Thursday, 10th May 2012

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Taxing questions for Mr Speaker

The GBC report in relation to Haresh Budhrani QC the Speaker of the Gibraltar Parliament, in which he is alleged to have defaulted on business tax payments, creates an undignified air around one of our most important institutions.

The story itself was not totally clear but on the face of it there are very serious questions raised, none of which have been answered satisfactorily by Mr Budhrani’s terse response.

It might be correct for the Civil Service to carry out its own investigation into who leaked the document and why, but whoever it is can hardly be sentenced as a ‘miscreant’ at this stage.

Clearly this is not exactly a ‘whistle-blower’ case since, if the report is correct, the Commissioner of Income Tax is only doing his duty and, unless settled, the issue would have gone public in court as a result.

Many questions are prompted and few answered.

How long does this matter go back?

Who decides that an action is to proceed or not once the Commissioner of Income Tax comes to a view i.e. is this a decision taken by the Commissioner with no reference to the Chief Minister of the day or does he act after hearing a politicians’ view/policy?

The Speaker of the House, apart from being a seasoned QC, has presided over much legislating and many debates relating to taxation since he was appointed in 2004. If the sum is, say, around £150,000 plus, it would be a matter of concern that he would have allowed this debt to ride high without resolution. As a man holding a high public office Mr Budhrani, having driven the Commissioner of Income Tax, no doubt reluctantly, to prodding him with the threat of legal action, cannot now hide behind privacy.

Parliament may meet several times a year but the public purse pays him £43,590 a year for his services. And he has been a very professional Speaker to date, whether or not one feels he might control Members a little more from their ramblings.

The GBC story says that “the Treasury has been instructed to retain the salary of the Speaker of Parliament, Haresh Budhrani QC, in settlement of historic tax debts.” Unless that move has been part of an agreement to settle, it might raise a moot point as to whether it is right that that be done, whatever the debt circumstances. Mr Speaker, as a member of the Parliament, is not an employee of the Government. His allowance/stipend is voted by the House and he is part of a separate independent body.

Subject to Mr Budhrani supplying a satisfactory public explanation, this issue calls at the very least for a public inquiry and consideration as to whether or not he should stand down from the chair until the matter is resolved.

We have the precedent with Chief Justice Derek Schofield where the sums involved were considerably less than is understood to be the case here. If Mr Budhrani has exercised poor judgement in relation to his tax affairs it is not a crime. But it does put his position as Speaker in question.

If matters are as they appear to be he should do the honourable thing and spare the tax payer the cost of any inquiry.

If the matter is not as presented and a good agreement was in place one can only suspect some other mischief.



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