Devon Dick | Property taxes - phase it in
On Saturday, while driving from Oxford, England, to Sheffield - one segment of the journey as I started a tour to participate in discussions on justice issues - a conversation started with my friend, Wally, about taxation systems in Jamaica and England and how they compare. It dawned on me that one should not pay property taxes on one's primary place of residence. However, if there were additional houses or property then one would pay high property taxes. Furthermore, one should not pay transfer tax on houses below a certain threshold to help the persons at the lower end of the income level. No one should be required to pay property taxes annually on one's crib.
One should never have to suffer the indignity of being liable to be evicted from one's home because one cannot pay the property taxes or even have to go and seek a waiver to remain in one's home. Furthermore, the Government could not be serious about legitimate persons getting a waiver because if it were granted, then where would this additional $5 billion come from?
These thoughts are a result of the Government's new property tax regime of reducing the rate while using a different evaluation. A few retirees who are members of the Boulevard Baptist Church reported with alarm that their property taxes had increased by 300 per cent and they would be unable to pay it and wanted me to do something. The following day I was sharing at an executive meeting of the Jamaica Council of Churches the plight of pensioners, concerning the scale of increase, only to hear another pastor reveal that he has members who are facing 1,000 per cent increase! We heard the hoteliers saying that a member was facing a 900 per cent increase and they were encouraging their members not to pay.
The level of increase at one go is a justice issue. Is it fair? It is right? One can go to the powers that be and query an evaluation. However, it is not acceptable for persons to go and beg a waiver to pay such a large increase that has been imposed without consultation. Why should someone have to reveal their personal details with cap in hand to seek relief from an exorbitant sudden increase? This sharp and unconscionable increase needs urgent review.
Last week, there was a professor on the radio who was talking about taxes on sugary products, and the first point he made was that there should be consultation with stakeholders. That makes eminent sense. It was, therefore, shocking to learn that there were no consultation with hoteliers for such a massive increase. One would have expected that the Government would have tested these measures among focus groups.
There is also a role for moral suasion. The powers that be should use arguments to influence persons based on community spirit and patriotism to accept a proposal. It cannot be take it or leave it.
I spoke to a Cabinet minister about phasing in property taxes and he was amenable to the idea. It was, therefore, surprising that the minister of finance made no changes in the closing Budget Debate. We run the risk of deep discontent, distrust of the political process, and even unrest when we implement measures at such short notice, with such steep increases and serious implications. Tackle the lack of compliance in paying taxes and traffic tickets before this massive increase for so many persons. Otherwise, it will be the upright citizens who get shafted.
People and businesses have to plan their budgets and lives. Therefore, to get a month's notice for such huge increases is destabilising and distressing.
Let us phase in these increases over five years.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'.
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