Saba Business Association (SBA) president Wolfgang Tooten is lobbying against what he described as discriminatory property tax collection, writes The Daily Herald. He recently met with Caribbean Netherlands tax department official Gerard Meijer to discuss the issue and also wrote a letter to Member of the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber Wassila Hachchi of centredemocrat D66. In the letter, Tooten wrote that the tax office collected property tax from only few businesses. He described this as “an unfair, discriminatory practice and an intrusion into the free market.” Tooten claimed that only few businesses and individuals were assessed, and that “after three years only 25 per cent of businesses have to pay, while others have not even received an assessment.” SBA has sent a formal complaint to the tax office and Ombudsman, but these claimed not to have received any. Tooten incidentally met Meijer in a St. Maarten hotel and requested clarification. Tooten said he was explained that in cases in which the tax department could not assess the property value by 2013, and therefore could not send assessments, these businesses would not be taxed retroactively for 2011. Speaking on behalf of SBA businesses that paid taxes, Tooten argued that this longstanding discrepancy in treatment of businesses amounts to discriminatory taxation at the whims of low-level tax department civil servants. “Only because they pretend they cannot find the other people, some get tax exemption,” said Tooten, adding that the tax strikes a difference between foreign owners of property who have all property titles registered and appraised versus the many whose jointly-inherited family titles make taxation improbable.
SBA intends to challenge the selective treatment in Court, especially the continued taxation of the few who adhere to the law, while amnesty is applied to others. “The incapacity of the tax department to implement the tax amounts to state condoned discrimination,” said Tooten, defining it as a “state intrusion in the free market, giving unfair advantages to some business, while burdening precisely those that seek to be in compliance with the law.” As business manager of Scout’s Place bar and restaurant in Windwardside, Tooten also requested a return of tax money already paid or a credit to the equal amount for 2013. Until the tax department is capable of implementing the tax collection in an unbiased manner, SBA requests that “it shouldn’t engage in taxation it cannot fairly enforce. Taxing only a few people is discriminatory.” Tooten’s criticism does not apply to State Secretary of Finance Frans Weekers, who he applauded for his “smart and pragmatic” approach. “I think he really understands us, but I am not so sure he really knows what is happening in implementation and that they are really taxing only a few people. I think Mr. Weekers should be looking into this because it is not fair.”
Other local challenges outlined in the letter to Hachchi, include high import taxes, the General Spending Tax ABB “selectively burdening” the hospitality and tourism sector, alleged labour market “red tape” imposed by the immigration department and government’s “disappointing” response to the private sector’s offer to raise the minimum wage. SBA also voiced concerns about the intentions to curtail voting rights in local elections to non-Dutch residents. The letter also noted the high cost of telecommunication, electricity services and cost of living and requested that local stakeholders be included in the constitutional evaluation process.