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Major clash over property taxes expected in Gordon House today

Published:Monday | April 3, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson

Government and opposition lawmakers are set to clash at Gordon House today when the controversial revised property tax system comes up for scheduled debate.

The Cabinet had its usual Monday meeting yesterday, and up to press time, there was no conclusion on the review that Information Minister Senator Ruel Reid promised would be done, following outcry from citizens and powerful interest groups.

Briefing The Gleaner yesterday afternoon, Reid, who has insisted that the Government cannot change land valuations, said that he would give an update tomorrow at a post-Cabinet press briefing but disclosed that focus would be on how some groups can get relief.

Members of parliament from both sides of the political divide are expected to trade arguments this afternoon when they start debate in the House of Representatives on two pieces of legislation - An Act to Amend the Property Tax Act and An Act to Amend the Land Valuation Act.

Those bits of legislation will formalise the 2013 land valuation rates that the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, the Realtors' Association of Jamaica, and the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association have been speaking out against.

The new rates took effect on Saturday and will result in about 65 per cent of property owners facing a range of increases. The last valuation was done in 2002.

The Opposition People's National Party, which should have implemented the new system, said going ahead with the rates was "unconscionable" and "wicked, immoral, unjust, and borders on being inhumane".

Yesterday, the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) joined other interest groups and appealed to the Government to increase the percentage of property tax that is waived for lands used in farming.

Meris Haughton, chief corporate communications officer at Tax Administration Jamaica, has said property owners with lands in agricultural use could get up to 50 per cent of their taxes waived.

"The JAS finds the [new valuation] oppressive, anti-growth and anti-productive, and instead of the farmers milking the cows, the Government will end up milking the farmers and the sector," said JAS President Norman Grant.