SHTA strikes back at Romain Laville “MPs would do well to lead by example”

POSTED: 04/10/13 11:45 AM
National Alliance Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson and United People’s (UP) Party faction leader Romain Laville discuss the proposal to join the Latin American Parliamentary grouping (Parlatino) while the debate continues around them.

Romaine Laville on the right

St. Maarten – Certain Members of Parliament behave as if commenting on the budget is an earned right and that if organizations or individuals don’t meet certain randomly set criteria, then they don’t have the right to comment on the budget, the hospitality and trade association SHTA said in a press release issued last night in reaction to a statement by independent MP Romain Laville that members of the association are involved in criminal acts, like tax evasion.

“Instead of having a discussion about the contents of SHTA’s comments, some members of parliament have chosen to attack the messenger, sending a clear message to many in the community to be careful when speaking out,” the release stated.

“The SHTA was simply following the recommendations of the Prime Minister and the President of Parliament made at SHTA’s Membership Mixer last February, about the dual layer of government, that we study the budget and use it as a basis for commenting on the plans and priorities of government. To make unsubstantiated accusations, against an organization that offers a differing point of view is simply contrary to the principles of democratic governance,” the SHTA stated.

The association points out that it is the largest private business representative on the island whose members cover a broad range of industries including amongst others: the hotel, restaurant, catering and entertainment industry, wholesalers, retailers, real estate, marine trade, financial and legal services, taxi associations, car rentals, construction companies, and environmental organizations. “We have been objective and open to dialogue with all of the governments, past and present. Nevertheless, in representing our members, we are sometimes critical of any present government. However, contrary to what certain Members of Parliament may have suggested, SHTA has always been objective and has never shown any favoritism towards any politician or his family members.”

The SHTA said it has always strongly encouraged its members and the community at large to abide by the law. “It is however not the SHTA’s role to audit or police its members to guarantee compliance to legislation. It is the role of government to ensure, through the drafting and implementation of policy and legislation that rules and regulations are properly adhered to by all. The SHTA has always refrained from commenting on specific cases which is why SHTA has not commented on the Orca investigation, MP Laveist’s conviction, or the Pelican issue.  If the Members of Parliament believe SHTA should police its own members, perhaps the Members of Parliament would do well to lead by example.”

According to a Member of Parliament, the waiving of collecting of taxes prior to the year 2006, is already relief for SHTA’s members, the press release states. “SHTA has never condoned the waiving of tax obligations for individual companies. Its understanding was that government ledgers are clogged with unrealistic and erroneous assessments and that the Department of Finance was going to waive taxes from before 2006 because they were either uncollectable or inaccurate. The waiving of real tax obligations is unfair to those companies that have indeed complied with all of their tax obligations. If real tax obligations are being forgiven as mentioned above, this only reinforces the perception that if you comply with the law you are punished and if you break the law you are rewarded. The SHTA has always advocated for the fair and uniform application of laws and that sporadic and selective enforcement of the laws is unfair.”

The SHTA furthermore stated that it has commented on several occasions that the current tax system should shift from direct taxation to indirect taxation improving compliance, advocating that by broadening of the tax base, the overall tax burden could be reduced. “The SHTA has repeatedly criticized the turnover tax as it is damaging to our economy due to its cumulative nature. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, SHTA warned about the possible ramifications an increase in the turnover tax could have. We refer to numerous press releases in 2010, 2011, and 2012, featured in both the Today and the Daily Herald newspapers, including the SHTA’s response to the increase from 3% to 5%. “

Last September, the press release continued, when there were rumors of yet another increase in the turnover tax, the SHTA was assured by the Minister of Finance that there would be no increase in turnover tax. The association refers to an article in Today of September 13, 2012 “Tuitt No Hike in TOT”.

With regard to tax compliance, SHTA has, as previously stated, always encouraged its members to comply with all laws and regulations. If the Members of Parliament are aware of businesses that aren’t complying with the law, they should deal with this matter accordingly.  Again, the SHTA believes that broadening of the tax base and improved compliance should allow the overall tax burden to be reduced.

“The SHTA urges the Members of Parliament to get back to the business at hand of discussing the draft 2013 budget. These discussions should have taken place last September, not six months later. We, the SHTA, just like all the voters and taxpayers on St. Maarten, feel that we have the right to know and should have a say in how the Government of St. Maarten will be spending our hard-earned money, as all policy seems to be lacking from this budget.”

Last but not least, and this may be the most important issue the SHTA has with this budget, is the fact that the 2013 draft budget currently being discussed is not based on the actual financial statements of 2012.

“As far as the SHTA has been informed and we hoped that this information is incorrect, that to date, the actual financial information for 2011 and 2010 has not even been finalized. A budget should, according to general accounting practices, be based on actual financial information of the previous year, not on merely the budget of the previous year. Especially, a 2012 budget of which no one knows as yet how it compares to real expenditures and income. Thus this raises the question whether this draft should even be considered or whether we should maybe continue to use the 2012 budget and then make sure we have all the necessary figures in order to compile the 2014 budget, in a manner that is in the best interest of our country.”

The SHTA concludes its press release by stating that it is dedicated to bringing quality to all aspects of life on St. Maarten by promoting sustainable economic development for its members in cooperation with the social partners and the creation of a fair marketplace. For more information contact the SHTA offices at 542 01 08 or visit www.shta.com.

 

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