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No special treatment for GST offenders, says A.G.

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2019. 6:11 pm CST.

By BBN Staff: Belize Telemedia Limited has firmly denied owing any General Sales Tax (GST) for the period 2012 to 2017, reported to be as much as twenty-nine million dollars. We’ll have more on that in a separate story.

Financial Secretary Joseph Waight is out of office for the next several days and not available to comment, as is his deputy. We are told that the acting Commissioner of G.S.T., Evan Brown, has declined comment as well.

The news comes as the Government prepares to amalgamate the GST and Income Tax Departments within a new Belize Tax Service Department, legislated for in the National Assembly in the last few weeks.

The new law, among other things, places criminal liability against anyone in the chain of management in any company not paying taxes.  In the debate, senators urged the tightening up of collection across the board and not on selective businesses.

Concerning the B.T.L. case, Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte said on Wednesday he was not aware of the telecom company’s situation, but opined, “If they are delinquent in their taxes, they should pay the penalty that everybody would have to pay. In this case, if you look at the new piece of tax legislation, it would say that anybody who is a manager, director, finance officer – if it is true, if it is true – that any entity is not paying its taxes, they should be held accountable. Plain and simple; there is no ifs, ands, or buts about that.”

Peyrefitte said he could not recall any legislation being brought to the Senate concerning any removal of taxes for B.T.L., but he added that it should not matter: if you owe, you must pay.

The law, he said, had no retrospective effect, meaning that the situation in which companies owing G.S.T. existed prior to the new law’s implementation continues until matters “catch up.”

The A.G. said it was the duty of every business to keep a close watch on its tax payments and not try to avoid them. He mentioned that as a budding attorney before entering politics, he was closely scrutinized by the various tax departments but had nothing to hide, and therefore nothing to fear.

The G.S.T. Department has been under scrutiny for several years. In 2017, Channel 5 News reported of a tax officer from the South publicly questioning the alleged interference of his bosses in determining payment rates for certain companies. But then Solicitor General Nigel Hawke said he had advised that officer that, “the Commissioner of GST is responsible for the administration of the GST, and the assessment, collection, and recovery of GST. Such responsibility includes the review and approval of audits after making any adjustments or choice of methodology that may be required in the course of such review.  Thus, the Commissioner (and senior staff delegated by her) is expressly charged with finalizing to her satisfaction, including by way of making justified changes, audits conducted lower down the chain of command.” Those powers now pass to the new Director General of the BTSD.

 

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