Land Tax Break during COVID - 09/17/20 10:26 AM
The Minister of Natural Resources explained how it will work when he introduced it in the House today. Here's what he had to say:
There was a heated debate over the Government's proposed Land Tax Amendment Bill. As we told you, this the Barrow Government's attempt to ease the financial burden of land-owners by offering tax forgiveness due to the effects of COVID 19.
But, the PUP's Cordel Hyde challenged the UDP parliamentarians on the bill's intent, because, in his opinion, the poorer groups of Belizeans - who need the most relief available - won't benefit from it. Here's what he and his colleagues had to say about the proposed amendment:
Hon. Cordel Hyde, PUP - Lake I
"We understand we are in the middle of Covid or a pandemic that has claimed 22 lives so far and ruin much of our economy, we get that. What we dont get is just what this new land tax write-off would mean in terms of loss revenue to the government and the people of Belize. How many persons will benefit, who are these persons who will benefit, just how we expect this proposed relief to spur the economy. Will these big land donors be using this money to re-invest or it's just a gift. The paper lack some details and I think it's unfair for us to have to consider a paper of this magnitude with so many unanswered questions. What I would have really wanted to see was some relief provided to all these ordinary people who are being kicked out of their homes by heartless landlords because they can't pay. What I really would have wanted to see was some relief for all of our people who have had to pay astronomical light bills over the last few months and rising water costs. I don't know if you have any idea just how many people have been kicked out of their apartments because they can't pay right now because they are not working and because the landlords doesn't want to hear anything and there is no protection for these folks, because the truth of the matter is they are not working, they don't have income to pay. But in one week we come here, we proposed this bill last Friday and 7 days we will pass this and the big land owners will get a neat little tax write-off, but this will not benefit the ordinary folks."
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"I rise in support of this bill for the tax relief at the discretion of the minister of natural resources and I can almost guarantee that the bill is going to get the support of the member from Toledo West, certainly the member from Stann Creek West and I am sure the other members from the rural constituencies in up north and in the west of the country. This pandemic has had too immediate and urgent result. One id the illness that it has caused to people, but perhaps the most devastating one for Belize is the economic fallout. Almost overnight, we have lost thousands of jobs. People who were employed suddenly lost their means of income and if those people who are employed as the member from Lake I has suggested can't pay their house rents, can't pay their light bill, can't pay their water bill. House rent, the government has nothing to do with. Light bill the government has nothing to do with, water bill the government has nothing to do with, but certainly land tax the government has everything to do with."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"I particularly wanted to respond to my friend from Lake I and again if he will allow me to use what is now a fairly phrase, "You can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good" because we are not able to provide for those who can't pay their rent, we should not provide for breaks to the farmers? All farmers - the bill makes no distinction. The minister has the power to exempt all land holders from the land tax in this time of covid."
Hon. Abelardo Mai
"How can I not support a bill like this that ease all farmers on taxes. The farmers in the country are the poorest people today. Easing of taxes are wonderful, but let us now look at how the banks can ease these farmers. I support the idea of tax relief, but I also want to ask the government to intervene with the banks to help the farmers."
The Land Tax Amendment Bill has been passed by the House, and it now goes to the Senate.
The senate met in its final session for this five-year term this morning.† Parliamentarians in the upper house bade farewell to each other and President Darrell Bradley, as there is no certainty who will be returning in that capacity following general elections in November.† While the atmosphere was lighthearted, the issue of the Land Tax Amendment Bill raised a few objections from several senators, including Mark Lizarraga, who did not support the idea of providing tax relief for land owners who are speculating or habitually delinquent in their payments.
Mark Lizarraga, Business Senator
ďI totally understand and agree with the concept of lending and rendering relief to those people that have suffered destruction, that have suffered economic hardships because they were working the land and there was a drought, crops have been destroyed or they may have suffered economic hardships because of the COVID situation.† So they could have lost or are losing because of the lack of opportunity either to sell crops or market conditions, I totally understand that and support it.† And if this were intended to just lend relief to those people that have received hardship or going through hardships and certainly the productive sector, the agricultural sector, I would totally, totally support it. But what we absolutely cannot condone is the consistent relief to those who hold thousands and thousands of acres of non-productive land in this country and they continue to get relief from this tax burden.† The government needs revenue.Ē
In clarifying the purpose of the Land Tax Amendment Bill, Senator Mike Peyrefitte responded to the statement that the revised piece of legislation will only benefit wealthy land owners who simply choose not to pay their taxes.† The law, he says, ties the ministerís hands, preventing discretion to be used willfully, except in cases where destruction is the result of natural disasters.
Michael Peyrefitte, U.D.P. Senator
ďThis bill does not give carte blanch authority to the minister to remit land taxes or interest on land taxes.† As I understood him correctly, you donít want the government to forgive land taxes and interest for people who donít pay their land tax?† In short then, you donít want ih give it to just any and anybody, but this bill doesnít allow the minister to do that.† This bill puts the minister in a box.† The minister may remit taxes in whole or in part, including any arrears or interest in any disaster as follows: a hurricane, other acts of God, invasion, civil commotion, fire or other occurrence and by that, when you mean other occurrence it is to be read, help me out senior counsel, as they say in law, Öin relation to what has been mentioned before, it has to be an act of God.† So you canít burn down your own house and say I need tax relief because my house ketch fire, no.† It has to be something that was beyond your control that caused destruction to your property that produces crops or to your crops at your dwelling.† In those cases, the minister can use his or her discretion to say, look this person is owed land taxes but given what has happened which is beyond that personís control, the minister can use his discretion to say, look, you donít owe any land taxes for the next year or two.Ē