|PROPERTY TAX IN COURT |
JADA LOUTOO Saturday, May 13 2017
AN ALL out attack has been launched against Government on the implementation of the property tax. In separate strikes, legal letters were fired off yesterday by a battery of lawyers representing three landowners threatening to take Government to court for what has been described as an “ambush” on citizens.
Two of the actions seek to have the courts review the implementation process of the controversial tax while the third is a constitutional challenge to the property tax. In the judicial review and constitutional claims former transport minister Devant Maharaj, United National Congress activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj and Chaguanas resident Lutchmidat Ramcallie, are asking the Government to hold its hand on the implementation of the Property Tax until it amends the legislative provisions and before the court determines the actions.
Government has been given until next week to respond otherwise the three will approach the courts with their legal challenges.
In the constitutional claim, which will be argued by a team of attorneys led by Senior Counsel Avory Sinanan, Ramcallie has argued that it appeared that the Government was simply motivated to collect as much money as it could by collecting property taxes as opposed to collecting the taxes according to law.
Sinanan and his team have asked the Government to reconsider the manner in which it is seeking to implement property taxes and repeal the unconstitutional provisions of the Property Tax Act. In their challenge, the Maharajs - who are represented by a team of attorneys led by former attorney general Anand Ramlogan SC, argued that they felt the public has been ambushed by the government and the haste with which it has moved to implement the property tax in flagrant disregard of the enshrined fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution means that the government has been prepared to sacrifice the rule of law on the altar of political expediency.” Ramlogan contends that under the 2009 Act, the deadline for the filing of any Valuation Return Form (VRF) was April 1, 2010.
He argued that if citizens had failed to do so by that time, the commissioner had six months to forewarn them that they could be prosecuted for non-compliance.
Ramlogan said no amendment was made to the Act and, as such, the State cannot simply impose a new deadline for the filing of the VRF.
“April 1, 2010, having come and gone, the only power which the commissioner has under Section 6 is the power under Section 6 (2) to call upon the owner ‘to file a return failing which he may be liable to conviction under this section’. Thus, the Commissioner will effectively be seeking to forewarn about the risk of and/or initiate criminal prosecution some seven (7) years after the grounds for same arose and some six and a half years after the deadline for doing so expired under section 33 of the Summary Courts Act.
This is plainly untenable,” he said.
“The government cannot impose the property tax without a lawful assessment and hence the mad rush to do so for the sake of raising much needed revenue from a financially beleaguered public without reference to the rule of law is reminiscent of the proverb “the way to hell is paved with good intentions,” Ramlogan maintained.
He stressed that the Finance Minister could not simply bypass Parliament and impose a new deadline without amending section 6. “This is a most serious violation of the most basic and elementary principles of constitutional law,” Ramlogan wrote.