Irony in amending tax legislation

Those in the community who value the democratic process in action will be disappointed and saddened by the way in which the Legislative Assembly last week enacted the amendments to the Tax Information Authority Law.

Remarkably few were aware of this as no Bill was published and available in the official Gazette, there was no broad public consultation and even the usually alert media seems to have been caught napping. Why this should have happened is puzzling and concerning.

The amendments are designed principally to permit cross border exchange of information with foreign tax agencies (as yet to be identified). This goal is desirable in itself and – combined also with formal bilateral agreements and privacy safeguards – is also much needed as part of Cayman’s efforts to fend off the threats to the financial services industry from various international quarters such as the OECD, EU and the USA.

Whether these amendments contain the right privacy safeguards and yet will also prove to be the silver bullet to pacify Cayman’s foreign attackers, time will tell.

Doubtless, the Government proceeded with the best of intentions. But the first irony is that a Government elected overwhelmingly based on its commitment to transparent government and good governance has fallen victim to the same lapses as many of its predecessors.

The second irony in this case is that the amendments to the TIAL are designed to enhance transparency to meet international standards, yet the process followed by the Government was anything but transparent.

Surely it was entirely unnecessary to have disregarded the normal rules of parliamentary democracy on this occasion? It is rare, if ever, except in the case of emergencies such as natural disaster, war etc, that the usual legislative procedures need be suspended or rushed. Dilatoriness in preparing the draft legislation should never be a justification. Openness, timeliness and public discussion (however tedious that may seem to any government in power) are vital safeguards and should not be sacrificed on the altar of ‘we know best’.

The expression, ‘O Tempora, O Mores’ was never more apt.

Tim Ridley

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