There is no excuse for the delay in refunding the £30million that is owed in tax rebates, independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon has told Parliament.
Especially, she said, when the sums are extortionate and in effect being borrowed by the Government but not included as part of its public debt, a public debt figure which would have broken the legal limit approved by this House had it been accounted for.
In her first budget address, Mrs Hassan Nahon highlighted the subject of tax arrears and said it was causing distress to many people within the community, some of those, who are in arrears, others whose employers are not paying their taxes for them, and a few who are waiting for their rebates.
On June 07, arrears stood at £28.71 million or 4.86% of Government estimated revenue for 2016/2017.
Since, first being published for 2011, the tax arrears for “individuals” have remained fairly static.
It was revealed during the most recent meeting of Parliament that £30million is owed in refunds to the taxpayer.
Mrs Hassan Nahon said: “Various people over the last few months had approached me with a view to voicing their need to receive these rebates, something I believed would be forthcoming in the not too distant future, or that it wouldn’t be an issue.”
“However, after noting that Government have only budgeted £10m for the current financial year, I have to ask, on what basis can this be justified? Last year £7 million was budgeted for rebate but even then, £560K was held back from being returned,” she said before querying if this is the new and improved rebate mechanism put in place?
Mrs Hassan Nahon further asked the Government if rebating at this rate would inevitably compound the rebate amount while people await their money indefinitely.
She added that the delay seems unfair on the public and unfair on the staff at the Income Tax Office whose will to solve the problem is stifled due to Government budgetary decisions.
“And having said that, I hope that there is or will be a process in place to ensure that people who are in arrears on their rents do not get a refund, should such be due to them.”
On the subject of arrears, Mrs Hassan Nahon welcomed the increase on rental charges, as announced by the Chief Minister in his budget address, but added that she hoped that Government has thought through a mechanism to ensure how those in arrears will be complying with such a rise as well as paying those outstanding arrears.
Mrs Hassan Nahon also called on the Government to explain how it plans to retrieve the electricity arrears which, she said, stand higher than rental arrears at over £6.6 million.
Turning to Government Companies, she said Wholly Owned Government Companies, are normally confined to page X in the published “Approved Government of Gibraltar Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure” for a given financial year.
She therefore called on the Chief Minister to publish, and include, additional pages, containing the names of all companies in which the Government has an interest – inclusive of minority shareholding, and also for all Commissions and Agencies which it has established.
“If past practice is anything to go by, then the Estimates Book will contain the standard diagram of the ‘Government Companies (wholly owned)’.”
In essence it consists of two holding companies, namely Gibraltar Investment (Holdings) Ltd and Gibraltar International Bank Ltd.
The expenditure item “contribution to Government owned companies”, accounts for 4.99% of total expenditure or £25 million.
“So, what do we know about these companies? Where are the revenue and expenditure reflected? Would one not expect it to form part of the budget? Then, do these companies submit annual returns? And if so, to whom? And, are these annual returns available for public scrutiny? Do we know if these companies have boards? If so, who are the members of these boards, and what is their remuneration to serve in such capacity?”
These are but some of the questions which Mrs Hassan Nahon called on the Government to clarify and answer in the name of transparency, accountability and probity.