Anti-tax protestors in Providenciales last week
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- With the possibility of an eleventh new tax being introduced by the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) on the heels of recently announced business licence increases, local residents and the media are all centering their attention on those making news on this issue.
The opposition People Democratic Movement (PDM) spokespersons had their comments at a press conference last Wednesday repeated over and over during television coverage.
The brother of Premier Rufus Ewing, PDM MP Goldray Ewing, who never fails to criticise his brother, said, “This is a government which includes Rufus ruination, Washy taxation, and PNP demolition while we as a people are having their needs and concerns ignored.”
At the same conference, opposition leader Sharlene Catrwright Robinson spoke about the tax issue: “This government has taken a dictatorial position for ruling in this democracy. No additional taxation is acceptable. No member of the opposition will be voting for any additional taxation and definitely not the payroll taxation. According to the constitution any new taxation must be brought to the House of Assembly. If they bring it we will kill it!”
The PDM leader also spoke about her concept of financial management, saying: “An income tax is not a broad based tax, as many are unemployed. The taxation of the tourism industry, both those that visit our resorts and those that arrive by cruise ship, plus the customs duty, are broad based taxes and are adequate to do everything government needs to do but only if we get rid of the terrible health plan which is currently costing the TCI $61 million per year.”
After a protest march and rally at a local church last week, when the bishop, Coleta Williams, was seen wearing an anti taxation sign and going on to say that he is disappointed in the Rufus Ewing leadership because of lack of representation, the premier conducted a special press conference from his office.
“I am taking taxation from many and putting it to what is important to us. I believe that people have the right to the views and to express themselves. However, those that agree with us (agree to the new taxes being necessary) are less vocal. I also disagree with the call that the people of this country are not being represented. If you come to me for a job in the civil service and I decide you cannot qualify or there is other reasons you cannot obtain that job that does not mean I am not representing you,” Ewing said.
A number of local residents, described by local television as “a small turnout”, participated in the march, all carrying signs.
Former premier Michael Misick was interviewed and said, “I am PNP to the bone and I am not frightened, I love God and I believe in God. Now that I have matured I disagree with my brother’s policy on this tax. I don't believe that we owe $200 million in taxes. This government has chosen the wrong path and they should be cutting expenses.”
Misick’s comments appear to ignore the fact that it was his 2003-2009 administration that began the path to higher taxes, raising all licence fees, increasing the gasoline tax, and signing an agreement with utility monopoly Fortis to allow it to pass on fuel escalation costs. His government also diverted millions from the sale of Crown land to ministers’ private accounts while the ministers in question paid Misick finders fees for allowing them to buy land at huge discounts and sell them immediately to the ultimate developers for millions in profits.
Deputy premier and finance minister in the previous Progressive National Party (PNP) administration Floyd Hall, in his last two budget presentations, said he was facing the implementation of an income (payroll) tax and/or a property tax to fund the then PNP government.
It was current PNP premier Rufus Ewing who, according the chief financial officer Hugh McGarel-Groves and former PNP minister of health Karen Delancy, played a central role in establishing the National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP), which has since cut back on primary care and sends many secondary care patients overseas, all at a collective cost of $61 million per year. McGarel-Groves called the NHIP a “financial disaster.”
Meanwhile, at the anti-taxation protest rally, current finance minister Washington Misick and his brother Michael Misick engaged in a public spat over the proposed tax increases.
Michael Misick told those present that the British interim government had taken out a $260 million loan and borrowed the money from themselves and were trying to pay themselves back. Washington Misick retorted that this was nonsense.
“We owe $170 million and the money was used to pay off the debts of at least 50 suppliers and therefore we as a people owe the money and must pay it back,” Washington Misick said.
The finance minister added, “I am 63-years-old and it is my goal to set up an income for the country which can carry this country forward when I retire.”
Williams said that the Rufus Ewing and Washington Misick-led government had imposed ten new taxes on the population and enough was enough.
One young person asked why the $9 million budgeted for the special investigation and prosecution team (SIPT) has priority over the people’s needs. What was not addressed, however, is that $5 million of this is allocated to defend the former ministers and their family members on various corruption and fraud related charges.
On the sidelines of the march and rally, the PDM leader and deputy were seen collecting signatures on a petition to refer the tax increases to a voter referendum.