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Income Tax Bill Passed on Friday, buying T&T time

In a drastic and desperate move, the Government butchered the controversial Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, deleting all clauses that required Opposition support to ensure its passage.

The bill, which the Government said was crucial to avoid this country becoming blacklisted and was necessary to ensure international financial transactions are not hampered, was passed just before 9 p.m. on Friday, with all Government members voting for it and all Opposition members voting against it. The final vote was 19-14.

This gives T&T some breathing room as it tries to meet deadlines for international tax regulation compliance.

Addressing the media at a press conference, Imbert said the he government will send the amended bill to the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, letting them know it was the best that could have been done, and ask if it meets requirements. “We will most likely get a favourable response but we did the best we could,” Imbert said.

The vote in Parliament on Friday night met Global Forum’s requirement for the passage of the bill, he said, but Global Forum was only interested in proclaimed legislation.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, also on Friday night, said T&T was able to “buy some time” by severing the bill in half. “As a result of the Opposition’s insistence that they will not support the legislation to treat with the Global Forum we specifically had to delete all the clauses of the bill that required a special majority,” Al-Rawi said.

Friday’s deadline was for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to re-evaluate T&T as a precursor for a meeting in February that will be held in Paris. FATF requires laws that allow law enforcement to access banking information that can highlight offences like fraud and proceeds of crime. In January, a group of evaluators from other member countries will review TT’s progress regarding the passage of the law.

The Government removed clauses 6-10 of the bill, which focused on demands from the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, which requires sharing information between its 145 member countries.

The bill, inclusive of clauses 6-10, was a copy of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), a US government requirement passed after much debate in 2017. It required a special two-thirds majority to pass. Since it was unable to secure the Opposition’s support, the government, rather than pass no bill, watered it down so it could pass with a simple majority. The modified bill was passed 19-14 with no abstentions, six months after it was introduced.

Global Forum requires that TT not just pass but enact sections removed from the bill. Doing otherwise, Imbert said, will make T&T non-compliant with international laws and unable to receive the benefits of mutual sharing of information regarding money laundering and terrorism financing.

Al-Rawi said that the removal of the five clauses is not the end of the matter since the deleted clauses can make a comeback as part of any of the three laws needed to be passed to make the country eligible to sign an international treaty, similar to one attached to FATCA.

The three laws that need to be debated and enacted are the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, the Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters Bill, and the Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill. Unlike FATCA, he said, which is a bi-lateral arrangement with the US, this treaty can only be signed after the all the bills are made law.

Since on­ly parts of the In­come Tax Amend­ment Bill were passed, Gov­ern­ment says the rest of the bill con­cern­ing Glob­al Fo­rum as­pects will be brought back to Par­lia­ment ear­ly next year.

And for this sec­ond round, the T&T Cham­ber has sent a stern mes­sage to both Gov­ern­ment and Op­po­si­tion: no re­peat of the re­cent long-wind­ed process re­gard­ing the bill.

“No grand­stand­ing and de­lays ahead – please,” T&T Cham­ber CEO Gabriel Faria added.

Im­bert said,”Over the last month it be­came ob­vi­ous the Op­po­si­tion wouldn’t sup­port the bill and one of the rea­sons ap­peared to be the clause al­low­ing po­lice eas­i­er ac­cess to tax in­for­ma­tion from In­land Rev­enue. But we agreed to their call to add ju­di­cial su­per­vi­sion in the sit­u­a­tion.

“That clause was one of CFATF’s rec­om­men­da­tions and we were able to pass that with a sim­ple ma­jor­i­ty. If we didn’t, CFATF would have black­list­ed us. It’s iron­ic that the clause that was passed with sim­ple ma­jor­i­ty vote was one they had con­cerns about – they shot them­selves in the foot. The claus­es which re­quired Op­po­si­tion votes for pas­sage and which we delet­ed were the in­for­ma­tion as­pects Glob­al Fo­rum (GF) re­quired.”

Im­bert added, “We’ll now go to the GF on their as­pects. They’re com­ing in Jan­u­ary and we’ll get in­for­ma­tion and I’m sure we’ll have to do the bill over on their mat­ters. I’m sure we’ll be back in Par­lia­ment with it by Feb­ru­ary. Hope­ful­ly, there’ll be no dras­tic sit­u­a­tions.”

Cham­ber CEO Faria, who ex­pressed hap­pi­ness at the bill’s pas­sage, said they were very con­cerned at the wast­ed en­er­gy in the mat­ter.

“While Gov­ern­ment made some con­ces­sions, if both par­ties had ad­dressed it prop­er­ly T&T would be much more ef­fi­cient. So more ma­tu­ri­ty needs to be dis­played – don’t wait un­til the last minute to ad­dress is­sues. That’s why we’re in sit­u­a­tions like Petrotrin and WASA,” Faria said.

“It’s very stress­ful in an al­ready dif­fi­cult cli­mate for busi­ness and con­sumers. Next rounds it must be bet­ter. Mem­bers have sent me copies of let­ters from banks who can no longer main­tain ac­counts due to the coun­try they’re in.”

Gov’t reaches agreement with BP & Shell

Min­is­ter in the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter Stu­art Young has an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment has reached an agree­ment with BP and Shell that he says with bring “sig­nif­i­cant” fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits to Trinidad and To­ba­go.

The agree­ment in­volves new pric­ing arrange­ments, the ex­ten­sion of the At­lantic LNG Train 1 by a fur­ther five years, and the abil­i­ty of the Na­tion­al Gas Com­pa­ny (NGC) to ex­port liqui­fied nat­ur­al gas (LNG) on be­half of T&T.

The min­is­ter made the an­nounce­ments as he ad­dressed yesterday’s post-Cab­i­net me­dia con­fer­ence.

Min­is­ter Young said the dis­cus­sions start­ed in April 2018 when Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley led a del­e­ga­tion to the Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing (CHOGM) in Lon­don.

While there, the team, which in­clude Min­is­ter Young and Min­is­ter of En­er­gy and En­er­gy In­dus­tries, Franklin Khan, met with ex­ec­u­tives of Shell and BP.

Out of that meet­ing, all three par­ties agreed to ap­point em­pow­ered ne­go­ti­at­ing teams to sit and ne­go­ti­ate terms of con­tracts go­ing for­ward.

“I am hap­py to say that af­ter months of very in­tense and ag­gres­sive ne­go­ti­a­tions, the Gov­ern­ment of T&T has reached an agree­ment with BP and al­so with Shell,” Min­is­ter Young said.

At­lantic LNG’s Train 1 was due to end op­er­a­tions in April 2019 but the min­is­ter now says it will con­tin­ue at least un­til 2024.

An LNG train is a liq­ue­fac­tion and pu­rifi­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ty. It con­dens­es gas in­to a liq­uid state.

At­lantic LNG has four trains in its Point Fortin plant.

The con­ti­n­u­a­tion of the train will al­low for the con­tin­u­a­tion of jobs and fur­ther pro­duc­tion of liqui­fied nat­ur­al gas for ex­port and for sale to NGC.

NGC, BP and Shell are among the share­hold­ers of Train 1.

The min­is­ter told the me­dia that he couldn’t dis­close the new pric­ing for­mu­la agreed to by the en­er­gy com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ment, but says the new for­mu­la “sig­nif­i­cant­ly en­hances the rev­enue for the peo­ple of Trinidad and To­ba­go”.

He said this will al­so be the first time that the NGC will have the abil­i­ty to sell LNG car­goes of LNG on be­half of T&T.

“That is a ma­jor achieve­ment that we did not have be­fore,” Young said.

The min­is­ter said that the agree­ments were on­ly con­clud­ed yes­ter­day and that more de­tails will be re­vealed in time.

Govt and Sandals MOU released

The Government and Sandals have made public their memorandum of understanding (MOU) and Sandals deputy chairman Adam Stewart says there was no secret deal.

He was speaking at a media conference on Wednesday at the Office of the Prime Minister, Port of Spain.

Communication Minister Stuart Young said a collective agreement was made to make public the MOU, signed on October 10, 2017 by Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe on behalf on the Government and a Donna A. Delva on behalf of Sandals Resorts International.

He said this was not a common practice in business but was done in the interest of transparency and to avoid “distractions” from those in Opposition.

He was asked whether the timing of the release had anything to do with the hearing of the court matter brought by chartered surveyor Afra Raymond seeking judicial review of the government’s decision to withhold details about the Sandals deal, which is being heard on November 29, to which he responded it had nothing to do with Raymond.

Stewart criticised a report in the local media with a purported Sandals plan, describing it as 100 per cent fictitious, and said no one had called Sandals to confirm the authenticity of the report.

He said the resort in Tobago will bring 70,000 to 80,000 visitors and US$80 million a year, have 150-200 tours a day and permanently employ 2,000 locals.

You can access the MOU here: MOU

Northern Division sees 9% decrease in serious crimes

Despite the many challenges within the Northern Division, it has recorded a nine percent decrease in serious crimes, said Ag ASP Leon Haynes.

Speaking at the weekly press briefing yesterday, at the Police Administration Building, Port of Spain, Haynes said from January 2018 to the present, the division saw a decrease in serious crimes from 2,870 in 2017 to 2,624 in 2018, which represents 246 fewer serious crimes than 2017.

He said the division has also recovered 176 firearms to date; 4,416 people were arrested for various offences; and 1,172 people were arrested on warrants.

“While the division has achieved a detection rate of 27 per cent,” he said, “despite the decrease in serious crimes the officers of the division continue to conduct crime-reduction initiatives to achieve further reduction and to increase the detection rate.

He said the division had increased its operations targeting drug blocks and also patrols, with emphasis on hot spots, as well as regular round-the-clock community patrols.

Haynes said the Northern Division is the first division to implement the Multi-Agency Task Force, comprising the Fire Service, the Bureau of Standards, the OSHA, Criminal Tax Investigation Department, and the Electrical Inspectorate to help curb illegal gambling in the division.

While the division continues to face with challenges relating to violent crimes, it continues to make breakthroughs by disrupting emerging gang activities in and around the division, he said.

“Many suspected gang members have been arrested for firearm offences and other gang-related crimes. We have continued to strengthen our partnership with the community through station council meetings, which are held monthly at each station, in an effort to involve all stakeholders throughout the division.”

He said the stations also collaborate with various external agencies such as TTEC and the regional corporations to improve street lighting and other physical infrastructure.

Also, he said, for 2108 the division has issued 5,485 speeding tickets, with 12,409 fixed penalty tickets issued, and 115 people have been charged for driving under the influence.

He urged citizens to review their personal and home security, with a view to minimising vulnerability to crime during the Christmas season.

Young pleased with CAL’s financial turnaround

National Security Minister Stuart Young said the only way an airline like Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) can compete in the international market and profit was to acquire better stocks.

Last week CAL announced its decision to add 12 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft to its fleet. Speaking with reporters at the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce’s Christmas dinner at the Passage To Asia restaurant on Saturday, Young said he was pleased with the airline’s financial turnaround after a decade. He also maintained that CAL was completely different to Petrotrin and TSTT.

“There is absolutely no correlation between Petrotrin workers and TSTT workers and future investments by CAL.” Young said the airline was doing a good job under its new board, adding that when state enterprises turn its own profits, the country benefitted. He said his ministry had old air assets, but they were being properly maintained. “In my discussions with some of our international allies, they have suggested that it is better to continue maintaining those aircraft, but we are looking at the possibility of leasing new aircraft.”

He said any new addition to the fleet will be “purpose specific” since they will be used for national security.

On Sunday, Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said he was very worried by CAL’S decision to purchase 12 airplanes.

“This is the entire fleet of Caribbean Airlines, they don’t have more than 12 airplanes.”

Moonilal also said there was no transparency in the process. “We don’t know what they went through to procure these planes. We are asking for further information and an inquiry into how and why at this time you would seek to purchase 12.” Earlier this month, CAL also announced a $96 million operating profit for the first nine months of 2018.

The new aircraft are expected to be purchased in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Young- definition of scratch bombs to be “as broad as we can”

The promised ban on the import of scratch-bombs will extend to items similar to scratch-bombs that may be named differently, said Stuart Young. The Minister of National Security spoke to Newsday at a family night at the Botanical Gardens, St Ann’s on Sunday.

Asked if Spanish Crackers will be included in the ban on scratch bombs, he said, “What the experts have to do is assess them. What we are putting (into legislation), I will try to go as substantive as possible.”

He promised a definition of scratch bombs to be “as broad as we can.”

Young also replied to critics who had argued scratch bombs are already illegal. He said the Summary Offence Act pertains to letting off fireworks, but section 37 of the Explosives Act lets the minister ban the actual import of these devices.

“This will be the first time under the Explosives Act that a minister is making a specific order to deal with these things.”

Young also clarified the issue in a recent post on Facebook, where he said that under the Explosives Act, the Minister of National Security may by order “prohibit absolutely, or subject to conditions or restrictions, the manufacture, keeping, importation, conveyance and sale” of any explosive deemed dangerous.

“It is well known that the sale and importation of explosives in forms commonly known as ‘scratch bombs’ takes place. There is no Order made under the Explosives Act banning the importation and sale of ‘scratch bombs,’” said Young’s post.

“As per Cabinet’s decision today, as Minister of National Security, I intend to make an Order covering, in the broadest possible terms, all categories of explosives that are generically described as “scratch bombs” making it illegal for anyone to import and sell this category of explosives.”

70 apprehended while seeking illegal entry in the last two weeks

T&T’s for­mer porous bor­ders have “hard­ened” in the last two weeks with ap­prox­i­mate­ly 70 peo­ple ap­pre­hend­ed, seek­ing il­le­gal en­try, says Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter Stu­art Young.

Plus, an­i­mals which were smug­gled in­to T&T from Venezuela have been de­stroyed.

Young con­firmed this in Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day re­ply­ing to Op­po­si­tion queries.

His news comes in the wake of an in­ci­dent where a group of for­eign­ers were seen sneak­ing in­to T&T via boat at Erin a few weeks ago. Young said in the last cou­ple weeks a Coast Guard fast pa­trol boat has been cen­tred in the South West pre­vent­ing il­le­gals reach­ing shore and oth­er boats are based on the North Coast. 

Both Coast Guard and po­lice ser­vice boats are pa­trolling ar­eas where in­tel­li­gence in­for­ma­tion re­veal il­le­gals are land­ing.

He said 50 to 70 peo­ple have been held and a num­ber of them were pre­vent­ed from land­ing: “The bor­ders have hard­ened in the last two weeks.”

He al­so not­ed that Coast Guard on No­vem­ber 14 in­ter­cept­ed 15 ves­sels at­tempt­ing to trans­port Venezue­lan na­tion­als in­to Trinidad as they made their way to Matelot: “This in­tel­li­gence led op­er­a­tion lead to the ar­rest of six Venezue­lans who were hand­ed over to po­lice and Im­mi­gra­tion.” 

Young con­firmed there are 214 il­le­gal ports be­tween Trinidad and To­ba­go.

He added that the De­fence Force col­lab­o­rates with key na­tion­al stake­hold­ers on rou­tine and in­ci­dent-spe­cif­ic in­tel­li­gence-dri­ven op­er­a­tions for bor­der pro­tec­tion.

“Op­er­a­tions are con­duct­ed through use of con­tem­po­rary risk-based tech­niques in con­junc­tion with up to date sur­veil­lance equip­ment in­clud­ing im­age de­tec­tion sys­tems from sta­t­ic and mo­bile plat­forms,” he ex­plained.

“Joint bor­der se­cu­ri­ty teams con­duct fre­quent three-di­men­sion­al pa­trols to de­tect, de­ter and pre­vent in­cur­sions and to pro­vide ear­ly warn­ing and in­di­ca­tors of po­ten­tial threats to bor­ders. Strate­gies have led to quick­er, more ap­pro­pri­ate re­spons­es to the evolv­ing threats. 

Young said there’s no ev­i­dence of an­i­mals brought in­to T&T il­le­gal­ly from Venezuela be­ing used to smug­gle guns, drugs and am­mu­ni­tion in. 

How­ev­er, he con­firmed such “il­le­gal” an­i­mals have been de­stroyed by the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry since they can’t be quar­an­tined and the min­istry can­not risk them spread­ing dis­eases.

Young said over the past five plus years, there’s been an in­creased lev­el of gun vi­o­lence in the com­mit­tal of rob­beries and home in­va­sions due to fac­tors in­clud­ing,the pre­vi­ous­ly porous bor­ders. 

He not­ed some guns are com­ing from South and North Amer­i­can mar­kets. 

They’re be­ing traced via the Po­lice Acad­e­my Ar­mour­er and in­ter­na­tion­al part­ners. 

Griffith- We need to work to­geth­er as a team in sec­ondary crime pre­ven­tion.

Un­less sec­ondary crime pre­ven­tion is im­ple­ment­ed quick­ly, T&T could be sad­dled with more than 100,000 new crim­i­nals in the next five years. That was the warn­ing from Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith when he ad­dressed a meet­ing of the Ch­agua­nas In­ter­a­gency Team on Wednes­day night.

Grif­fith re­ferred to a re­cent so­cial me­dia video of a group of teenagers and chil­dren walk­ing through Nel­son Street, Port-of -Spain, mim­ic­k­ing gang­sters.

“You can’t write off these young peo­ple and say it’s a lost cause, it’s not. It’s sim­i­lar to the 12-year-old that threat­ened to kill me,” he said, adding that such sit­u­a­tions were the “prod­uct of our so­ci­ety where cer­tain adults now…the 5000 gang mem­bers have been push­ing this style on to our young peo­ple.”

Grif­fith said while law en­force­ment units cur­rent­ly have nu­mer­i­cal and tac­ti­cal su­pe­ri­or­i­ty, this could change in five years if sec­ondary crime pre­ven­tion mea­sures are not strength­ened.

He added: “We need to work to­geth­er as a team to deal with that as­pect of sec­ondary crime pre­ven­tion. The more we work in sec­ondary crime pre­ven­tion, the less is re­quired in pri­ma­ry crime pre­ven­tion which is where the polic­ing comes in.

“Hav­ing said that I will do my job deal­ing with pri­ma­ry crime pre­ven­tion. It is re­al­ly im­por­tant for us not to look at sec­ondary crime pre­ven­tion, not as a sec­ondary com­mod­i­ty. It’s so im­por­tant. If we do not deal with this sit­u­a­tion now, in years to come we will be out­num­bered be­cause of what we are see­ing with cer­tain young per­sons in so­ci­ety. They are look­ing up at these in­di­vid­u­als and are see­ing them as the Robin Hoods of the com­mu­ni­ty.

“This is why I speak to you here. You will be aware who are the thugs, who are the punks, who are the gang mem­bers, who are the per­sons on the street cor­ners who are try­ing to in­flu­ence young per­sons in­to a life of crime be­cause it’s easy to in­flu­ence young minds.”

The Com­mis­sion­er said ini­tia­tives as the po­lice youth clubs and com­mu­ni­ty polic­ing will be strength­ened. He al­so point­ed out that his meet­ings with com­mu­ni­ty and busi­ness groups should be about much more than try­ing to of­fload crime plans and make re­quests for a firearms li­cense.

Grif­fith said he is deal­ing with 13,000 ap­pli­ca­tions for firearms li­cens­es and will be act­ing with­in the law to is­sue them to suc­cess­ful ap­pli­ca­tions.

On the is­sue of po­lice re­sponse to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ty, he an­nounced that ten emer­gency re­sponse pa­trol ve­hi­cles will be as­signed specif­i­cal­ly to the Cen­tral Di­vi­sion to re­spond di­rect­ly to calls from an op­er­a­tional cen­tre.

Scratch bombs to be banned in T&T

Cabinet has taken a decision to ban the importation and sale of sctrach bombs says National Security Minister Stuart Young.

He said this during the post-Cabinet press conference yesterday.

Young pointed out examples of people injured by scratch bombs and said national security agencies would take the lead on enforcement of the ban, which should begin soon.

The Minister also made reference to Sally-Ann Cuffie who during Divali  2016 lost parts of her fingers and suffered injuries to the others when she attempted to save her grandchild by throwing out the scratch bomb which was thrown into her family’s car.

The scratch bomb exploded in her hands.

This year during Divali a scratch bomb resulted in the fire of a home which left nine homeless.

North Eastern Division sees reduction in crime

Despite challenges, senior police in the North Eastern Division reported improvement in the detection of crime and overall reduction in serious crimes in their division.

Supt Robert Phillip, who will be temporarily filling the role of former Snr Supt Surendra Sagramsingh as head of the North Eastern Division, yesterday confirmed police had seen some success in the division and continued to work closely with the public for the Christmas season.

“There has been a reduction in serious reported crimes for the division from January 1 to present. The division has seen a decrease from 969 in 2017 to 736 in 2018. This decrease is witnessed in areas such as wounding and shooting.

“There has also been a decrease in burglaries and break-ins with 124 of these occurring last year compared to 83 occurring this year. Larceny has also seen a decrease with 69 occurring this year compared to 102 for the same period last year.”

Phillip said an increase in patrols and exercises particularly along the Eastern Main Road were responsible for the reductions.

He said among the increased operations, police have continued to target drug blocks through increased mobile and foot patrols with particular emphasis along the North Coast and business areas.

Phillip also said that for the year thus far 3,395 speeding tickets have already been issued and 1,000 people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.