The Paradise Papers is the most recent leak to reveal how the super rich around the world as well as global corporations have used off-shore tax havens in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in their home territories.
One may frown at the revelations in Paradise Papers, and Panama Papers published some time ago, but we have been witnessing our own ‘Trinidad and Tobago Papers’, albeit, without naming the culprits of local tax evasion. Local VAT evasion and opposition to the property tax reveal the underlying social and economic philosophy that drives global tax evasion revealed in the Paradise Papers.
Behind tax evasion is not only greed and self-preservation, but also a more sinister anti-community mindset that denies any kind of responsibility for the common good. Sheer individualism motivates the rich, middle and propertied classes to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Put simply, the proponents of the anti-tax philosophy in many societies argue that they would not feed, clothe, educate and shelter anyone with their hard-earned money. Their basic slogan is: “Every man for himself.” Added to this is the scientifically unfounded idea and morally bankrupt position, that the “poor are lazy” and so underserving of State assistance via taxpayers’ monies.
The Trinidad and Tobago anti-tax mentality is even more absurd since the VAT and PAYE taxes that the poor and the middle class have paid for many years have helped educate the children of the rich and super rich through secondary school into GATE. Today’s professional class who graduate with the help of GATE must remember that taxes across the board have directly and indirectly contributed to their subsidised education.
The owners of companies whose trucks and forty-foot containers damage the roads and highways ought to remember that taxes fix roads for which they pay no toll. When goods, for which there are high mark ups, are brought into the country via airports and seaports, taxes maintain these import-export hubs without which business and commerce will come to a screeching halt. Taxes help to provide services that everyone benefits from, not only the poor.
Citizens of a country who live by an anti-tax philosophy have not understood the principle of “Bearing the Benefits and Burdens”. This is a basic social principle that every society must live by.
There are benefits and burdens of living in every society, and all must share in them. Tax is one method through which a government helps to spread the ‘benefits and burdens’ of providing goods and services and confronting structural adjustment during economic slumps.
It is an injustice to avoid paying one’s fair share of taxes, while at the same time demanding rights to goods and services. With the notion of rights comes the notion of responsibility. We cannot continue to claim basic rights without living up to corresponding responsibilities as citizens of this country.