Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 5th 2017 Contents A6 news
guardian.co.tt Friday, May 5, 2017
out key issues
Stories by GAIL ALEXANDER
The big question for Govern-
ment resolve on whether squat-
ters will be paying property tax
is who's the owner of the land
they're squatting on.
Government has sought legal ad-
vice to examine whether squatters
on private lands and those with
buildings on state lands will have
to pay the tax, Finance Minister
Colm Imbert said yesterday. He said
the Attorney General has asked the
Solicitor General to examine the
"If someone is squatting on state
lands with a building they built, the
issue that needs to get legal clarity is
if they own the land," Imbert added.
Speaking to reporters at Gov-
ernment's weekly press briefing,
AG Faris Al-Rawi said it was a very
complicated issue, since one had to
be very careful that land is not given
Imbert and Al-Rawi both gave
various perspectives on how the sit-
uation was being viewed yesterday.
Imbert contended that if a squat-
ter has a building on land they don't
own, they'll have to pay property
tax on the building - not the land.
Al-Rawi claimed squatters with cer-
tificates of comfort for a property
may also have to pay property tax.
Imbert said, "If you don't own
the land and have a building on
the land, then property tax is due
on the building. If you've rented or
leased someone else's land, then you
own any building you put on it and
will be required to pay tax on that
He added, "Where the confusion
is coming up is whether the land
you're on isn't your land and wheth-
er you have to pay tax on the land."
Imbert said the Property tax Act
stated that property owned by the
state is exempted from tax.
"So the question is who is the
owner of the land? Once you've oc-
cupied it, you may have a certificate
of comfort, meaning you're along the
way to getting ownership. That's the
point the Prime Minister recently
made when he said the aspect con-
cerning squatters is very interesting.
He never said squatters have to pay
the property tax," Imbert said.
"The issue is, if as a squatter you
claim you own the land by posses-
sion if it - and it is that owners have
to pay the property tax - but when
time comes for you to pay, you say
you're not the owner of the land."
Imbert said he had to quote for-
mer Prime Minister Basdeo Panday,
who'd once said a person couldn't
be "half pregnant,
Imbert said, "It's either you're
pregnant or not. So it's either you're
the owner of the land or not. That's
the question to resolve.
"It's a very interesting situation
the Attorney General's office has to
distil, digest and drill down into to
answer that question - if you're the
owner of the land or not."
One had to examine matters in-
cluding how long a person was on
the land, nature of their claim, and
rights, he added.
Imbert delivers mid-year review next Wednesday
Government's mid-year re-
view statement will be delivered
next week Wednesday, Finance
Minister Colm Imbert revealed
Imbert confirmed the date in reply
to a T&T Guardian query following
yesterday's post-Cabinet media con-
He'd said last month the review
would have been in the first half of
May. The People's National Move-
ment (PNM) Government has, since
its first budget, had a review of the
budget six months after presentation.
Its last budget was in October 2016.
The review is done to give an ac-
count of the financial situation, state
any changes to the last budget and
make any announcements needed
concerning fiscal or other measures,
including any new ones.
Opposition MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie has
said the public would expect Imbert to
give facts on T&T's finances and the
state of the economy, as well as the ex-
tent of loan contracts entered into. He
also called for Imbert to list specific
projects initiated for this budgetary
cycle and how they will be paid for.
Tewarie added, "There should also
be some hint on where the minister
is heading with the 2018 budget.
He should account on what's been
achieved so far in the 2017 budget
and what's likely to be achieved by
the end of this budget cycle."
In view of T&T's current tight eco-
nomic situation, Opposition MP Rudy
Indarsingh also said Government's re-
view must obviously inform the coun-
try of the up to date official number
of those who have been retrenched
and lost jobs in T&T.
"With continuing job losses, Gov-
ernment's review must come clean on
the current figure," Indarsingh added.
"In tandem with that, Mr Imbert
must say what is Government's plan to
create employment and any proposed
legislative amendments to offer peo-
ple a softer landing following job loss,
such as amending the Retrenchment
And Severance Benefits Act and pos-
sibly creation of an Unemployment
Govt to decide
on waiver of
The question of whether Gov-
ernment will seek to collect ret-
roactive property tax from 2016
- as well as 2017 - will be "dealt
with in due course," Finance
Minister Colm Imbert has said.
"It will be a policy decision of
this Government to decide if we go
to Parliament and amend the tax law
to give a waiver of the tax for 2016.
Of course it depends on economic
circumstances and what revenues
are looking like, (but) we're far from
that decision," Imbert told report-
ers in reply to queries about a recent
Finance Ministry statement which
indicated the tax applies from 2016
Imbert said Government's Val-
uation Division was currently fo-
cused on assessment notices for
"We'll get to 2016 in due course
and the Cabinet will make an in-
formed decision on whether we'll
seek to collect tax for 2016 or if we'll
go to Parliament and waive it - but
we're far from that point," he said
at yesterday's post-Cabinet media
Imbert said under the current law,
the tax is due and payable for the
year 2016, up to and unless Gov-
ernment makes a policy decision to
amend the law. He said public serv-
ants had simply given the facts when
they were asked about it. But he said
speculation that Government would
seek collection of the tax from 2016
as well as 2017 was part of current
"rumour campaigns"on the matter.
Imbert explained the past govern-
ment had waived implementation
of the property tax collection up to
December 31, 2015.
"As it stands therefore, the prop-
erty tax act is the law, so the first year
of collection of tax was 2016. In or-
der for this not to happen, Govern-
ment will have to go to Parliament
and amend the Property Tax act to
allow a waiver of tax collection for
2016," he added.
"At this time our focus is on gath-
ering information and producing the
list of properties in T&T, assessing
the annual rentable values and as-
sessing what the tax will be on each
property based on location, type,
size, age, condition, etcetera.
"We're doing it for the year 2017.
We'll have to take a policy decision
to go to Parliament to amend the tax
law to waive the collection of tax for
2016 because that's the existing law
and the law must be implemented
unless you amend it."
Imbert continued, "I can say this,
Government hasn't taken any such
policy decision one way or the other
since what we're doing right now is
establishing the valuation rolls, as-
sessment notices, list of properties
and identifying owners. The ques-
tion of whether we'll seek to collect
(tax) for 2016 is a matter which we'll
deal with in due course."
Imbert was mum on whether the
May 22 deadline for submission of
residential valuation forms may be
A squatter settlement of King Wharf, San Fernando. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH
Will squatters have to pay property tax?
Al-Rawi said many people apply for
a certificate of comfort where the state
acknowledges they have squatters'
rights and they move from the certif-
icate-status eventually into a lease
granted by the state. In that situation,
Al-Rawi said squatters would say they
are owners of the property.
"And in those circumstances, the
advice given to us is that they'll be
entitled to pay taxes because you
can't claim you're the owner and be
recognised by the state as that and
not pay your taxes as land/property
Al-Rawi explained a person can ap-
ply to the courts to acquire state land
if they have been in uninterrupted pos-
session of it for 30 years. They can also
apply to courts to acquire private land
if they've had uninterrupted possession
for 16 years. People who haven't had
possession for that length of time will
have to separately claim for any build-
ing they've erected on the land.
Al-Rawi said Parliament will be
examining legislation for compulsory
registration of land to verify titles for all
lands. This starts in Tobago with an IDB
Imbert also said the projected $500
million in property tax revenue couldn't
fund Local Government services since
the Local Government sector oper-
ated on $2 billion. He said churches
and schools were exempted from the
tax, but Government had no plans to
tinker with the law to include "wealthy
churches," since it simply wanted to
implement the law at this point.
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