JAMAICANS who continue to dodge their property tax obligations are being warned that the patience of the authority is wearing thin and will result in punitive action.
The warning has been issued by Calvert Thomas, senior director of the Revenue Enhancement and Resource Mobilisation Division in the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development. He is peeved that many people are not paying their taxes, though having the means to.
"I call them troublesome delinquents. These people are very aware of what obtains, they have the ability to pay but have decided not to; they are willing to sit and wait. We would like to advise them that the situation has changed," Thomas told the Jamaica Observer's Monday Exchange forum this week.
"While we encourage you to voluntarily come in and pay your property taxes, that accommodation which we have been providing is drawing very close to not being there anymore and we will work with whatsoever legislative authority that exists to ensure that persons who are troublesome come in and pay, and come in very soon," he said.
He said while the authority has been hampered by outdated legislation, there are still avenues it can pursue to get desired results.
"We have seen generally that the existing legislative framework pertaining to property tax is what we call archaic. In the early 1990s, the Government had indicated that the legislation in place, the Quit Rents Act, was archaic and needed to be updated. We have still not gotten that update although things are in train to address them," Thomas noted.
"That substantively is the main legislative instrument we have to ensure that
if persons are delinquent in a manner that you would say is deliberate, that you would seek to use to seize, sell, collect what is due
and then deem whatever is left to the person. It is so cumbersome that, as far as I know, it has not been utilised maybe in the last 10 or more years to bring persons to book," he explained.
That, however, should be small comfort to troublesome delinquents, he said.
"We might not be able to turn around and seize properties, but we are employing other measures to ensure that those who can afford to pay, those who know they have a responsibility to pay, those who know the law and believe they can get around it, that has now changed," Thomas told editors and reporters.
For people who operate businesses and fail to make payments, the days are shortened, Thomas cautioned.
"What did not obtain until now is that if you are applying for a Tax Compliance Certificate (TCC), which allows you to do a number of business activities, the compliance in terms of payment of property taxes was not a part of the requirement. The directive has been given for that now to be the case and, therefore, very shortly persons who have business, who are seeking to get their TCC, what we are saying to them is that if you have properties and you have not made any arrangements to address your arrears you will have a difficulty in obtaining your TCC," Thomas said.
He said at the local level, contractors or individuals doing subdivisional approvals, whereby they are dividing lands for apartments, will be required by their local authority to demonstrate compliance with property taxes.
"There are other measures we are trying to address. When you look at it, we have been very accommodating throughout this fiscal year. Penalties have not been imposed on any arrears that are due (as required by law)," Thomas pointed out.