Today the Senate passed the bill to amend the General Sales Tax that will allow the Government of Belize to essentially avoid returning monies owed to tour operators. Back in October, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled in favor of David Gegg of Cruise Solutions Limited, who took the Government to court to have tour services to cruise lines be declared zero rated. Cruise Solutions won the case and the Government was ordered to pay back over half a million dollars in taxes. However, the amendment was passed. But the change in legislation is concerning to Senator for the Business Sector Mark Lizarraga.
Mark Lizarraga Senator Business Community: “It’s a travesty that we have reached to this point because if there was uncertainty in this piece of legislation we should have corrected it by a S.I. or by coming back to the house in 2006, 7, or 8 or 9 or 10 but certainly not in 2018 until we are faced with this liability. I made mention that many times laws are passed and the intent of the laws or at least that is told to us by the politician, does not translate through when it reaches the administrative parts of Government or when it reaches the procedures and administratively there are sometimes differences. So it is unfortunate that this matter has taken so long to be dealt with and had to be dealt with legally because if the intent was to tax this segment of business in the country legislatively we should have made it very clear from the outset. We knew that there was uncertainty or certainty that there were differing points of view on the interpretation of the legislation and as legislators we have a right to reform laws if we find flaws in them and so in my view it is unfortunate that we are here today. It sends a bad signal to the investment community that we can no longer rely on Government respecting the Rule of Law, respecting of highest Courts in the land and it lends very little in our view, the business community’s view to investor confidence. Why go beyond just the two operators and in fact now we believe that this case has set precedent so to speak and that many others can now jump on the bandwagon and say look you have collected taxes from me in an illegal manner, taxes that I should not have paid so there is that possibility but the biggest thing here is the message that it sends to investors, that a judgment can come in your favor or against you way down the road against Government and that now the Government has the right or our Government certainly feels that it has the right or ability that with the stroke of a pen to wipe away a judgment that took you years to get against them. So how will people feel now when they do business in Belize or when they do business with Government. They say well if government owe they just have to sign something, send it to parliament and not pay. It sends that bad signal to investors that we do not have separation of powers. The Courts have made a ruling, the Courts have said you need to pay, you need to settle, you need to return monies that you collected in error and our Government is saying no I don’t have the money so I will pass a law and I don’t pay.