Appeal Court rules for State …”PROPERTY TAX FORMS VOLUNTARY”

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THE Court of Appeal has ruled that the State can continue to accept Property Tax valuation forms from citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

On Wednesday morning, the Court of Appeal ruled that High Court Judge Frank Seepersad should not have granted an interim stay on the collection process.  The judicial review case will be heard on September 21.

The Court ruled that the Ministry of Finance can continue to collect the forms, but that the public had to be informed it would be on a voluntary basis, and not mandatory.

The Appeal Court, in its ruling, said the State had to inform the public that even if citizens did not submit the forms, no sanctions could be imposed.

The Appeal Court instructed that the Ministry of Finance publish notices in the newspapers, once a week for three weeks, informing the public that the submission of the forms were voluntary and no fines could be imposed.

The Court of Appeal comprising Justices Peter Jamadar, Gregory Smith and Judith Jones heard submissions on Tuesday, and asked for time to consider if Seepersad was correct in law when he granted a recent injunction that brought a halt to the requirement of property owners to complete and submit valuation return forms (VRFs) as Government seeks to implement the collection of the tax.

Former UNC Government Minister, Devant Maharaj, had made an application last month calling for the court to grant the stay on the collection and processing of the forms by the Commissioner of Valuations, saying such a move was illegal.

Maharaj is claiming the State ambushed citizens when it decided to proceed with the implementation of the property tax without the necessary legis­lative adjustments first being made.

Anand Ramlogan SC, who is leading a team of attorneys for Maharaj, argued that the Ministry of Finance was seeking to impose the tax under the 2009 Act.

Under the act, the deadline for the filing of any VRF was April 1, 2010, and if citizens had failed to do so by that time, then the commissioner had six months to forewarn them they could be prosecuted for non-compliance, he is contending.

However, no amendment has since been made to the act and as such, the State cannot simply impose a new deadline for the filing of the VRF, said Ramlogan.

On May 19, Seepersad granted the injunction and ex­ten­ded the original deadline of May 22 for citizens to complete and submit the forms to May 31.

During a subsequent hearing that day, the judge again extended the deadline, this time to June 22.


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