June 20, 2008
Lawyers owing big tax bucks

The Inland Revenue Department is dissatisfied with the voluntary compliance by lawyers and other professionals as regards the paying of taxes.

About 40 lawyers, who have been assessed to owe approximately $7.5 million in taxes, lead the list of delinquent professionals, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said at a press conference on Friday, June 13. {{more}}

Dr Gonsalves said that the arrears collection project has been ongoing since the middle of May and so far $3.5 million has been collected, after 18 businesses were contacted by the Inland Revenue Department.

During an interview with SEARCHLIGHT in March, Comptroller of Inland Revenue Kelvin Pompey said that as at December 2007, $133 million in income tax was owed to the department, and they were determined to recover the money.

Dr Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said that while he does not begrudge the professionals what they are earning, they should be willing to pay their fair share of taxes.

Dr Gonsalves equated their non-compliance with that of disregarding the human rights of the poor.

“If I am able to collect this money, I can give a bigger relief by way of subsidy. When they refuse to pay their fair share of taxes and are in contumelious disregard, it counts ill out of their mouths when they seek to lecture the rest of us about a human rights issue about this, that, or the other, because the poor have human rights,” he said.

He, however, claims not to know the identity of the defaulters.

Because most of the professionals in question have not filed tax returns, Dr Gonsalves said that most of the assessments of money owed was made mostly from “best judgment assessments”.

Targeted action to recover the arrears from these professionals and other self-employed individuals is expected to begin on June 23.

SEARCHLIGHT contacted the president of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Bar Association, attorney Kay Bacchus-Browne who said that she was unaware of the accusations of non-payment of taxes being levied at lawyers specifically.

Even so, Bacchus-Browne said that it is a personal matter between the lawyers in question and the Inland Revenue Department, and is being treated as such by the Bar Association for now.

Another revenue collection concern for the government is that of the year-old Value Added Tax (VAT) system.

The current VAT arrears are in the region of $1 million, and 10 businesses are said to be responsible for 90 per cent of this figure.

“We have to make sure that this doesn’t become a bigger problem. We have to nip it in its bud.” These VAT arrears are arrears which they have already collected … because the consumer has already paid this. “They have already charged the consumers who have already paid the VAT,” Dr Gonsalves explained.