Editorial

Go after tax dodgers instead

Wednesday, April 23, 2014    

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TODAY we return to the issue of that most cruel, unconscionable and unprincipled tax to be ever imposed by a government — the withdrawal fee, or 'ATM tax'.

We find it difficult to believe that even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would have asked for such a tax as part of any agreement in a country which has already soaked up so much suffering. And we certainly find it even more difficult to believe that it could come under a People's National Party (PNP) Administration. Where now is its boast that this is PNP country?

We are not even going to belabour the point that Dr Peter Phillips, the finance minister, deceived the country into believing that there would be no new taxes, since the need might have arisen after his promise.

But telling us, as he did yesterday at his press conference, that the revenue-raising measures announced in his Budget presentation last week were the "least disruptive" of the options that were available is not even close to a consolation. This withdrawal fee shows that, rather than do the difficult work of going after tax dodgers, the Government prefers to plunder the already emasculated taxpayer.

Let us take him up on his indication that the Administration is willing to review any workable recommendation from stakeholders in the wider society. We believe that the measure would have better served the country and brought in more money if it had been used to go after those large numbers of people and entities who are not paying their taxes. The Government should not continue to opt for the easy road.

If they are convinced that they need to impose this ATM tax, then apply it to those whose name do not appear on the income tax roll. A special desk could be established in the tax department for people to seek redress if they believe and have proof that their names are on the tax roll but are being asked to pay the ATM tax.

At the very least, let the tax apply for a limited period of time, say no more than 18 months, while the long-promised crackdown is intensified against the tax thieves. We recall that when a similarly burdensome 2.5 per cent tax was imposed on income for certain category of persons under the Bruce Golding Administration, it was for a limited time which was honoured.

We have, in this space, been very supportive of the tough measures that the Government has had to impose under the IMF agreement, because we don't see any alternative to lifting our country out of the perennial economic crises. The Jamaican people have been extremely patient and understanding for the same reason.

However, the Government now seems to be taking that patience for granted. It can claim no moral authority, because despite years of announcements that it would be going after tax dodgers, precious little has been done in that regard. After all, it is so easy to 'hol' dung-tek weh' money from those who can't hide.

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