Gov’t critics being targeted in city’s back taxes litigation

-Green

Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green has accused acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba of targeting government critics through legal action initiated against businesses and individuals for unpaid taxes.

“…What we now see happening is clearly a process to target persons, who have over time, been exposing the corruption and undemocratic governance of the PPP/C administration,” Green said in a letter published in Monday’s Stabroek News, in which he addressed the municipality’s debt recovery operation. “This is a clear case of political pressure and propaganda,” he added.

At a news conference on Friday, Sooba said that the city is seeking to rake in the over $500 million it is owed in taxes, and noted that some of the sums owed dated back “to 1997 and some longer than that.”

Sooba noted that the collection of taxes has always posed a problem and as part of the recovery drive City Hall workers had been visiting debtors and advising and encouraging them to pay their outstanding taxes.

Sooba noted that many prominent businesspersons owe large sums in taxes and she said that if there seemed to be no resolution, City Hall would move to take them to court as it has already done with several of them.

“The action that was taken was not a political one …we just have to have to do what we have to do,” she said, while defending the litigation.

On Thursday, the Kissoon and Kissoon law firm filed eight suits on behalf of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court and they have been fixed for hearing on October 24. Among those named in the lawsuits are Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram and the owners of Kaieteur News.

But Green said that Sooba is being used as “an instrument to embarrass persons not supportive of government.”

He noted that the city council had appointed a panel of attorneys from which the Town Clerk is duty bound to select one to do the city’s legal work some time ago, but none of them was identified to initiate the legal action. The mayor also pointed out that although the Town Clerk as Chief Executive Officer is the servant of the M&CC, she at no time approached it for its fiat to deal with the matters.

Addressing the case of both Kaieteur News and Ram, Green said the council had pleaded with Sooba to effect an exchange of cheques, since in both instances the council is indebted to the party she has now deemed it fit to sue. “Efforts were made as recently as some two weeks ago to settle this matter, but again, the Town Clerk (ag) refused to take appropriate action,” she said, while adding that in each case the agents reported “very hostile reaction when they sought to bring closure to what ought to be a simple matter of two parties owing one another and then an exchange of cheques.”

Ram has said the figure that he has been sued for by the city council mostly represents interest charges which should not have been applied based on an agreement which had been reached with the Town Clerk in 2001.

As of June 2013, all principal Rates & Taxes assessed have been settled to 31 December 2013 taking into account the amounts owed by council and there is no amount outstanding,” he said in a statement last Friday.

Green also addressed the case of his wife, Dr Jennifer Basdeo-Green, saying an appeal was made from the outset against the excessive valuation of her property. “After years, a re-evaluation was finally done but the present administration insisted that the interest accumulated over the years must be paid. This interest is almost six times the original taxes due and payable,” he said.

He said she indicated by way of a letter to acting City Treasurer in September that she was ready to immediately pay the owed sum less the accrued interest, and sought to confirm this arrangement in writing. There has been no response from either the acting Town Clerk or acting City Treasurer, Green said, even though by a memo, dated September 13, 2013, “the Town Clerk (ag) was reminded of a legal opinion from council’s lawyers, that it was within the competence of the council to grant waivers.”