By L.K. Hewlett
St. Kitts Reporter
The Comptroller of the Inland Revenue Department has refuted the rumours that the publication of property owners’ names, property location and property value was sidelined due to pressure from government ministers.
According to the word on the street, the decision to rethink the issue of making the list public was not made to protect the average man with his small house, but to prevent the public from finding out how many high-end properties certain ministers of government owned. Most of the properties, it is claimed, were purchased after they became ministers and include million dollar condos, businesses and multiple homes in St. Kitts and abroad.
Comptroller Beverly Williams dismissed the accusation as being ‘ludicrous’ and politically motivated.
“Government wrote the act and they wanted the list to be published. If government ministers know that they have properties and names are going to be published, they know that their names would be on the list as well. Government wanted the list to be made public for the sake of transparency,” she told the Observer.
Under the March 1 imposed Property Tax Act of 2006, lists containing persons’ names and property information were to be posted in public places such as post offices and community centres.
The IRD official stated emphatically that the decision not to post such a list had nothing to do with ministerial pressure.
“I’ve never heard this rumour but it sounds like something that would come from an opposition. Government was adamant that they were going to publish the list. The decision to refrain from publishing the list came after they heard that so many people were against it. If they didn’t want their names to be on the list, they would have never put that in the Act in the first place.
“When we initially announced the details of the new property tax system, people had a lot of problems understanding it mainly because before they heard the facts, they assumed the new system meant higher tax rates. One of the biggest objections persons in the community expressed during the townhall meetings was that they did not want their private information plastered in public places for unscrupulous persons to see. They said they felt it was a violation of their civic rights,” she said.
She explained that all the objections and questions raised at the town hall meetings held to inform the public about the Act were documented and presented to cabinet.
“After they realised that the public feedback was so strong that they did not want such a list published, then they decided to change it. That was the whole reason for having the town hall meetings. People asked why we came after the Act had been passed, but they did not realise that things could be changed. We are going to make adjustments to take into consideration quite a lot of the issues that people aired at the town hall meetings,” she said.
Williams said that the department had contended from the onset that the town hall meetings were geared toward getting feedback from the public that would be used to shape some aspects of the Act.
“If anything was written in stone, we would not have had the town hall meetings in the first place. The meetings were effective and fruitful because changes were made as a result of public opinion. The objection over the publication of the list was not raised in all of the 19 countrywide meetings, it was raised mainly in the Basseterre, Cayon, Conaree, Keys, Tabernacle and Sandy Point areas. Other areas had other concerns.”
The Property Tax Act of 2006 replaced the old House and Land Tax of 1913 under which the tax was calculated based on the rental value of the property. Under the new Act, tax would be calculated based on square footage, location and a tax rate of 0.2% of the market value of the property.