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Someone could be paying your taxes to claim your land later!

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, December 10, 2009    

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STATE minister for local government, Robert Montague has raised an alarm over unscrupulous persons who have been swindling persons out of their land holdings.

Montague, speaking at this week's Monday Exchange meeting of Observer editors and reporters in Kingston, said the Government has been dragging a number of persons before the courts for fraud in this respect.

"People come to the (parish) councils, go through the returned property tax notices; they know the parcel of land they have identified and they pick up that notice and they pay the taxes.

"If it is an old person, when that person dies they turn up to the family to say they had an arrangement that they were to pay up the taxes and take care of the person who agreed that they should get the land after their death," Montague said.

"When the councils get the property tax notices they try to distribute them but people return them because the tax notice is not in their name," the state minister added.

"The other racket is to just quietly pay the taxes on a piece of land that nobody is taking (care of), and then after the 12 years apply for adverse possession.

"We are saying even if you're not paying the taxes go find out who is paying the taxes for you," Montague urged.

"Many times we are there happy as a lark and somebody else is paying the taxes, you have a myth that family land can't sell, it is not true," he said.

Meanwhile, Montague said councils were asked to cash in on the assets of the local authorities which were underutilised and in some cases unidentified.

"We are collaborating with the National Land Agency in getting the cadastral map to locate the 700,000 parcels of land in Jamaica and identify those who are paying taxes and those who are not," he said, noting that many councils were asset rich.

Montague said a number of parish councils have been discovering properties they did not know they had, through a just completed audit. He was, however, unable to say the number of additional properties identified.

"A lot of these councils did not know they had some of these lands," he said, pointing out that the authorities stood to collect 'millions' in this way.

In pointing out that the law does not give local authorities sole jurisdiction over property tax collection, Montague said the Department of Local Government has been working with the Inland Revenue Department to collect monies owed but said they were behind in collection figures and are owed almost $5 billion.

"We are already behind. The tax obligation this year is $2.2 billion. Currently, we are at 58 per cent compliance. It is much more difficult to provide the services when we are not collecting every dollar. That is why the drive is on to collect as much as we can," Montague said.

He said the administration has also dragged persons before the courts for delinquency.

"We have and are taking persons to court. What we have now is a joint taskforce with the Inland Revenue Department and they are now out there in the field seizing people's assets.

"If you owe taxes on a bit of property anything they find on that property when he comes, he is authorised to seize. They have been seizing cars, phones, cameras... anything except the body and we have been seeing a little upswing," he told the meeting.

Ten per cent of the property taxes collected in a parish goes back to parish councils but the minister said not enough property tax was being collected.

According to the last property tax collection profile (2007/08), only $1.8 billion of the $2.2 billion in taxes was collected. Compliance at the time had risen from a low of 39 per cent to 44 per cent.

The Hanover Parish Council was at the time rated as the lead council for realising a 61 per cent compliance for property tax collection when it collected more than $56.8 million of the $68.2 million target at the time.

The parish of Trelawny had ranked lowest with a 33 per cent compliance, only collecting $37.9 million of the $59.7 million target.

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