Ask Mr Live Wire: Online taxes, gov’t corruption and gas and vehicle price hikes

In keeping with our efforts to engage readers, Mr Live Wire agreed to answer questions from random guests via Skype. The following were the satirical results:

Photo: Oh gaddo! Nah Live Wire... Yuh gone too far this time!
Photo: Oh gaddo! Nah Live Wire… Yuh gone too far this time!

Balisier-baby: Mr Live Wire, I understand the reasoning behind all theses taxes eh. It’s because those crooked UNC politicians thief all we money! But something about this online tax has me feeling uneasy. In some unguarded moments, I even feel let down by Colm Imbert. Can you shed light on this?

Live Wire: I am afraid you are suffering what psychologists refer to as a repressed memory. This occurs when something is so traumatic and unsettling to your mental wellbeing that you subconsciously try to block it out and pretend it never happened.

Balisier-baby: What do you mean?

Live Wire: On 6 October 2015, the Trinidad Express ran a story titled “Imbert eyeing tax on online shopping”, which hinted that the Finance Minister was considering introducing the tax.

Imbert responded with the following rant on Facebook: “It seems that nobody reads anymore or bothers to go beyond the provocative headlines… I said, clearly, that prior to the meeting, I had been asked to do this by other people, and I decided not to implement the tax because it would be too complicated.

“The newspapers as usual are just being silly with misleading headlines. I am not eyeing any tax on online shopping. They made that up.”

Now that can only mean that…

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert responds to suggestions about an online tax on October 2015.
Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert responds to suggestions about an online tax on October 2015.

Balisier-baby (interrupts): Somebody hacked Imbert’s Facebook account!

Live Wire: Yeah. Sure. And the culprit is probably a cowardly little homophobe who thinks Barry can’t take his eyes off of him. Next!

(Hangs up).

Better-than-nothing: Mr Live Wire, for the last five years we had a Government that encouraged massive corruption and squander mania. Now we have rough waters and tightened belts ahead. But anything better than what we just had.

Live Wire: What’s your question?

Better-than-nothing: Don’t you think it is insane for anyone to criticise government policy, bearing in mind the five years we just went through?

Live Wire: Let me tell you a story about discovery in a pizzeria. There was a young man who ordered Hawaiian for years. Ham and pineapple, ham and pineapple… He was happy like pappy.

One day, there was a special at his favourite pizza shop and he could get four ingredient for the price of two. Well, he thought that was crazy. But he started looking closely at what else he could get on his pizza. And that young man noticed so many wonderful ingredients that he didn’t even know what to leave out to bring his choice to just four.

Better-than-nothing: Ahmm… Okay. But what does that have to do with anything?

Photo: Eh?
Photo: Eh?

Live Wire: You cannot free a slave who is in love with his chains. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery and you will realise that life doesn’t have to be a straight choice between Roodal Moonilal and Fitzgerald Hinds. Next!

(Hangs up).

Red-and-ready: Allyuh damn journo-lists just vexed that the government change and HDC house not giving away like sweetie! Eat ah food done, Live Wire. So suck it up and live with it! And my question is: Why allyuh journol-ist doh like nothing good?!

Live Wire: Did Moonilal break any law in giving houses to journalists?

Red-and-ready: That isn’t the point. It is immoral and a clear conflict of interest. You’re just proving yourself to be a hypocrite right dey!

Live Wire: I’m not finished. Did Marlene break any law when she helped get a house for her common-law husband Michael Carew?

Red-and-ready: Ahmm…

Live Wire: Was Moonilal using a playbook that he met at the Housing Ministry from the previous administration in which Dr Keithos himself served as a Housing Minister?

Red-and-ready: Ahmm…

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Courtesy Jyoti Communication)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Courtesy Jyoti Communication)

Live Wire: Has the PNM changed the HDC rules that allow ministers to give away houses to whomever they choose? Or did Dr Keithos and AG Al-Rawi defend Marlene’s right to do so?

Red-and-ready: Ahmmm…

Live Wire: Then we are spinning top in mud between the two parties. The only difference is the depth of the puddle. Next!

(Hangs up).

Smart Man: Mr Live Wire, there are too many cars on the road, which is causing increased pollution, traffic congestion and, most of all, an unsustainable burden on the treasury due to our gas subsidy. Now, Mr Live Wire, cutting the gas subsidy while raising the price on the import of certain vehicles handles all three of those issues, as it forces a sizeable portion of lower and middle class citizens to use public transportation.

My question to you is: Why you too chupid to see that?!

Live Wire: I will answer your question. But first, I’d like you to humour me with two simple riddles.

Smart Man (snorts): Go ahead. Don’t hurt yourself eh.

Live Wire: Five men are liming on the corner; a car pulls up and a masked gunman shoots one. How many men are liming on the corner now?

Smart Man: You’re an arse or a marble?! Obviously there are four men left.

Photo: Riddle me this!
Photo: Riddle me this!

Live Wire: Here is the second riddle: Water is flooding your two storey house but there is not a cloud outside. What do you do?

Smart Man: Steups. I move to the second storey with my valuables and, from there, call the ODPM.

Live Wire: My good sir, from the your responses I can tell that you are an economist.

The answer to the first riddle is there are no men left on the street, as the other four ran home for fear of being shot. Mathematics and common sense doesn’t always go hand in hand.

That brings us to our second riddle. The correct response would have been to turn off your tap. That would have demonstrated that you understood what was the problem you were trying to solve.

In the same way, the key is not necessarily how many cars are on the road but why they are there in the first place. An economist may look at a car and calculate the cost of its purchase, maintenance and monthly gas bills. But your average motorist probably weighs the convenience of a car against the stress of not having one.

If you are using the wrong formula, Mr Smart Man, you can never get the right answer. And you won’t know if the solution is the big stick of taxes or the carrot of an improved public transport system, or, as is often the case, a combination of the two.

Smart Man (with chin in his hand): Well…

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

Live Wire (interrupts): Of course, the Finance Minister might simply be throwing the electorate to the wolves that are car dealerships, mall owners and maxi taxi drivers. Next!

(Hangs up).

Yellow-and-never-mellow: Mr Live Wire, you were a thorn in our side for five years. But I see now that you were not a PNM fanatic. You were just misguided. The Honourable Right Royal Empress Kamla is a forgiving soul, though. We will bring back the good old days when everybody was eating ah food and reporters were getting houses and food cyard and Christmas party and thing. Wink wink. Will you join us?

Mr Live Wire: I’m afraid that I don’t read fiction. And I don’t mess with the dead. Call Ian Alleyne.

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  1. Aye!!!!!! If I’m charged 1 TT cent that I’m not supposed to pay we go ha problems!!!!!!!

  2. Well what percentage of goods imported via a ‘skybox’ is gifts from friends? Two percent? Let’s be truthful, people have skyboxes to facilitate online shopping not for receiving sweetbread from Auntie Jean!

  3. And it’s the SAME foreign currency you have to use to pay the bank if your source of income is in T&T

  4. Right. But if I have a US credit card not attached to a local bank, I get away then…

  5. Yep Chabeth Haynes. Which is why the only entity that can define an “online transaction” for this purpose is your Banker

  6. What is the point of the 7% tax? To discourage online shopping and the loss of US dollars?
    If they slap the tax on at the point of entry, they could have me paying tax on something that somebody sent me and I didn’t buy…
    And if it’s only on goods entering the country then again… What happens with purchases that will never enter the country, like everything related to a vacation?
    And if it’s only at the point of entry, then what happens when I go shopping in foreign? No tax?
    This whole tax is just foolishness. Lol.

  7. And who is to say they can’t slap in on with the customs duty and VAT at the point of entry?

    Customs Officers can be authorised to collect on behalf of the State. No new officers required, no new physical infrastructure needed, just ammendments to procedure and software. All itemized on your skybox/web source bill.

  8. ..Squeezing working people is all ALL of them know..

  9. the only way I can see this being done is by the banks….and if Colm want he whole 7%…..and we all know dem banking vampires dont do NUTTEN fuh free….guess who gonna be paying 7% PLUS forking “service charge”?!

  10. At present neither BIR nor Customs are equipped to collect the existing taxes and duty [unless the Minister plans on hiring new staff]. The logistics of implementing that tax is another story [and downright wrong!]

  11. I’m willing to bet it’s not gonna happen

  12. which is exactly what I said…the 2 taxes he’s referencing in the New Zealand model are taxes we ALREADY pay

  13. We will soon fully understand the nature of the beast.

  14. So for the majority of items purchased online, we pay duty, we pay VAT, and soon there will be a separate online tax on top of all of this. There’s the consistent depreciating of the TT dollar against the US, resulting in increased costs.

    Items purchased these days are often even being revalued at probably the customs level, which means that that hard to find item you paid $60US for online, may be valued at $80US when it hits home, which after the taxes follow. Making your invoice useless. If you sell items and accept downpayments like half down for example, well you’re either going to make a loss or you’re in danger of your customer cancelling when you tell them that they have to pay significantly more for the item. You might get cussed too.

    The only good thing to happen recently was the reduction in VAT, but with this new penalization for online purchases, the benefit of that reduction will totally be wiped out and then some. Then there’s the further depreciation of the TT dollar to compound this.

    Anyway, the Government needs to work on their tax collection and refining that, because right now, even they’ve admitted that they suck at it, yet they are going for the overkill.

    • Alcohol and cigarettes which attracted a 15% VAT was reduced by 2.5% to 12.5% VAT. Other food items which had no VAT had prices increased by 12.5%. The PNM reduced alcohol and cigarettes and increased basic food items.

      In effect, there was no VAT reduction but implementation. Business persons did not reduce their costs by 2.5%, rather they now profited further by 2.5%.

      Now there is talk about placing a tax on alcohol and cigarettes, when the Minister reduced the tax on these items.

      Why didn’t Mr. Imbert just levy a higher VAT on those items when they were 15%?! Voops and Vaps….making financial policies like he’s batting in the final over of a T20 match; swinging hard and hoping to cross the ropes.

      Who is benefiting from these measures? The rich.

      Who will benefit from cheaper maxi taxis? Those who import them.
      Who imports them? The financiers. Remember, used car dealers were taken out of the loop.
      Who will suffer from the higher cost for transportation on maxis due to increased cost for diesel and parts? The commuting public who cannot afford to buy a car.

      With no taxes on hybrid vehicles, who will benefit? The people who import cars.
      Who imports cars? The financiers.

      Who will benefit from less competition from internet sales? The financiers.
      Who will not benefit? The lower to middle class who can’t afford the high prices locally.

  15. “Foreign credit card purchases devoured US$570 million for the year so far. (”

    “Top Five Users in Retail and Distribution
    • PriceSmart – US$507 million
    • Courts – US$198 million
    • Smith Robertson & Company – US$169 million
    • AS Bryden – US$153 million
    • Massy Distribution – US$136 million


  16. Lasana, if you continue writing articles like this, the PNM propaganda machine will be launched against you, and your private business will be exposed. You will be made to look like a ‘UNC plant’ and will be ostracised a la K. Waithe.

    Remember, there are people on both sides who believe what their leaders say, and regurgitate the info as if factual.

    If more people are unemployed, or do not earn or spend as much, wouldn’t that lead to less revenue in taxes?
    If people spend less, wouldn’t that lead to less purchases on local and foreign products? The foreign companies may survive, but the local ones may not.

    Wouldn’t groceries have to scale down, and cut staff?

    I strongly suggest that the State encourage processing of local fruits and vegetables to be exported. It is very bureaucratic and difficult to export processed goods to foreign markets from T&T.

    We can rear our own goats and sheep. Imports of dairy products can be sourced from South America instead of New Zealand.

    Better controls of fishing. Ban all trawling (which destroys marine life). Enforce industrial emissions regulations so that the waters do not get polluted.

    Expand the acreages of forest reserves to prevent deforestation and loss of wildlife and water sources.

    Stop illegal quarrying which destroys the environment and causes losses of potential revenue from taxes, sales of material etc.

    There are so many things that can be done to mitigate the problems being faced, but it takes prudence, political will, and proper ministerial leadership.

  17. Ha. That’s one song I won’t play for them to dance. Cuz I’m sure with an additional 7% they still won’t be competitive

  18. Bet all this is music to the ears of the businessmen who thrive on us having no proper alternatives to their extortionate prices.

  19. GST can be equated to VAT which we already pay along with customs and excise we pay. There are established mechanisms and agencies collection these taxes already. Who is going to collect this mystery tax?

  20. Colm did draw reference to New Zealand when he spoke about the online tax… the following is from the New Zealand customs website. Apparently, they apply it at the point of entry into the country…

  21. Hear nah Chabeth Haynes. I feel some spirits was involved in that decision making process yes.

    • It’s seem like a knee jerk reaction… Panic and myopia.
      And in the end I think it will hurt the poor more than the wealthy as is always the case with across the board taxes.

    • I’ve said over the weekend. It seems like they’re literally beating on the entire middle of the country. Low earners have assistance policies they qualify for; high earners can easily make adjustments. It’s the larger middle earners that will feel the brunt of these measures

  22. And what about things like airline tickets and hotel reservations done directly through the airline or hotel and not Expedia? And what if I’m using a US credit card?

  23. Lasana your guess is as good as mine. If I order something online to be delivered to a relative is that taxed? Is customs and excise collecting the tax? Is it the freight forwarders? If my cousin send me something through my forwarder is that taxed? How do you differentiate online purchases from overseas purchases? Are all my credit card transactions going to attract the tax? Is the banks collection it? Will they charge us a fee for processing the tax? This is the most useless idea I’ve ever heard

  24. Lasana, somebody offering you a house there….them real dUNCy then

  25. Colm said it was too complex before. Clearly that changed. Nicole Ulerie how does it work?

  26. I’m still trying to get a handle on the truth.So far,nada.Should I try on-line shopping ?

  27. “Of course, the Finance Minister might simply be throwing the electorate to the wolves that are car dealerships, mall owners and maxi taxi drivers. Next!”… Let all who have eyes to see,…

  28. Lasana Liburd careful they will come for you with that last satire eh….

  29. I really don’t understand how the online tax is supposed to work.

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