Former Minister Roland Tuitt: “SER used as political football”

POSTED: 11/18/14 12:17 AM

St. Maarten – Former Finance Minister Roland Tuitt has lashed out at the Social Economic Council (SER) for its advice that calculates the total write-off of uncollected taxes between 1976 and 2006 at more than 4.4 billion guilders ($2.5 billion). In a statement that sums up ten reasons why there is nothing wrong with his decision to write off the old tax debts, the former minister, a certified public accountant, notes that the receiver ought to be investigated  for breaking the law by instructing employees to collect tax debts older than 2006.. “That is breaking the law in accordance with the LMA,” Tuitt writes in his statement. (The LMA is the ordinance that regulates rights and obligations of civil servants).

As this newspaper reported on Friday, the SER-advice has met with severe criticism. Tuitt has now joined the critics, stating that the SER “is not a high council of state that gives requested and unrequested advice to the government.”

That statement does not tally with the mission statement on the SER-website, where the council describes its task as: “The Social and Economic Council provides the Government of Sint Maarten with solicited and unsolicited advice on all important social and economic issues.”

Tuitt however, charges that the SER has allowed itself to be used “for political reasons during the last elections.” It is correct that the SER-advice was ready on August 25, four days prior to the elections, but it was published on the website and in the National Gazette only recently.

It is noteworthy that the SER’s Secretary-General, Gerard Richardson, was a candidate for the Democratic Party in the last elections. SER-chairlady Oldine Bryson-Pantophlet is a member of the Democratic Party.

Tuitt gives ten reasons to support his position that the tax write-off is above board. He refers to two motions from Parliament and to comments from the financial supervisor Cft, the government accountant bureau Soab and the General Audit Chamber. He furthermore notes that the government writes of old tax-debts annually. “A provision is made for about 90 percent of the amounts in the accounting system.”

Keeping 4.4 million guilders in tax debts is “ridiculous” and “total nonsense” Tuitt furthermore states, adding that writing these debts off “decreases the possibility of fraud. During the last couple of year, “less than 1 percent was collected on the outstanding amounts,” the former minister points out. This tallies with the criticism from others who have noted that collecting tax debts older than 5 years is difficult and collecting debts older than 7 years is virtually pointless.

Tuitt states “that the law was signed prior to the fall of the government” and published in May 2013. However, the publication in the National Gazette of May 24, 2013, regards policy rules for not collecting tax debts from 2006 and before – not an actual law. “A draft national ordinance will be submitted shortly,” this document states.

Tuitt concludes that the SER’s conclusion is without any basis and “worthless.” The former minister notes that the SER did not have the decency to contact him to verify their findings. “Thus they were used as a political football and complied.”

For Tuitt’s unabridged statement, see other another post of today.

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