The walkout followed the decision by the Speaker Bridget Annisette-George to eject Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar and another opposition legislator as both the government and the opposition seemed unwilling to budge from their respective positions regarding the legislation.
“Member for Princes Town I also ask you to withdraw from the Chamber for the rest of the sitting,” the Speaker told the former prime minister during a loud outburst with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi who was at the time contributing to the debate.
Princes Town legislator shouted “nonsense” following the Speaker’s ruling and he too was ejected.
Al-Rawi then told the Speaker “perhaps the government ought to definitely put on the record now …that the opposition is currently walking out of the Chamber.
“You have ruled on unruly conduct by no less a person than a past prime minister, the current Leader of the Opposition where there is no explanation whatsoever from the Opposition as to why they cannot sit down and do the people’s business.
“Madam Speaker there can be no greater disrespect to Trinidad and Tobago than the Opposition’s walk out today. All of them because of misconduct, a gross dereliction of duty, it’s a shame to Trinidad and Tobago…,” Al Rawi said.
He said the walkout followed the inability of the Opposition to identify a ‘single line of amendment” to the legislation that 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 Keith Rowley administration 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. The government control 23 of the 41 seats in the Parliament.
Earlier in the sitting, the Government had sought and got an adjournment of the Parliament to allow it to peruse the changes the Opposition brought to the legislation.
However, on the resumption, Opposition Chief Whip, Ganga Singh, scolded the Government for not going the way of a Joint Select Committee, which he argued was agreed upon by both sides of the House.
Al Rawi said that the Opposition had been unable to “propose any form of solution having spent tax paying dollars…to publish” an advertisement in the newspapers.
“Today we offered them the opportunity to continue a full debate to go right down to the wire on a decision which Trinidad and Tobago relies upon, they put the published advertisement to say they are prepared to work around the clock…and they refuse.
“I want to say now Madam Speaker I am convinced that the Opposition always intended to walk out,” he said.
In the newspaper advertisement, the Opposition said it would support of “good laws” and reaffirmed its position that there were several areas of concern they were not satisfied with.
“We are concerned about several provisions in the Bill which are not required under the Inter- Governmental Agreement with the US, give wide and intrusive powers to the Minister/politician which are
not required under the IGA; give politicians future power to make laws affecting privacy and other rights without parliamentary disclosure, debate or approval; and are not to be found in like legislation of Jamaica, Bahamas and Barbados.”
Further the Opposition claimed that the “majority of stakeholders had not even seen the Bill prior to its laying in Parliament and, to our knowledge many have not been consulted.
“This is why we called for the establishment of a Joint Select Committee of Parliament to review the Bill and consult with stakeholders,” they said adding that they had intended to raise their concerns in the Joint Selection Committee of Parliament.
Earlier this 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.
“This is necessary to give effect to the Inter-Governmental Agreement signed between this country and the United States of America on August 19th, 2016 regarding the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA)”.
United States Ambassador John Estrada said last week he is having a “hard time understanding” why the country is having a problem meeting the September 30 deadline.
- Countries: Trinidad_Tobago