The Senate debated and passed the Hotels and Tourist Accommodation Amendment Bill of 2022.

This is an amendment in which the government wants to confer authority to the Minister of Tourism and Diaspora Relations to impose different tax rates for "different rates of taxes for different categories of guests."

It's supposed to boost local tourism, but persons knowledgeable about taxation have expressed concerns to our newsroom that this ministerial authority to impose different taxes could be a slippery slope. The concern is that this type of ministerial discretion could open itself to dishonesty and tax dodging. Yesterday, when the topic came up, the UDP's Beverly Williams pointed out that concern to her senate colleagues. Here's that moment when the Leader of Government Business bristled at the suggestion of possible corruption with this amendment:

Senator Eamon Courtenay - Leader of Government Business
"Madam President, colleagues of the Senate, this is a straightforward bill. It is adding to the powers of the Minister to set different rates to prepare for terror attacks with fear by different classes of guests at hotels. It is designed to help smaller hotel properties and to encourage the development of tourism, Madam President."

Senator Beverly Williams - UDP Representative
"To encourage tourism among certain classes of persons, who are those classes of persons? It's my understanding that the genesis of this bill was to promote domestic tourism. So why not give a different rate or a lower rate to Belizeans? Why make the wording so ambiguous, and impose different rates of taxes for different categories of guests? It leaves the door open. Madam President, for indiscretions to be applied in the application of this tax, it's an avenue for corruption. And so, Madam Speaker, in any tax system, we know that multiple rates create gray areas, and those gray areas become burdensome on tax administration. So I simply say. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. And then we could approve the bill."

Senator Eamon Courtenay
"How does corruption arise in this bill? Senator Williams submitted to the Senate that Genesis is to allow the Minister to give a different rate of tax to promote domestic tourism. And in the same breath, she's talking about corruption. Conferring a benefit to Belizeans is corruption. If it is that-."

Carolyn Trench-Sandiford - Senate President
"I ask that we respect standing order 40, please."

Senator Eamon Courtenay
"Be. If it is that the Senator is incapable of understanding simple English, say so. If it is that she finds it ambiguous, say so. But, don't go down in the gutter to alleged corruption. It is not an avenue for corruption, Madam President and members of the Senate. The Minister will have to act by making an order in the Gazette, which will be public for everybody, including Senator Williams, to see."

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