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Big-stick approach not working - Malahoo Forte. Senator says society still lawless despite tough laws, wants new approach

Published:Monday | September 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Malahoo Forte

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

OPPOSITION Senator Marlene
Malahoo Forte has questioned the Government strategy to nab tax
evaders, arguing that it could further drive people underground.

contributing to the General Consumption Tax (Amendment) Act in the
Senate on Friday, Malahoo Forte said the provision in the bill for the
Commissioner General of Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) to register a
business where the operator has avoided doing so, and to impose taxes,
needed revision.

"I understand that it is tightening the screws
and I understand that we are going after those that would otherwise...
but a lot of people evade taxes. We are calling on people to come
forward and become part of the formal economy, but instead of
incentivising them in a positive way, we are scaring them away," the
opposition senator said.

The bill, which was passed with two
amendments, states that where the Commissioner General has reason to
believe that a person who is liable to be registered under the GCT Act
is not registered, he shall register that person and then issue that
person with a certificate of registration.

The registration of
that person by the Commissioner General would allow for taxes to be
collected from the taxpayer retroactively.

"It could be outright
dishonesty. It could be that they do not have the skills required to set
up and maintain a proper business," Malahoo Forte said as she expressed
discomfort with the provision.

She added: "You think a man is
going to go forward and say, 'I am going to join the tax compliant
population', only to find out that the moment you step forward, you are
going to be punished."

Malahoo Forte further argued that the
parliament should step back and ask itself whether the approach to
leading behaviour change through legislation is working.

Too many laws

day, we pass laws in this country and those laws fail to regulate the
behaviour of the people we are trying to get compliant. We have more
laws than you can think of, but yet it does not become the guide for the
behaviour. This country is lawless at every level and in every way and
we continue to do things the same way hoping for different results," the
opposition senator said.

Justice Minister Mark Golding, who
piloted the bill, refused to budge on the pleas of Malahoo Forte saying
the provision that she complained about is a "basic tax evasion device"
which is commonplace in "any country with a sophisticated tax system".

"It is indeed essential otherwise you are rewarding evasion," Golding said.

He noted that there is a right of objection to the registration as well as a right to appeal.

veteran legislator K.D. Knight said the senators erred in the past when
they took the position that money bills, sent from the House of
Representatives cannot be amended.

Malahoo Forte, who sought
clarity on the issue, recalled that she was told that no amendment can
be made to money bills and has been vilified in the Senate for taking a
contrary position.

Knight said the constitution and the convention
make it clear that amendments can be done to money bills as long as it
does not alter the substance of what was sent to it by the House of

The GCT bill was passed with two amendments and has been sent back to the House for consideration.