Although the Government was able to gain the support of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Opposition yesterday in passing the Customs Amendment Bill 2016 with the aim of having the loopholes in the Remigrant Scheme programme corrected, it ignored the advice of the Opposition in relation to the Tax Amendment Bill.
The PPP on Friday took the Government to task over its decision to legalise tax waivers and increase income tax threshold for regional and international artistes who are eligible based upon a criterion.
Finance Minister Winston Jordan, who kicked off the debate on amendments to the Income Tax Act stated that the new law would remove discretion in granting tax waivers on income earned by artistes once the Tourism Minister approves. Approval will also have to be granted by the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
He declared that the new Government met a regime in which the Finance Minister granted tax exemption to artistes for an event as part of a measure to encourage entertainment tourism explaining that this should not be the case.
According to Minister Jordan “not everyone will feel comfortable and they don’t know the rules. It would be better if it’s in the law so that of a promoter wants to bring in an artiste, it’s in the law.”
He argued that this new law would also lead to equity in granting the tax waivers and would reduce the amount of corruption involved in the process.
However, PPP/C MP and Shadow Finance Minister, Irfaan Ali contended that the amendment to the Income Tax Act, as structured , would result in a Government Minister having the final say and becoming involved directly in determining the eligibility of persons and could be granted.
He said it would also mean that the minister would still enjoy discretion in defining what a festivity is and laying down the guidelines to ensure that an event is eligible for a tax exemption.
“One of the problems that we have is with artistes coming into the country without settling their debts…Did we take some time to look at their interests to ensure the protection of these persons who get the greatest hit sometimes when you have these events?,” he lamented as he drove home the point that the Government is seeking to bring discriminatory and piecemeal legislation to the National Assembly.
Ali, a former Tourism, Industry and Commerce Minister, said that the Government needed to ensure that there was reciprocal tax exemptions for Guyanese when they perform in and out of the Caribbean since they stand to lose the most.
At the end of the debates, the MPs from the Government and Opposition sides of the National Assembly clashed on the vote on the Tax (Amendment) Bill 2016 given that both sides had equal number of Members in the House.
According to House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland, the ‘vote’ was in favour of the APNU/AFC coalition Government. However, one online news report said PPP/C Chief Whip Gail Teixeira objected, while pointing out that the votes are 32 to 32 and stressed that the Standing Orders are clear.
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo charged that there is an obligation of the Speaker in this matter. “There was a vote put, there was a yes and no…the Speaker had to make a judgment. We have equal numbers,” he said.
According to Dr Jagdeo, the appropriate Standing Orders should be consulted on how to proceed on the way forward. The House Speaker said there was an opportunity for the objections to be made immediately after the vote was declared.
The one Government MP missing during the taking of the ‘vote’ was Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, who returned to the chambers after the verbal clash between the two sides.