By Peter Christopher,
The tax exemption on motor vehicles currently enjoyed by Parliamentarians and other public officers may soon be subject to a cap of $350,000.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the decision to propose the tax exemption cap as he wrapped up his contribution to the 2020/2021 Budget debate in Parliament yesterday.
“I will propose to my colleagues at the Cabinet because I am not going to unilaterally make a decision. Like I will propose to my colleagues at the Cabinet, the Cabinet take the position of the average exemption on motor vehicles be capped at $350,000 because, Madam Speaker, that will give you a fine car,” Rowley told the House.
The tax exemption enjoyed by MPs and other public officials, including judges, was again brought into question following Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s announcement in the Budget last week that numerous concessions on imported motorcars would be removed as a means to reduce the amount of foreign exchange expended on vehicle importation.
This has prompted the argument that while car prices increased for the common man, public officials such as MPs still were able to buy luxury vehicles at reduced prices, with some commentators pointing out that some of these vehicles bought on exemption were not even being used by Parliamentarians.
“In terms of exemptions from motor vehicles, Madam Speaker, I too am concerned. Because if those exemptions are being used for the purpose for which they are meant I have no problem, but if they are being used to facilitate other people in the way that they have been, then they are required to be looked at,” said Rowley, as he made passing reference to a car purchased by an Opposition MP which cost over $2 million dollars but was subject to over $1 million in exemptions.
Imbert also raised a query with regard to the purchase of that luxury car last year, as he closed the debate.
“Since his leader claims to be concerned for the poor and downtrodden, how it go look? How our concession go look? “ Imbert said.
“Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition can inquire of the member for Point-a-Pierre, why he use this tax exemption privileges to purchase in 2019 the most expensive car of all members of parliament probably in the history of this Parliament Madam Speaker,” Imbert said in reference to MP David Lee.
“A 4-litre Mercedes Benz AMG G63 valued at 2.3 million dollars and why that opposition member access the benefit of 1.4 million dollars in tax and duty concessions four times more and benefits accessed by most other MPs for a car which hardly ever drives to Parliament.”
Imbert also questioned why the vehicle was purchased through a New Zealand firm as opposed to a local dealer, as he noted declaration of income forms would have had to be signed had the car been purchased locally.
Imbert also questioned the purchases of Oropouche East MP Roodal Moonilal.
“An Opposition MP on a salary of just 17 thousand dollars per month with no other obvious source of income has purchased a Jaguar and a Mercedes Benz within the last three years and has the temerity to throw shade at the rest of us,” Imbert said, noting the Opposition was guilty of “political hypocrisy” in the matter.
“I advise the leader of the Opposition to look within her ranks rather than throwing shade on this side.”
The Prime Minister, however, pointed out that removal of the exemption would have little impact on the Treasury.
“It’s not a car that the government is giving you and it’s not money that will come to the treasury if you don’t get it but some people believe I would love to see MPs punished. Because if you don’t get the exemption, you don’t buy the car. If you buy the car and you get the exemption it doesn’t go to the treasury. You don’t buy the car the tax is not due,” he said.
The Prime Minister also addressed the calls made for him, as well as other Parliamentarians, to give up five per cent of their salaries, stating that he did not need the advice of the Opposition concerning sharing his income.
“As I’ve been sharing with those I represent and even those I don’t represent because, Madam Speaker, without prompting and without fanfare, without publication, I spend between 15 and 20 per cent of my income giving to people who are not on the payroll,” he said.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley contributes to the Budget debate in Parliament yesterday. (Photo courtesy: Office of the Parliament)