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Senate approves controversial legislation with new amendments

Tax bill passed

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 31, 2014    

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THE Senate yesterday passed two controversial tax bills — the Tax Collections (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and the Tax Penalties (Harmonisation) Act — after the Government fulfilled its promise to amend the controversial provisions.

The bills were passed in the House of Representatives last week Wednesday, despite strong challenges from Opposition spokesman on finance and planning, Audley Shaw. His objections eventually led to the Government announcing plans to bring significant changes to the provisions during the Senate debate.

Senator Mark Golding, the minister of justice, who piloted the bills, introduced the amendments which also delayed the operational date of the bills to October, from August 1.

The amendments reversed the initial decision to give the commissioner general of Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) powers to require persons to pay over sums owed to a tax debtor in lieu of outstanding taxes. One of the amendments allows the commissioner general to recover these sums as a civil debt owed to the TAJ, through the courts.

It also removed the provisions which would have empowered the commissioner general to place a lien on the property of tax debtors without a specific court order, through the issue of a certificate showing the amount owed.

The new amendment states that the commissioner general may make an application to the Supreme Court for an order to have registered, in the court, a certificate that has been issued by the TAJ.

An application under this sub-section would have to be made in accordance with rules of court and will be heard by a single judge in chamber.

In addition, the amendments reverse the earlier decision to allow the commissioner general to apply payments made by tax debtors firstly to interest, penalties and surcharge before applying any to the principal owed.

The amendment passed yesterday states that payments should be applied, firstly, to any principal that is payable and next to any interest, penalty and surcharge in that order.

The debate on the bills lasted more than three hours before being approved.

Senator Nigel Clarke, the main speaker for the Opposition, said that he sympathised with those Jamaicans who felt threatened by the additional powers contemplated for the commissioner general under the provisions of the bills.

"I am sympathetic to those who fear the enlarging of the powers of the State without checks and balances and adequate accountability, and those who fear victimisation, abuse of power, error and exuberance," Senator Clarke said.

However, Senator Golding insisted that the amendments brought to the Senate yesterday were in keeping with the Government's determination to build consensus on the necessity for economic reform generally and specifically, in this instance, to create a more tax-compliant environment.

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