Friday, 18th May 2012
Statement by Speaker Haresh Budhrani
The leaking of a confidential report prepared by the Commissioner of Income Tax on my personal tax affairs and its publication last week by some elements of the local media prompts me to make this statement to the Honourable Members who have placed me in this Chair.
While claiming the entitlement to confidentiality afforded by our laws, without exception, to all taxpayers, I cannot allow to remain unchallenged the serious allegation contained in the report which links my personal tax affairs with my position as Speaker.
The report alleges that I have, after making a few initial payments, failed to honour an agreement entered into by me with the Commissioner for the settlement of outstanding tax liabilities and that, as a consequence, the Commissioner has seen fit to withhold my Parliamentary salary.
Following the issue by the Commissioner and acceptance by me of revised assessments, I entered into a binding agreement with the Commissioner in terms which I was given to understand are commonly offered to other taxpayers in similar circumstances for the payment of the amount owed.
Contrary to the misleading impression given by media coverage of the report, I invited the Commissioner from the very outset to apply my Parliamentary salary from month to month (after deduction of PAYE) towards the payment of the installments due from me under that agreement.
The Income Tax Office duly received direct from the Treasury sums representing more than two installments due from me but the Income Tax Office (for procedural reasons of its own which were for the first time revealed to me by the Commissioner when I met him yesterday) subsequently terminated that arrangement and replaced it with a direction to the Treasury under Section 50 of the Income Tax Act. I was made aware of the Section 50 direction at the time but, since it reflected the very manner which I myself had indicated as my preference for the performance by me of the agreement, I attached no particular significance to it and readily acquiesced.
The undeniable fact is that I did not make those initial payments myself and, therefore, there can be no question of my ceasing to make further payments as alleged.
This has now been incorrectly portrayed by the Commissioner in his report as my failure to honour the agreement after having made a few initial payments, thus compelling him to withhold my net Parliamentary salary.
What is more, it is clear from my discussion with the Commissioner on the 16th April that some of the figures mentioned in his report are incorrect.
These are matters I have taken up with the Commissioner and will continue to address them and other issues arising from the report, as I have in the past on all matters relating to my taxation, with the advice and assistance of my professional accountant and by engaging directly with the Income Tax Office and not by public pronouncements.
Sitting in this Chair, however, my first and overriding duty is to facilitate the work of this House whose servant I am. When I was first appointed Speaker in September 2004 and upon each successive reappointment, I pledged to uphold the dignity of this august body and that has been my objective throughout the years. However, I am conscious of the fact that there will be my detractors out there who are more interested in my personal tax affairs than in the manner in which I perform my duties here and that will not do for those who have entrusted me with this Office.
When the Chief Minister invited me to accept re-appointment as Speaker following the General Election last December, I expressed the view that eight years is just about the right length of a Speaker’s tenure as providing a degree of continuity but ensuring that the office does not become too closely identified with its incumbent.
The events of recent weeks have crystallized that belief in my mind and I have come to the conclusion that, as I approach the eighth anniversary of my appointment, I ought to prepare to relinquish this distinguished Office.