A 54-year-old businessman from Westmoorings, accused of fraudulently renting out two barges owned by the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA), has been granted $2 m bail.
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Govt starts rolling out property tax measures
Less than two months after the Government has been given the all-clear to resume its property tax collection, the Ministry of Finance has embarked on an exercise to measure properties belonging to citizens who submitted their information.
Approximately 80 officers from two leading accounting firms have been hired to carry out the valuations over a three-year period. There are unconfirmed reports that they have been retained for a salary of $12,000 per month with a $4,500 travelling allowance.
However, members of the public are concerned about the level of secrecy surrounding the process. Although some people have started receiving calls from officers reportedly assigned to the Valuation Division wanting to schedule home visits, no public notices have been issued informing people that the process has officially started and what it would entail. Neither has any information been posted to the ministry's website.
At least three homeowners residing in El Socorro, Barataria, and Aranguez confirmed they had received calls but were unable to accommodate the officers as it was "too short notice."
The El Socorro resident said "I don't have a problem paying taxes but there is a principle via which they should be operating."
The woman questioned: "Why does there need to be so much secrecy surrounding this issue, especially given the crime situation now?"
Revealing her brother had been among those who initially submitted the information before May 22, 2017, the woman said they were caught off-guard when contacted and although they agreed, they later changed their minds after they began feeling "uneasy."
Homeowners were urged to submit property tax forms to any of the eight Valuation Division offices after Finance Minister Colm Imbert cited the Valuations Act of 2009, which empowers the Commissioner of Valuations to "require all land owners to submit a return and all supporting information."
Property owners were required to submit an assessment form and documents including a lease or deed, along with a utility bill, and their last land and building tax receipt. Some people, however, refused to comply with the instruction. A database has reportedly been compiled using the submitted forms and it is based on this, that citizens are being contacted.
'Ministry of Finance confirmed the process has started'
The woman said "I called the Corporate Communications Department at the Ministry of Finance to get more information and they confirmed that they had started the process of going out to measure homes."
Asked if a public notice had been issued, she said the worker indicated "They had not yet gotten all the relevant information from the Valuation Division to start publishing the public notices and would be unable to say when that process will start."
The woman said when she pressed the worker to say how the public would be able to identify these people, she was informed that they would be wearing jerseys which had not yet been printed, along with an identification badge.
The woman said she was told that homeowners were being contacted based on the submission of forms.
The Barataria homeowner recounted her experience on social media: "They called me about three weeks ago asking to come by to take measurements. I asked if all the information was given to you, why do you need to come to my property to take measurements?"
Confirming her property had been approved both by the Town & Country Division and the Regional Authority, the woman said she was told they needed "To make sure what we submitted is correct."
When the property owner challenged the worker to take up the issue with either division, she said she was never contacted again.
The woman is appealing to the ministry to "Tell me what is really going on!"
Another social media user responded "Not me! Anyone come calling and I don’t know you, I’m not answering. This place in a big mess, I not taking any chances."
Refusing to reveal where she lived, a third woman said "They called me and told me they were coming to measure the property. I got the name and identification number of the person who called and I verified that she was working at the Valuation Division.
"About seven of them came to my home and measured the perimeter of the house. They didn't come inside but asked questions about how many rooms, AC, bathrooms, finishings etc. They said they are creating a database of everybody's property but they aren't in charge of the taxes, obviously the information will be used to assess how much property tax you pay."
A word of caution from one social media user: "I hope you don't let anyone in/on your property until the ministry has issued some guidelines," while another wrote, "D Government operating like a thief in d nite, lol!
Efforts to get a response from Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West were unsuccessful and calls to the ministry's Communications Department proved to be equally frustrating as officials were uncooperative. The contact number for the Valuation Division went unanswered.
State Free to Move Ahead with Property Tax
In March, High Court Judge Jacqueline Wilson dismissed the constitutional challenge of former UNC minister Devant Maharaj in a 22-page written decision, after he questioned the validity of the enforcement of the tax.
Maharaj had challenged the legality of the Commissioner of Valuations' decision requiring all property owners to submit a valuation return form, claiming it was illegal and infringed on his rights.
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