NONSENSE! Phillips says Revenue Administration Act amendment no spy business
John Myers, Jr, Gleaner Writer
Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips has dismissed suggestions that a move to amend the Revenue Administration Act to allow tax authorities to collect information on taxpayers and make disclosures to foreign authorities is tantamount to espionage.
"No, nonsense!" Phillips said, as he addressed senior journalists of The Gleaner yesterday.
"There is nothing that is untoward or even controversial about the provisions of the Revenue Administration Act," he said.
Opposition spokesman on finance Audley Shaw had described the bill as financial terrorism on the part of the Government, but Phillips said the legislation originated with the administration of which Shaw was a member.
He also warned against what he termed incendiary language, saying it could have serious implication for the country.
According to Phillips, creating the notion that there is an "undemocratic, terroristic attitude to financial management in Jamaica is not only false but it damages the country's reputation".
Meantime, Phillips said that based on many studies, revenue leakage due to tax evasion is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars.
He said the bill which is being passed will assist in creating a tax system in which each person pays their fair share.
"The inequity of the arrangements whereby many of the people who can least afford it carry the greater part of the burden, and where organisations that have vast liabilities in multiples of the resources secured from the PAYE tax earner, that sense of the inequity is at the heart of a lot of the social issues that we face that there is not one law for everyone and that some people are required, to bear the burden more than others and carry Jamaica forward," Phillips said.
Following a marathon debate in the House of Representatives that ended near midnight Wednesday, a bill approving amendments to the Revenue Administration Act, was passed.
The parliamentary opposition, which vigorously objected to some of the proposed amendments, complained that it gave the commissioner general of Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) excessive powers and would also authorise the disclosure of sensitive information on Jamaica's taxpayers to foreign authorities.
But Phillips countered, saying the TAJ would have to first get approval from the court to probe any taxpayer, and disclosures would be done in accordance with local and international tax treaties.
"The standards that are in our legislation not only exist already, (but) it doesn't add any power which is not already in the act," Phillips emphasised.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, during the heated debate in the Lower House, contended that, "This stretches the jurisdiction of the Jamaican tax authority to now act as an agent for a foreign State against its citizens".
Holness warned: "That's a very dangerous amendment!
"Anyone in any business could now become a spy for the tax authority."
eradicate tax evasion
But Phillips, in his meeting with Gleaner journalists at the newspaper's office in downtown Kingston, rejected the claim, pointing out that the amendments have put Jamaica in line with current global trends of the developed world to eradicate tax evasion and enhance efforts to establish the island as a competitive destination to conduct business and make investments.
"There is no doubt that the general trend in the world economy is to eliminate opportunities for entities to avoid taxation. If you look at the present trends, the logic of economic-policy decisions among the multilateral agencies, the organisations or groupings like the G8 and also individual countries with the leverage is to eliminate these options.
"This is going to be a fundamental requirement if Jamaica is to be competitive in becoming a global business centre," Phillips said.
In the meantime, Phillips said he sought and received permission to disclose cabinet minutes during Wednesday's debate.
"The appropriate authority to give me that exemption is the prime minister of Jamaica, who did," Phillips said.
The Senate will consider the bill during its sitting today.