By Theresa Goodwin
Millions of dollars were lost to public coffers last year due to tax evaders – despite what Prime Minister Gaston Browne has described as record economic growth in 2019.
During Thursday’s budget presentation, Browne said total revenue and grants to the government last year amounted to $847.5 million – a decline from $859.2 million in 2018.
He attributed the bulk of the $11.7 million dip to lower tax revenues. Browne also pointed out that in 2018, tax revenue was $679.6 million, but it declined to $672 million in 2019.
“Alarmingly, although our economy is the second largest in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union and it enjoyed far higher growth than most, our tax to GDP ratio is the lowest, at 16 percent.
“Other economies that grew at a much slower rate, and are much smaller than ours, had tax to GDP ratios above the Currency Union average of 20 percent and some even collected more revenues than we did in nominal terms,” Browne said.
He had harsh words for those who dodge taxes like ABST.
“Those who do not pay their fair share of taxes are depriving the country and its inhabitants of the economic and social infrastructure and services they need.
“Such behavior is unfair and unjust,” Browne said.
He insisted that the government cannot spend money it has not received and without revenues “we cannot build roads, deliver water, and supply other critical services if taxes are not paid”.
Consequently, the PM reiterated his stance that new measures will have to be implemented to ensure tax compliance and revenue collection.
Among the measures outlined is the introduction of legislation for the recovery of outstanding taxes, particularly ABST, property tax and corporation tax.
There will also be a “user-friendly and interactive” Inland Revenue Department (IRD) website launched to enable people to make e-payments.
The latter has been welcomed by local business owners who said they were delighted at the prospect of being able to file and pay their taxes online.
Carissa Warner, of C Warner Design, said this would save her a lot of time.
“I went to IRD this week and I waited 20 minutes just to get a receipt because the printer was down and that made me late for a meeting which was a major inconvenience,” she said.
Owner of Luxury Locations Real Estate in Jolly Harbour, Nadia Dyson, explained, “It would be great because I would never have to spend hours in a queue in St John’s to pay my taxes and IRD would have a computerised copy of my receipts so I would not have to walk with faded copies.”
It is unclear when the e-filing system will come onstream and what services will be available. OBSERVER has tried without success to get further clarification from IRD officials.