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Informal sector mixed on tax collection
While government moves ahead with plans to tackle the collection of revenue from the informal sector, mixed views are emerging from professionals in the field who believe they are already being forced to pay taxes at the grocery, to suppliers and for other services rendered.
Curepe short drop taxi driver Dave Juman, 32, agreed, “Taxi drivers don’t really pay any kind of taxes.”
Operating ten years as a registered “H” driver, Juman said if regulations were put in place to police them, it might render him unemployed.
“Taxi drivers don’t go home with fixed salaries. Sometimes we will not make a decent day’s pay while other days will be better.”
Juman said if measures were introduced to collect taxes from people in this sector only the registered drivers will feel it.
The father of two said the hustle by private hire (PH) cars was “licking us up.”
He said as passengers opt to travel with PH drivers, the fares of legitimate taxis had been steadily declining.
This, he said, coupled with increased prices for fuel and tyres, had made it more difficult to maintain their presence on the roads.
PH driver Eddie said while he is aware it is illegal, he was left without a choice after he was laid off from his job two years ago.
He said as the company he worked for downsized, he and ten others were let go as they were described as surplus labour.
Forced to operate his private vehicle in order to provide for his two-year-old daughter as he sought legitimate employment, Eddie said, “I began to hustle passengers and soon realised I could make quick, easy and tax-free dollars.”
He sheepishly admits, “Yeah, I know it is wrong and we taking away from the taxis, but everybody have to live.”
He said he will deal with the issue of taxes whenever it comes.
“I guess when the government decides how they going to do it, the PH drivers will have to decide what they going to do but for now I’m working my car. As long as I getting money to take care of my child, I don’t care.”
Meanwhile, a northern-based prominent attorney who has been practicing for more than ten years declared, “the government is correct.”
He said while many in the profession may want to do the right thing and declare their earnings, the bureaucratic system was not fair.
The attorney urged the government not to single out individuals employed in white-collar jobs alone.
He said hairdressers, barbers, lessons teachers, caterers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, masons, construction workers, sno-cone vendors, nuts sellers and those hustling with drinks carts all needed to brought into the equation as they too were earning an income daily.
“I will never say targeting the informal sector is wrong, but it ought to be done with a certain amount of equity and no favouritism being extended to anyone.”
A lessons teacher offering private classes out of her home in Chaguanas said, “To introduce regulations would work against us.”
She disputed claims that lessons teachers were “making a killing” by charging exorbitant fees for after-school sessions.
The educator with 29 years service offered, “I do a lot of charity as I offer free classes to four students every year. People look at us and think we are charging to make a profit, but when you factor in our expenses—educational material and supplies for the students, along with overhead costs such as electricity, rent and other requirements—we don’t always make a profit.”
Indicating she was charging for her time and experience as a teacher, the woman asked, “how can you quantify that?”
A mother of three who has been selling doubles in San Juan for the past 17 years said, “I don’t agree with taxes for this sector. We are already paying VAT on all grocery items and it is unfair.”
With sales having declined dramatically during 2016 and 2017 so far, she added, “We won’t be able to manage if a tax is imposed and with the market being so saturated now, it has made things more difficult to continue.”
Vanessa, 28, who operates a hairdressing salon in St Helena, said while it was important for everyone to pay taxes, it was equally important to ensure compliance.
The mother of two asked, “It is true we don’t pay taxes now but how do they intend to make sure that everyone complies?”
She argued it was unfair for some people alone to be taxed, while others continued to get away.
“I don’t have a problem paying taxes because I know the government needs the money, but it has to be done in a fair manner so everyone contributes something at the end of the day.”