A bill that once triggered massive public demonstrations is set to make its return in the Senate on Tuesday. The Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) bill was described as the “Satanic verses” by Public Services Association President, Watson Duke in 2010, because, as he stated at the time, “The bill paved the way for the exploitation of workers.”
The TTRA first made its way into the halls of Parliament during former PNM Prime Minister, Patrick Manning’s administration in 2008-2009, but was shelved after it was defeated in the Senate and then PM Manning called snap elections. It was one of the first major victories for the newly elected PSA President, Mr. Watson Duke having defeated Jennifer Baptiste-Primus in the PSA elections in 2009.
In 2018, PSA President, Watson Duke asked citizens to reject the notion of a Revenue Authority. He said, there was no guarantee that it was effective. Duke had cited the International Journal of Public Administration websites, where he said that the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and World Bank acknowledged that there is no evidence to suggest that the Revenue Authority works.
However, the most contentious issue has been the job security for workers. President Duke demanded that all employees who work at the BIR and CED transfer to the TTRA automatically. Duke said, “All workers must be transferred without any test, any application, every single person be transferred – contract, a temporary or permanent worker from both institutions – and their salaries be improved and their terms and conditions remain the same or improved. I felt the delay by the Minister of Finance to prepare the TTRA Act was something well deserving to look at, but what he has done is glorify the days of slavery, when workers will be forced out of their jobs to take up contract work as independent contractors.”
Under the bill governing the Revenue Authority(TTRA), the Public Service Commission will no longer be responsible for the appointment of Customs Officers and staff at the Board of Inland Revenue. Instead, the staff would be hired on contract by the Board of Directors chosen by the Minister of Finance, a politician. The Finance Minister will also appoint the Director-General, the de facto CEO, who will also be on contract. These political appointments are contentious and many stakeholders have questioned the independence of these key institutions responsible for the majority of taxes collected in the country as well as the important role played in securing our borders.
In 2017, a concerned citizen named Steve Alvarez sent a letter to the editor of a daily newspaper. He stated, “In 2009, I wrote an article indicating that given our political history, a revenue authority with contract officers appointed by the political party in service is an extremely dangerous endeavor. I repeat my concerns today. The Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) must be opposed by every patriot.” Alvarez continued, “Are citizens concerned about the transfer from the Board of Inland Revenue and the Customs to the TTRA? It can be considered irresponsible almost dangerous for any government to assign a corporation to be responsible for over 90 percent of the country’s revenue. The implications may be scary. How can any responsible citizenry allow its government to transfer the responsibility of managing the nation’s purse to a board of political appointees without the oversight of the public service?”
For the PSA and its President Watson Duke, one of the key issues is that of job security for the workers. President Watson Duke will continue holding meetings with the workers of BIR and CED as they prepare to oppose the passage of the bill.