In the face of uproar from the farming community, the one-year old New National Party (NNP) government has issued a public apology to the country over the handling of the controversial tax to be imposed on all idle lands in Grenada.
The local call-in programmes on the various radio stations in the country have been bombarded in recent weeks with many persons raising concerns over the manner in which the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) within the Ministry of Finance send out Demand Notices for payment of the land taxes.
Agriculture Minister, Roland Bhola and Comptroller at IRD, Raphael Stephens met with local reporters last week Tuesday at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing to issue apologies to some 15,000 landowners who received the demand notices resulting in increased tax payments.
According to Stephen a technical team was developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture to come up with a mechanism for the reclassification of idle lands to ensure that landowners comply with the 2013 fiscal policies of the government.
He said that unfortunately the extension officers and appraisers from IRD did not complete the field work that was needed to determine which lands were idle or under-cultivation.
He added that a new strategy would have to be adopted to ensure that “we comply with the policy and also the directive as established and gazetted” by government to cover its idle land policy.
“Unfortunately due to the short timeframe … the idle lands were taxed at the rate of 0.2% and issued to land owners,” he said.
Minister Bhola who also addressed the press briefing sought to downplay the problem by putting it down to the exuberance of the department to help government collect taxes in keeping with the ongoing Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
“Maybe because of the financial situation and the exuberance of the personnel within the Inland Revenue Division (IRD), they were prepared to move forward and say let’s get going and raise some revenue – so some demand notices went out,” Bhola said.
According to the senior government, some notices should have gone out to farmers but not “demand notices”.
Minister Bhola insisted that the idle land tax is a new measure primarily aimed at boosting agriculture production in the country and not seeking to raise additional revenue.
“What needed to happen is that Inland Revenue needed to send notices out to all and sundry, whether your land is cultivated or not, letting all land owners know that a team is being set up and will be looking at your lands,” he said.
“So those are the notices that should have gone out. Unfortunately what we got were demand notices where people were told, come in and pay if your land is idle. The actual collection of the 0.2 percent should begin next year and not this year”, he added.
The Agriculture Minister stated that despite the initial problem with the implementation of the tax, the country, would benefit in the long run from the effects of an Idle Land Tax.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that the measure was never meant to be a revenue enhancement measure from taxation. In effect, what we were saying is that, you would be at a disadvantage if you are the owner of good agriculture land and you did not put it into full production”, he said.
According to Minister Bhola, letters should have been issued by IRD to all agricultural land owners informing them that a team is being set up and would be looking at their lands and that from next year if they are not put into production, they would receive demand notices to pay for the idle lands.
“The actual collection of the 0.2% should begin next year and not this year. So we want to apologise to in excess of 15,000 landowners and their families who received notices”, he said.
Bhola disclosed that those landowners who complied with the notices to make payments, will be refunded monies already paid or can make arrangement with IRD to treat it as a payment in advance for their idle lands.