T&T government, opposition at odds over FATCA Bill
The main opposition United National Congress (UNC) maintained its position of not supporting the Trinidad and Tobago government passage of legislation to comply with the Financial Accounts Tax Compliance
Act (FATCA) following talks Monday with leading bankers and private-sector representatives.
"We're maintaining our position for JSC (joint select committee) examination of the legislation, since we, the opposition, aren't the be-all and end-all of scrutiny," UNC Chairman Dr David Lee told reporters following talks with the Bankers' Association (BATT) and American Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AmCham).
The FATCA legislation demands that foreign banks provide information to America's Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on any customer deemed a 'US person' if they have more than US$50,000.
Washington said that the legislation aims to crack down on tax dodgers who hide hundreds of millions of US dollars in offshore accounts annually in an effort to avoid paying taxes.
The government has warned that failure to pass the law could result in financial institutions/US citizens suffering a 30 per cent withholding tax on US-sourced income. Online transactions could also be halted, affecting remittances as well as Trinidad and Tobago's banking system and economy.
The United States has given Trinidad and Tobago until February next year to pass the legislation, but both the Keith Rowley government and the opposition remain at odds over how to approach its passage.
The UNC, which has boycotted the last sitting of Parliament when the bill was being debated, insists on a JSC examining the proposed legislation, but Attorney General Faris Al Rawi said the opposition legislators must first come to Parliament in order to have any discussion on the matter. The government needs the opposition support to get the required special majority to pass the bill.
"What magic is there in a JSC where a maximum of 12 people can sit?" Al Rawi said, adding that "it is by far more sensible for a committee of the whole (House of Representatives) to operate and we are at the stage of a committee of the whole right now".
Lee told reporters that there are other stakeholders, including "UWI (University of the West Indies) legal luminaries, who have views on the legislation and that could add further amendments.
"We shared our position on the JSC, and time lines on the issue. They didn't tell us the JSC is needed, but we explained why we feel it's critical," Lee said, adding that the BATT had requested that the opposition consider the legislation based on amendments made recently.
"They said they hoped government and opposition will get together for proper dialogue to ensure the legislation is passed within the deadline.
"We need other input on the legislation since neither the PNM nor UNC sides in Parliament have financial analysts who can serve the purpose if the legislation is examined by the Lower House alone. That leaves a lot to be desired. But a JSC would facilitate such experts."
Last week, the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce appealed to government and the opposition to speedily pass the legislation to avoid "the severe, costly and far-reaching implications of non-compliance".
AmCham TT said also "we believe that there is no need for a joint select committee to be set up to review the Tax Information Exchange Bill.
"The minor amendments which may now be desired can be made without going to a JSC, which will unnecessarily delay the passage of the legislation within the timeline which T&T itself provided to the government of the United States of America."
Debate on the bill will resume in January next year.