Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has bypassed Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and has written directly to United States President Donald Trump, asking him to state his position on the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA).
The former prime minister wrote to Trump on January 13, one week before his January 20 inauguration, congratulating him on his victory and informing him of the “controversy” the FATCA legislation has caused in T&T.
“As we consider the full impact of FATCA compliance on our citizens, taxpayers and institutions, as well what some see as a compromise of the sovereignty in submitting to a foreign law, it is appropriate to ask what your administration plans to do about FATCA,” Persad-Bissessar wrote.
“Specifically, as you know, the Republican Party Platform for 2016 calls for its repeal,” she added.
In the letter, Persad-Bissessar cited two Republican senators, Rand Paul and Mark Meadows, who she said both introduced bills to repeal FATCA.
Persad-Bissessar was referring to a March 2015 bill brought by Paul, titled S.663.
It is a bill to “repeal certain provisions of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and put an end to a defective bill that does not accomplish its objective of ending tax evasion”.
In that bill, Paul described FATCA as a “complete violation of every American's constitutional right to privacy and adds burdensome regulations that negatively impact our economy. It is a defective law which disregards the mutual respect of sovereignty among nations and drains money from the federal treasury, on top of discouraging overseas investment in the United States”.
Meadows' bill, HR 5935, also sought to repeal some of the provisions of the FATCA bill.
'No time for this'
“But, of course, these went nowhere with the Democratic control of the White House,” Persad-Bissessar wrote.
“With the expected enactment of a comprehensive tax reform package early in your term, I am informed a FATCA repeal bill may be among the reforms included,” she said.
In the three-page letter, Persad-Bissessar said she was writing on this issue only after “urging” Rowley to do the same and, “For which I have been rebuffed in our House of Representatives by the Minister of Finance, Mr Colm Imbert, who claimed that you (Trump) 'did not have time for this'.”
Persad-Bissessar questioned what steps Trump's administration would take “directly”.
“Among your major campaign pledges was revocation of executive actions taken by your predecessor that exceeded his authority as president,” she said.
Among that list, Persad-Bissessar says, is Item 203, which identifies “information reporting by foreign financial institutions and withholding on certain payments to foreign financial institutions and other foreign entities”.
“This would appear to cover non-treaty 'intergovernmental agreements' with Trinidad and Tobago and many other countries to implement FATCA under terms not codified in US statute or treaty terms,” the letter stated.
Persad-Bissessar told Trump that as the Joint Select Committee (JSC) is expected to begin work on the FATCA bill, “it would be very helpful for us to know if the relevant US law may soon be nullified, either by legislative or executive action or both”.
FATCA impasse background
After four months of gridlock, the Government in January gave in to the Opposition's demand to have the FATCA legislation discussed before the Joint Select Committee.
The JSC is expected to report back to the House by February 3, 2017.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert signalled then that when the JSC report comes to the House of Representatives on February 3, Government will be taking the bill to the vote in order to allow debate in the Senate, in time to meet the February 28 deadline for passage set by the US Treasury.
Imbert had said then the Opposition was holding the country to ransom and using blackmail to force the Government to give in and have the matter discussed by the JSC.
He had then labelled as “an absurdity” the Opposition Leader's “command” that the Government “write to president-elect Donald Trump and ask him if he is going to repeal FATCA”.
Back in September, then US ambassador to T&T John Estrada “strongly recommended that Trinidad and Tobago pass legislation no later than February 2017”.
“I would remind all of Trinidad and Tobago that FATCA is just one element of the strong and broad relationship between our two countries,” Estrada said in a media statement then.
Earlier this month, Estrada was reported as saying FATCA detractors may have “cocoa in the sun”.
He said he was not confident of passage of the legislation and suggested different strategies be explored, adding a lot of wrong information had been put out on FATCA.
Estrada said citizens needed to understand FATCA is a United States law, passed by the US Congress and not a presidential decree.
He said the law targets US citizens who are involved in tax evasion and terrorism, yet people were trying to say that it was trampling the rights of the ordinary T&T citizen, which was not accurate.
Estrada said passage of the legislation is in this country's best interest.
He said in the absence of the law, the citizens of this country will bear tough financial consequences.