Steps Friday by government to legalise the eligibility of regional and international artistes for tax waivers and the hike in the income tax threshold came in for sharp criticism by the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC).
In opening debate on amendments to the Income Tax Act, Finance Minister Winston Jordan said the law would remove discretion in granting tax waivers on income earned by artistes once approval is granted by the Minister of Tourism and approved by the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). “Not everyone will feel comfortable and they don’t know the rules. It would be better if it’s in the law so that of a promoter wants to bring in an artiste, it’s in the law,” he said.
Jordan noted that the APNU+AFC, on assuming office in May 2015, met a regime in which the Finance Minister granted tax exemption to artistes for an event as part of a measure to encourage entertainment tourism.
But Shadow Finance Minister, Irfan Ali argued that the amendment to the Income Tax Act would mean that the minister would still enjoy discretion in defining what is a festivity and laying down the guidelines to ensure that an event is eligible for a tax exemption.
Ali, a former Tourism Minister, expressed concern that government has not addressed concerns that government has not addressed the trail of indebtedness often left behind at hotels by overseas entertainers. “One of the problems that we have with artistes coming in to the country without settling their debts…Did we take some time to look at their interests to ensure the protection of these persons who get the greatest hit sometimes when you have these events?,” he said.
The PPPC parliamentarian also argued for the need for reciprocal tax exemptions for Guyanese when they perform in and out of the Caribbean.
After Finance Minister Jordan explained that 68,000 Guyanese would no longer have to pay income tax now that the threshold has been increased from GYD$600,000 to GYD$660,000 per annum, Ali slammed government for failing to keep its 2015 election campaign promise to increase the threshold to GYD$100,000 per person instead of the current GYD$55,000. “The least he (Jordan) could have done is to present a case to justify why that target could not be achieved at this time,” Ali said.
Based on the revenue streams outlined by government, the PPPC front-bencher said his party would be willing to accept a minimum tax threshold of GYD$75,000. “If we were in government our commitment was to take it to the same 100,000 and we have attack record of implementing and delivering on our commitment on this side of the House,” he said.