By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH more than $550 million in Real Property Taxes outstanding, Free National Movement Chairman Darron Cash urged the government to correct its tax collection system before imposing VAT on Bahamians.
Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, Mr Cash said the extent of uncollected back taxes raises major concerns about the weaknesses in the current tax administration and collection agencies.
He was speaking in response to an admission by State Finance Minister Michael Halkitis that the government was challenged with a flawed tax collection system that often duplicated bills and has a hard time keeping track of accounts in arrears. He said the government would need to invest in new equipment and manpower to maintain good collection levels.
”At a time when the Christie Administration is trying to raise government revenues by $200 million,” said Mr Cash, “the report that over $550 million is owed in Real Property Taxes underscores the extent of government’s challenges in collecting taxes once they are imposed. The government has a lot more explaining to do.
“The extent of the uncollected back taxes raises major concerns about the weaknesses in the current tax administration and collection agencies. Dozens of questions have arisen about why this system has failed so badly. It should be clear to the Prime Minister that he has a duty to answer these questions for the country before he imposes another tax.
“It should be a ‘no brainer’ that all of these fundamental current problems would be substantially eliminated before the Minister of State and the Prime Minister impose new taxes on Bahamians. By the Minister’s own admission it appears that the two ministers want the Bahamian people to pay the price for their inability to correct administrative and management problems.”
On Thursday, Mr Halkitis admitted to The Tribune that over years, a culture has developed which allowed back taxes to accumulate. For the last 30 years, successive governments had failed to collect $557,844,377.12 in Real Property Taxes. Mr Halkitis added that all governments had been slow to threaten seizure of property because of a fear that unemployment numbers would increase.
At this point, the Christie administration is urging persons with accounts in arrears to bring them current.
He said officials were committed to pursuing back taxes, contrary to the opinions of political pundits.