The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government has announced a three-month tax amnesty even as it ordered the Inland Revenue Department “to pursue tax delinquents with renewed focus and vigour” this year.
Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, delivering the EC$993.5 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) budget to Parliament on Monday night, said that during the next three months, “we are inviting all non-compliant taxpayers to go to the IRD to negotiate payments plans and settlement options, in exchange for a waiver of a percentage of interest and penalties”.
Gonsalves, delivering his first ever national budget, said at the expiration of the tax amnesty, the IRD will immediately commence collection procedures against those who did not negotiate appropriate arrangements to settle their arrears or those who breach the terms of their payment plan.
He said when penalties and interest payments are added to the EC$169.9 million in unpaid taxes, the tax arrears balloon to some EC$300 million.
“To put the number in the context of this budgetary exercise, EC$300 million is over 47 per cent of the budgeted current revenue, and some 28 per cent more than the entire planned capital expenditure for 2018.
“It is unacceptable and law-abiding taxpayers are being asked to subsidise the cost of such massive non-compliance,” Gonsalves said, adding that the government is particularly concerned about the failure of businesses and employers to pay over value-added tax (VAT), PAYE and withholding taxes to the government.
He said outstanding VAT and PAYE amounted to EC$58.2 million.
“Businesses that charge customers VAT and then pocket it instead of remitting it to the government are committing a criminal offence,” Gonsalves said, telling legislators that in illegally keeping VAT money, essentially as working capital, these businesses are giving themselves an unfair advantage over those that obey the law.
“The arguments are similar for PAYE,” Gonsalves said, insisting that the tax amnesty is in order to give non-compliant taxpayers an opportunity to regularise their status with the IRD and in pursuit of a fair and inclusive solution to these outstanding debts.
The finance minister said that the 2018 budget provides for the hiring of three additional High Court bailiffs, who will be assigned to exclusively assist the IRD to strengthen their collection efforts.
“Additionally, where the facts and law merit, the IRD will not shy away from sharing potentially criminal cases with the Director of Public Prosecutions,” Gonsalves said, noting that beyond tax cuts and tax collections, his government intends to push through a number of reforms to improve administrative efficiency and equity in the taxation system.
Chief among those is the enactment of the modern Tax Administration Procedures Bill and amendments to the Income Tax Act.
“These measures will address organisational bottlenecks, close loopholes, clarify rules related to doubtful debts and management charges, and further our objective of halting tax evasion by conglomerates.
“Additionally, the capital budget includes an EC$7.5 million allocation for the purchase and retrofitting of headquarters for the Inland Revenue Department, and other offices. The budget also makes provision to upgrade equipment and purchase a vehicle,” Gonsalves told Parliament that was boycotted by the opposition legislators.