FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert said the Government could not risk having important legislation failing in the Parliament and affecting this country’s relationship with the Global Forum.
Imbert refuted Opposition Chief Whip David Lee’s claim that the Government “shut down” the debate on the adoption of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) Report on the Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters Bill, the Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill and the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill.
Lee stated the Opposition had agreed since Monday that it would support the bill when it came before the House at Wednesday’s sitting.
He said the act of not submitting a minority report was a clear indicator that not only was the Opposition prepared to act in the national interest but it would have paved the way for productive debate, one which would have aired holistic views but ended with a positive outcome for our nation.
Lee stated that the Opposition was willing to lend support although the Government, in a “disingenuous manner”, prevented Opposition MP Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie from contributing to the debate.
“As a matter of fact, as Opposition Chief Whip, when I realised that the Government was adjourning the debate, I urged the Government bench from across the aisle to “take the vote”. To our disbelief, they adjourned the House of Representatives for the next two weeks,” he stated.
“Our approach at yesterday’s debate was never to play politics but we also had a duty to highlight the fact that despite this Government’s rants on the urgency of passing this legislation, it is they who prolonged the completion of work at the JSC level for over two years. We had a duty to inform the Government that our compliance could have been improved if they had been more proactive as they have been in office for over four and half years controlling both the legislature as well as executive,” he added.
Lee stated that the population must take full notice that T&T’s non-compliance and presence on the Global Forum blacklist falls squarely on this Government as it is they who lacked the political will to go forward with passing the legislation.
He reiterated that the Opposition would support the bill when the report is returned to the Parliament.
Contacted by the Express for comment, Imbert described Lee’s release as “deliberate misinformation”.
“The Opposition was asked repeatedly in the debate yesterday whether they were supporting the legislation or not. In fact, the Attorney General sat down twice and gave way to the Member for Caroni East and the Member for Naparima so that they could state categorically whether the UNC was supporting the legislation or not. Both MPs refused to say anything,” he stated via message.
Imbert said Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh also alleged that the UNC members on the JSC had submitted a minority report raising a number of concerns “which was simply not true.”
The minister stated that Lee also chose not to inform the Leader of Government Business or himself, as the Minister piloting the Global Forum Bills, whether they were supporting the legislation.
“This story about shutting down the debate therefore is nonsense. In typical fashion, the UNC is trying to dig itself out of a hole because they were embarrassed during the debate. We, on the other hand, could not risk a vote yesterday because of their behaviour and unwillingness to say whether they were supporting the legislation or not, because if the bills had failed (they require a special majority), we could not bring them back in this parliamentary term.
“This would have further damaged our relationship with the Global Forum and created all sorts of problems for Trinidad and Tobago citizens. However, now that the UNC has finally agreed to support the bills, we will complete the debate and committee stage at the next sitting of Parliament,” said Imbert.