At Friday’s sitting of the National Assembly, Government sought to amend a slew of legislations but not without facing much rejections and objections from the members on the opposite side of the House.
During the consideration of the Income Tax Amendment Bill 2016, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) parliamentarian and Shadow Finance Minister, Irfaan Ali, shred the new measures that the Coalition Administration eventually used its one seat majority to pass in the National Assembly.
Ali took Finance Minister Winston Jordan, who presented the Bill for second reading, to task pointing out that the amendments to the Income Tax Act would result in a Government Minister having the final say and becoming involved directly in determining the eligibility of persons and what could be granted.
He was referring to the specific amendment that permits income tax exemption for artistes at various festivities, which are approved by the Ministry of Tourism and the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
He said it would also mean that the minister would still enjoy discretion in defining what a festivity is and laying down the guidelines to ensure that an event is eligible for a tax exemption.
Moreover, the Opposition front-bencher went onto talk about the adjustment of the Income Tax threshold, ripping the Coalition Government apart on why it could not raise the ceiling to $100,000 as promised on its pre-elections campaign trail. He stressed that all members of the National Assembly have a moral and ethical responsibility as part of their social contract to develop laws that are in keeping with their commitment to the people.
“When we are elected to this house, people elect us based on trust and belief in what we promise to offer them during the elections campaign,” he stated while outlining that Government sought to offer no convincing case that the country cannot afford to set the threshold at $100,000 as promised.
Ali posited that that if the Minister is moving away from that commitment, then the least he could have done is to present a case to justify the reason why that target cannot be achieved at this time.
“I think the Honourable Minister of Finance owes the nation a responsibility, moreso, his supporters the responsibility to outline why is it this promise cannot be achieved,” the Shadow Finance Minister opined while adding that with all the legislations being implemented to collect revenues, Government is sure to raise the threshold to at least $75,000, which he said is a sustainable rate.
On the other hand, Ali turned his attention to the other amendment to the Income Tax Act that allows for tax refunds to be paid on other amounts owed to GRA before the remaining sums, if any, are paid to the taxpayer. He explained that while the Opposition is in full support of any measure that will reduce the burden on tax payers, one of which is the efficient and reliable processing of tax returns and refunds.
“Any measure the Minister of Finance brings that would see businessmen, for example, getting back their VAT (Value-Added Tax) refunds in a timely manner, we are going to support that measure.
However, we cannot support the argument that the commissioner general is now empower to off-set taxes, the net-off effect. This is in contravention of the FMAA (Fiscal Management and Accountability Act),” he outlined.
According to Ali, the latitude and discretion that is being place on the GRA Commissioner General and Minister of Finance marks a “dangerous road” that government is embarking on, noting that it is more than discretionary. In fact, the Opposition MP said it is absolute power in the letting off of taxes and this can lead to many challenges.