Everything Caribbean

Tax evaders ‘costing country millions’

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By
Theresa Goodwin

theresa.goodwin@antiguaobserver.com

Millions of dollars were lost to public coffers
last year due to tax evaders – despite what Prime Minister Gaston Browne has
described as record economic growth in 2019.

 During Thursday’s budget presentation,
Browne said total revenue and grants to the government last year amounted to
$847.5 million – a decline from $859.2 million in 2018.

 He attributed the bulk of the $11.7
million dip to lower tax revenues. Browne also pointed out that in 2018, tax
revenue was $679.6 million, but it declined to $672 million in 2019.

 “Alarmingly, although our economy is the
second largest in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union and it enjoyed far
higher growth than most, our tax to GDP ratio is the lowest, at 16 percent.

 “Other economies that grew at a much
slower rate, and are much smaller than ours, had tax to GDP ratios above the
Currency Union average of 20 percent and some even collected more revenues than
we did in nominal terms,” Browne said.

He had harsh words for those who dodge taxes
like ABST.

“Those who do not pay
their fair share of taxes are depriving the country and its inhabitants of the
economic and social infrastructure and services they need.

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“Such behavior is unfair and unjust,” Browne said.

 He insisted that the government cannot
spend money it has not received and without revenues “we cannot build roads,
deliver water, and supply other critical services if taxes are not paid”.

 Consequently, the PM reiterated his stance
that new measures will have to be implemented to ensure tax compliance and
revenue collection.

 Among the measures outlined is the
introduction of legislation for the recovery of outstanding taxes,
particularly ABST, property tax and corporation tax.

There will also be a “user-friendly and
interactive” Inland Revenue Department (IRD) website launched to enable people
to make e-payments.

The latter has been welcomed by local business
owners who said they were delighted at the prospect of being able to file and
pay their taxes online.

 Carissa Warner, of C Warner Design, said
this would save her a lot of time.

 “I went to IRD this week and I waited 20
minutes just to get a receipt because the printer was down and that made me
late for a meeting which was a major inconvenience,” she said.

 Owner of Luxury Locations Real Estate in
Jolly Harbour, Nadia Dyson, explained, “It would be great because I would never
have to spend hours in a queue in St John’s to pay my taxes and IRD would have
a computerised copy of my receipts so I would not have to walk with faded
copies.”

 It is unclear when the e-filing system
will come onstream and what services will be available. OBSERVER has tried
without success to get further clarification from IRD officials.

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