Speaking at a news conference, Rowley also said that the government of former prime minister Kamla Persad Bissessar had refused requests from the United States to deal with issues regarding money laundering, casino gambling among other criminal activities.
The FATCA legislation demands that foreign banks provide information to America’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on any customer deemed a “US person” if they have more than US$50,000.
Washington has said that the legislation aims to crack down on tax dodgers who hide hundreds of millions of US dollars in offshore accounts annually in an effort to avoid paying taxes.
The government needs a special two-thirds majority to pass the legislation and the walkout by the Opposition has effectively derailed the chances of the passage of the bill by the September 30 deadline, which is also Budget Day here. The government control 23 of the 41 seats in the Parliament.
Opposition legislators last Friday staged a walkout of the Parliament effectively derailing any chance Trinidad and Tobago had of meeting the September 30 deadline to pass the legislation.
The walkout followed the decision by the Speaker Bridget Annisette-George to eject Persad Bissessar and another opposition legislator as both the government and the opposition seemed unwilling to budge from their respective positions regarding the legislation.
Prime Minister Rowley told reporters “what you saw in the Parliament there was not spontaneous and that is why from the minute we saw the opposition demanding that the matter go to a joint committee before the prorogation of Parliament we knew the opposition had no intention of supporting the bill.”
Rowley said as a result, his administration has since asked the United States for an extension “because it was clear to us that the opposition was not prepared to have this matter concluded in the way we had anticipated a responsible opposition will.”.
Rowley said that the opposition had put in place its strategy to derail the debate on the legislation and had come to the Parliament with the intention of doing so.
“None of this seriousness which is causing the nation anxiety has any justification and that might very well be the reason why since 2013, she did not do it and we are now trying to do it and this is their behaviour,” he said, reminding journalists that the Opposition “was put out of Parliament for misconduct in taking issue with the Chair and not the government.
“The opposition members were asked to leave the Chamber because of their misconduct to the Speaker,” he said, adding “now that this disgraceful behaviour has been displayed and our national interest once again has been put in jeopardy, the Opposition Leader is saying we should have continued the debate…
“Nothing other than what you saw there would have happened because that is what they planned and that is what they executed. And they alone know what their end game is.
“What I do know is that the end game for Trinidad and Tobago had nothing to do with putting the country in a situation where we have to rely on the good graces of the United States,” he said, noting that this is not an aberration involving the opposition.
“This is simply a continuation of an inexplicable conduct of people who had authority in this country,” he said, noting that the FATCA legislation “is not the only matter that this group of persons have put our national interest at risk in the most cavalier way”.
Rowley told reporters that for three years the United States government had offered the former government technical assistance that gave training and mentorship on anti-money laundering and matters to do on counter financing on terrorism.
“Those issues involving gambling legislation and how to build cases for financial crimes have been waiting for a sign off from the government of Trinidad and Tobago for three years, we are now finding that out, and I am telling the country, best known to the last government they failed to sign off on it to allow the United states to assist Trinidad and Tobago…this government will sign it.”.
He said the government does not need the opposition support in the Parliament to pass the agreement “otherwise they would have blocked that too”.
Rowley told reporters that he was disappointed that the Opposition Leader and her colleagues had adopted such a position on the FATCA legislation having knowledge of the situation confronting Belize for example.
“So we know what is likely to happen if you end up there. So for her to come and tell the country now that we are over reacting and that the sky wouldn’t fall in is gross irresponsibility because the consequences can be very grave, and don’t take my word for it, talk to those in the business community and in the banking community,” Rowley told reporters.
“So somebody who is telling you that you are over reacting, clearly is either being fast and lose or has not woken up as yet,” Rowley added.
Speaking on television here via telephone on Monday, Persad Bissessar denied that she and her opposition legislators had walked out and instead accused the Government of abandoning the bill by failing to uphold its commitment to appoint a Joint Select Committee to sit over the legislation.
FATCA legislation had been with the Persad Bissessar administration in 2013 and the Opposition Leader acknowledged that her government could have tabled the legislation before Parliament.
In a newspaper advertisement prior to a Parliament meeting last week, the Opposition said it would be supportive of “good laws” and reaffirmed its position that there were several areas of concern they were not satisfied with in the FATCA legislation.
Last week, seven private sector organisations called on the Trinidad and Tobago government and opposition to put aside their differences and ensure the country meets the September 30 deadline for the passage of the bill.
In a full page advertisement in a local newspaper here, the private sector organisations including the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago (AMCHAM), the Association of Trinidad and Tobago Insurance Companies (ATTIC) and the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT), called on legislators to ensure passage of the bill within the deadline.
They said they “strongly urge both the government…and the opposition to expedite their discussions and work together with a greater sense of urgency to pass the Tax Information Exchange Bill 2016 to meet the September 30, 2016 deadline.
United States Ambassador John Estrada said earlier this month he is having a “hard time understanding” why the country is having a problem meeting the September 30 deadline.
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