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Finance Minister Colm Imbert is seeking to dispel Board of Inland Revenue and Customs workers’ fears about job loss when the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) comes on stream. He insists “more staff is needed” at both divisions and is also optimistic tax collections will see a $5 billion jump with the advent of the authority, which he hopes will be operational by April next year.
Imbert estimates the country is losing between “$10 billion to $11 billion” annually because of leakages in tax collection at all levels, corporation, Value Added Tax and personal income tax and “if we get this right,” tax collection can increase, “by about $5 billion per year.”
Speaking on CNC3’s Morning Brew yesterday, Imbert said the country has a $10 billion budgetary gap to fill.
“We have to spend $50 billion and we can raise with the best will in the world $40 billion. I need that five billion. The country needs that $5 billion we will get from the Revenue Authority. This country cannot survive unless we increase tax collection by $5 billion. This is the over-riding motivation for me,” he said.
The Public Services Association (PSA), which represents public officers at both Customs and the BIR, is concerned about job losses with the advent of the TTRA.
But Imbert assured “we need more staff not less. Right now, as far as I am concerned the BIR is understaffed, it is missing 100-200 people. Customs is under staffed as well.”
He said for every person employed “there will be a benefit. If you spend $100,000 a year on one person they will earn $300,000 for the government. I am not of the belief that we need to cut staff.”
In addition, he said there are three options available to staff at both entities - they can transfer to the authority on terms no less favourable, they can stay in the public service in a position commensurate with their current position or they can utilise the option of retirement. He said those hired in the new entity will be offered “more attractive terms than they currently enjoy in the public service, with a proper incentive scheme based on performance.”
He said legislation to establish the authority should be brought to Parliament by mid-December and will be debated at the earliest opportunity. “So I would think by the end of January the debate will be over and the legislation passed. That is my expectation,” Imbert said, adding Government is working towards an April commencement in terms of proclamation on or before.
Imbert does not believe the legislation requires Opposition support either. He said having read a Privy Council judgement in a matter involving TT Post in 2004, “it is crystal clear once the exercise is done properly and people have been given options there is no need for special majority.”
As to concerns from the PSA about political interference with the appointment of the board and the CEO, Imbert assured “Government will make these appointments properly. We will have to be very careful that the people we pick are recognised as experts in their field and also that they will represent the public interest as well.”
Imbert said there are “significant advantages” to bringing BIR and Customs together.
“You get a sharing of information, that does not happen right now. If you can match imports of products to declared revenue, then you can get a handle on what taxation should be. You will have real time sharing of information.”
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