DALY BREAD: The poll tax; why PNM’s property tax could lead to electoral defeat again!

The current Government has fatally underestimated the resistance to the proposed property tax. If it does not make concessions on the methodology of its introduction and of its implementation, the property tax will become a poll tax when it leads to defeat at the polls.

Of course, much of the resistance is the natural resistance to paying increased or new taxes, particularly in what is undoubtedly a guava season. But there are a plethora of other potent and upsetting issues.

Paramount among these issues is the security and privacy concern, which are really two overlapping concerns.

Photo: Finders, keepers. (Courtesy Home Alone)
Photo: Finders, keepers.
(Courtesy Home Alone)

Very few citizens are going to let any stranger in the guise of a valuation inspector into their home to inspect their premises and to see the layout—even when a badge or other purported credentials are presented to the occupant of the home. We will cry like the Queen in Sparrow’s calypso, “There is a man in my bedroom.”

False credentials are a reality. With or without credentials, who knows what kind of background check has been done on the valuation inspectors and, most importantly, who knows with whom the strangers are associated or under whose influence they may fall?

This is also a society in which women are vulnerable to attack. Single women living alone ought not to be forced or exposed to having their status disclosed, which will be the inevitable result of a home visit. Moreover, public trust is at its lowest ebb since Independence and fear of human and organ trafficking is rife.

Any methodology of property assessment that requires entry into one’s home will be the first nail in the poll tax coffin. Field observations of where citizens live should be confined to roadside observations. This would sit well with the option of charging property tax in bands, which fix rates by reference to areas instead of individual properties, as I suggest below.

Equally hotly contested is the written information that should accompany the return of ownership declaration that the property owner is required to make. There are serious questions as to the source of the authority to require an owner to provide a floor plan and photograph of the premises and the consequent legality of those demands.

Photo: Property tax is coming...
Photo: Property tax is coming…

Whatever the legal authority to extract such information from homeowners, such documentation is to provide a road map for bandits—who are frequently untouchable or unapprehended—since it is idle to pretend that information supplied to Government departments necessarily remains confidential within the department.

I have not chosen the label “poll tax” merely to underline the grave electoral threat to the Government when next it faces the polls, if it proceeds to inflict monumental invasions of privacy upon us and to increase our already high sense of unease about our personal safety.

In the United Kingdom, the mighty Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was brought down by her proposal for a poll tax despite having hitherto being unbeatable electorally. The poll tax was a flat rate charge per capita tax on every adult.

I do not want this column to be inflammatory. Readers can follow the turbulent fate of the poll tax and the resignation of Thatcher by looking up the poll tax march of 31 March 1990.

When Thatcher resigned, John Major succeeded her. His Government abolished the poll tax and replaced it with a Council Tax in which each property was assigned to one of eight bands based on property value. The Council tax was intended to replace rates based on the estimated rental value of a home.

Photo: Former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Photo: Former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

For us, I would like consideration to be given to placing local government electoral areas—not individual properties—into bands subject to suitable tax relief for retirees, victims of redundancy and other cases worthy of relief. Residential and business properties would also be placed in different bands.

There is also a significant policy question. Property-based taxes are usually set by the local government area where the taxpayer lives and are intended to fund local government. It appears that the proceeds of our property tax will be part of the Central Government’s revenues.

The current Government should be careful how it embraces that ghost of the former prime minister and party leader, Mr Patrick Manning. Property tax was a significant factor in bringing Manning down in the 2010 General Election.  Remember the slogan “Axe the tax” and the crossed arms of Percy refusing entry into his home.

“Axe the tax” will be back with the force of a classic road march. Does this Government want to go there?

Within a few days of each other in May are the deadline for filing the intrusive information about one’s home and the grand opening of the ridiculously expensive Tarouba stadium.

This stadium is arguably the most unnecessary venture ever undertaken by any Government, even if it could double as “a tsunami shelter” as was laughably suggested. Do we want to go there?

Photo: President Anthony Carmona (right) swears in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright Reuters)
Photo: President Anthony Carmona (right) swears in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Reuters)
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About Martin Daly

Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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  1. if Trinis were interested in corruption for the last 4 decades they would have demanded action, but we sit back and do nothing and politiicians know that. Two (2) years into the PNM government and many allegations of massive corruption and , the information went to the TTPS. To date not a word. Who has been held from the Oppositon side for alleged stealing, No one and what the citizens doing , talk, talk, talk. Only when TRINIS realize that we the citizens have the power (not onoy every 5 years at election time) this crap will continue

  2. I heard this comment today on foreign news and I laughed because I shared the same sentiment.Why when you disagree with a persons, you want them fired. For the last 20 years we have had 4 elections, with Musical chairs. What have successive governments accomplished?Massive Corruption. The government barely in power 2 years and everyone on the “gimme gimme” gang. We all know MONEY talks and currently there is none, No handouts to give away, so you all ready to vote PNM out and put back PP. As Maestro sang “Trinis don’t know what they want” I reiterate you elect governments to govern, not continue the dependency syndrome. Instead citizens job (which we have failed to do) is to demand accountability and transparency, Pressure those in authority not call for firing and resignation. That appears to be the new stuck record in this country. The question is what can you do for your country not what your country can do for you , the dependency syndrome is endemic till its suffocating. Everyone in T&T through social media is a critic or a bandwaggonist. Where are the problem solvers?Where are the solutions?

  3. This is not a new tax, It was in existence before, My daddy used to pay land and building taxes for years. Trinis just like freeness, I am aware there are loopholes and clarity is still needed on some issues. Trinis want better utilities, infrastructure etc, Where do people feel money comes from. I paid taxes and other people paid taxes which enabled me to attend UWI up to an MPhil, Similalry I want my grandchild to benefit from other peoples taxes. The problem is we allow politicians to rape the treasury and we remain quiet, Property tax is paid across the world, why Trinis think they are unique.? Afra Raymoond has been making the rounds on the media texplaing Property tax.Tomorrow he will be on i95.5 wth Mariano Brown. Spread the word and listen. we will all be better informed and will do the right thing.

  4. I wish some of the “intelligencia” can see your comments Malcolm. The names I’ve been called recently, but with the bacchanalists, they do their best and beat you down

  5. Nerisha in today’s post cabinet briefing Colm the Tax man said they haven’t made any decisions yet

  6. It’s not the taxes that people are against you know. It’s the thieving so why do we believe that this tax will be spent where it should be spent and why would anyone have faith at this juncture? At all!

  7. Malcolm, well said on all counts.

  8. IMHO, the inability of the PM to fire/replace friends (ministers) who are not getting their work done will guarantee him the post of Opposition Leader after the next election.

    • …except that,barring the AG and the Minister in the PM’s Office, it’s not inability; it’s unwillingness. Didn’t he get rid of Nicole and Ancil?
      And Marlene, although his hand was forced in that last case?

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