Valuations Division, Ministry of Finance (MOF). If citizens fail to do so by the end of November 2021, they can face a fine of $5,000.

With this move, Property Tax can be levied on residential and commercial properties and agricultural lands.

Raymond felt that the objections from the Opposition United National Congress elements are bemusing, to say the least. This, he said, is for two reasons–”Firstly, the official record of tax collections from 1993 to 2009 as shown in the graph and table below. When the UNC was in power in the seven-year period 1995-2001, there was a dramatic and unexplained decline in the collections of Land & Building Taxes, which are collected in the non-municipal areas. That decline was reversed when the UNC left office. The table and chart give the details, based on my research in the official records of the Ministry of Finance.

“Secondly, the People’s Partnership (PP) used ‘Axe the Tax’ as a strong slogan in the 2010 general election which they won with 29 out of 41 seats. With that rare three-fifths majority in hand, there was tremendous scope for the PP to have lawfully changed or removed any laws or arrangements it wished, without any need for PNM support. Like the Property Tax, for instance. But that never happened, for whatever reason.”

Raymond answers questions on Property tax

You are of the view that the revision of the property tax is long overdue, can you elaborate on the need for this, please.

Yes, Property Tax is long overdue. The last time Property Tax was collected in T&T was in 2009, so 2022–which is next year, which is what is under discussion–would make that a total of 12 years that no taxes were paid by property owners. By any measure, that is a tremendous benefit that has been enjoyed by property owners. In the previous taxation system, the property taxes were called House Rates for the five Municipalities and Land & Building Taxes for the other parts of the country. The five municipalities are Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Point Fortin and Chaguanas.

The national totals of Property Tax paid in the period 1993-2009.
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