Rent allowance controversy still not settled – Police officers threaten again with legal action

POSTED: 04/24/13 10:24 AM

St. Maarten – On December 14 of last year, nineteen police officers felt vindicated after the Court in First Instance ruled in their favor in a dispute with Justice Minister Duncan over the net payment of rent allowances. The state did not even contest the claims totaling $25,000 in unjustified withheld taxes. But four months down the road, the officers still have not received their correct pay slips and they need them to get the tax refund they are entitled to.

“The police officers feel forced to take further legal action against the government to get justice done,” the attorney for the officers said in a statement.

Because the attorney for the Justice Ministry, attorney Richard Gibson Jr., told Judge Diederik Thierry in December that he would not plead the case and that his client would refer to the court’s judgment, the court saw no need to impose a $500 a day penalty for non-compliance with its ruling.

The police officers came on a 3-year contract to St. Maarten to reinforce the local police force. Part of their package was a net rent allowance from which no taxes would be withheld. In May of last year the tax inspectorate ruled that the officers had to pay income tax over their allowance.

Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte complained about the intervention of the tax office, after several of the officers experienced financial difficulties as a result of the measure.

During the summary proceedings in December it appeared that the officers and the police management had in vain spent several months on attempts to void the taxation. Several police officers decided to terminate their contracts on short notice.

The attorney who handled the case for the officers in December, Wim van Sambeek, quoted at the time articles from the civil code and rulings from the Supreme Court that establish that the employer is held to pay the taxes over net allowances.

Van Sambeek was highly critical of Minister Duncan who hired the officers under the plan of approach for the police force. “He abided by the plan but when the tax inspectorate started to tax the rent allowance, he left it up to the officers to figure it out.”

While Minister Duncan apparently agreed with the officers – he only indicated to Chief Commissioner De Witte that he would look at possible options – but nothing happened.

Attorney Van Sambeek described the situation in December as “a ping pong game between the police management, the justice minister and the finance minister.”

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