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Union leaders unite in Senate - Brown, Gayle back call to remove discretion from telephone tax bill

Published:Friday | March 31, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson

Union leaders in the Senate last Friday ignored party lines as they joined a call from Leader of Opposition Business Mark Golding for changes to the legislation legalising the collection of taxes on telephone calls since 2012.

Senators approved the Telephone Calls Tax Act, 2017 and the Telephone Calls Tax (Validation and Indemnification) Act, 2017 that legalised the Government's collection of more than $25 billion in taxes.

In July 2012, Parliament approved a provisional order for the imposition of the tax.

Orders have maximum nine-month life, after which a law is required to make the tax permanent. That was not done and collections so far have been unlawful.

Golding took issue with the Clause eight in the Telephone Calls Tax Act, 2017 that allows the commissioner of taxes to use discretion in dealing with service providers which fail to turn over the taxes on time.

"It's a rather odd provision," said Golding, as he added that he expected there would have been specific mention of interests to be charged on the outstanding taxes.

"Instead, what we're told is that the commissioner general may, if satisfied that the delay is not due to wilful neglect or default on the part of the carrier, specify the time within which the tax is to be paid.

"It seems very slack to me. You have a deadline in the law for paying a tax and if you don't pay it there ought to be a financial penalty for that. We're not talking about small business; we're talking about companies that are generating billions of dollars of revenue and profits," added Golding

That argument won support from Opposition Senator Lambert Brown, the president of the University and Allied Workers Union, and Government Senator Kavan Gayle, who heads the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union.

"These are multinationals that we're dealing with. If you and I don't pay our taxes on time, there are penalties that we must face," said Gayle. "These multinationals make billions of dollars, they should not be extended this [discretion]."

Kamina Johnson Smith, leader of government business in the Senate, rejected the calls for change, as she argued that according to technocrats, the discretion is in all tax-related bills.

The legislation was approved with nine amendments and so will have to return to the House of Representatives, which gave its approval on March 16.