DUE to the significant hardships faced by business houses and by extension property owners—an amendment to the Land and House Tax came under review when the House of Assembly met this week.
The bill was one of the major topics for discussion, and legislators were kept busy as they analyzed various pertinent issues brought before the house.
Prime Minister Phillip Pierre spoke firstly on the issue of the Land and House Tax (Amendment) as a crucial measure geared to assist businesses and households cushion the adverse economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The purpose of this bill is to amend the Land and House Tax act and to grant a further tax exemption on residential property and a partial property tax waiver,” Pierre stated.
He added: “The overall thrust of the amendment is to provide an extended tax relief to residential property owners…and to grant relief to commercial tenants.”
Under the Land and House Tax act, residential owners are required to pay an annual fee, the prime minister explained. However, a three-year exemption was proposed and granted by the previous administration for the calendar year from 2017 to 2019.
“In addition to providing relief to these property owners and space for settlement of outstanding arrears for prior years, the period of exemption was also intended to facilitate the redesign of a broad based property tax regime for residential properties in response to the findings of a 2015 report,” said Pierre.
He said this amendment is “deemed critical to give effect to this policy in St Lucia,” and covers a five-year period from 2017 to 2021 to provide tax relief for all property owners.
Pierre noted that due to Covid-19, commercial activity was severely diminished with several business forced to close down operations. In some cases, they had to reduce their operations over the period April to June 2020 “partly due to the various mandated protocols followed by a very slow and protracted economic recovery.”
Consequently, he said, many businesses experienced loss of revenue. The prime minister noted that for many micro and small businesses, commercial rent as well as wages and salaries “are particularly large components of their expenditure.”
Pierre asserted: “In response to the acute adverse effects of the pandemic, the government sought to incentivize landlords to offer moratoriums and/or rent reduction to their tenants aimed at providing relief to their ailing businesses.”
He said this was a follow up by the SLP government, as part of the tax relief measures proposed by the former administration.
However, Pierre argued, despite the delay in the implementation of this tax relief measure, which was influenced by several factors “the government of the St Lucia Labour Party is commuted to ensuring that small business owners get the benefit.
“This intervention was conceptualized in an effort to combat the negative impact of covid-19 on property owners and by extension their tenants.”
The prime minister said government anticipates that these measures “will provide some relief to businesses and households in St Lucia as we continue to navigate the turbulent tide of the pandemic.”
Opposition member and MP for Choiseul, Bradley Felix, recalled that it was within the foresight of the previous administration “to recognize the challenges of the various commercial houses …and in an attempt to ensure that we help all, government saw it fit to create an avenue for encouraging commercial houses to at least get some relief for the challenges that they were experiencing.”