On Tuesday, April 16, of this year, Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson, who is also minister of finance in the Turks and Caicos (TCI), presented her People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) government’s 2019/2020 draft budget before the House of Assembly that included a new tax policy introducing a General Sales Tax (GST) in the TCI that would be set to begin in March 2020. This new tax appears intended as a GST on goods and services.
On Tuesday, April 30, of this year, the premier announced to the public that her government had no intention of introducing new taxes for the upcoming fiscal year.
The contradiction between the draft budget presented by the premier and the premier’s public statement is too glaring to ignore because we know that no item could be included in the draft budget proposal without the approval and support of the premier who is also the minister of finance.
Without an explanation for this apparent contradiction, the premier has since posted a statement to her personal Facebook account indicating that there would be “No new tax, no GST” from her PDM government. Whether or not the draft budget proposal has since been amended, remains to be seen.
However, the ministry of finance, led by Cartwright-Robinson, has prepared and presented a Fiscal and Strategic Policy Statement (FSPS) that articulates the PDM government’s intention to implement new tax schemes by expressing that “Islanders will be asked to invest in the development plans of the islands to boost economic growth so as to safeguard our future prosperity and medium-term fiscal sustainability.” That last mystifying statement is minister double-speak for the PDM increasing tax rates on the working-class citizens of the TCI.
I respectfully submit that before this PDM government considers increasing tax rates on the already over-burdened working-class Turks and Caicos Islander, they consider asking persons who contribute little or nothing to the TCI economy, to make a reasonable contribution to paying their fair share.
Specifically, I submit that absentee foreign landowners who buy and hold property without making improvements that contribute to the economy, should, after a reasonable grace period, be required to pay a fair “property tax” on that unimproved property. That requirement should not apply to Belongers.
We, as Turks and Caicos Islander’s, have welcomed outsiders and foreigners to our shores and showered them with our unparalleled hospitality for as long as any of us can remember and I believe we should continue to do so.
An honest review of the tourism industries development here in the TCI would reveal that much of that development was co-funded by us as taxpayers through government subsidies and concessions to developers and investors that were not offered or available to Belongers.
Foreigners and outsiders who buy, build and develop in our Islands contribute to the TCI economy by creating jobs and commerce. We should continue to welcome these people with open arms. Foreigners and outsiders who buy vacant land, pay a modest transfer fee to the government and “park” their wealth while property prices escalate, contribute almost nothing to the economy.
We, as taxpayers, subsidize or did subsidize, by way of the high cost of water and electricity we pay, the cost for the utility companies to expand services and bring electricity and water to or near that vacant property. We, as taxpayers, subsidize or did subsidize, by way of government fees and taxes, installation of highways and roads to that vacant property.
Let’s be fair and honest. Asking an absentee owner of an unimproved property who has “parked” his wealth to pay an annual property tax of $200.00 to $500.00 per acre would not be an unfair or unreasonable request. Everybody needs to contribute.
And let us not forget that a new general sales tax on goods and services could have a negative impact on our tourism industry by further inflating the cost of vacationing in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
A “foreign-owned and unimproved property tax” will not fill our treasury but will move towards a more equitable tax system for working class Belongers.
I caution the PDM government; Every new tax on a Belonger has the potential to lower that Belonger’s standard of living.
May God bless all.