In 2010 the CIP government came into power straddled with a monkey they inherited off the back of the previous government: a massive amount of unpaid tax owed by over 1000 individuals and businesses.
The outstanding amount was estimated at the time at around $20 million. In June 2017 Finance minister Mark Brown updated that amount to $32 million.
Enter Richard Neves, the totally empowered new Finance secretary, who turned a blind eye on this ticking time-bomb but zeroed in on innocent non-tax paying New Zealand-paid pensioners who were collecting their monthly pensions here in the Cook Islands.
At the stroke of his pen we were taxed in 2013 with penalties backdated to 2010. These were later abolished in parliament, at our insistence.
The measures taken by RMD to recover the amount of money we owed was brutal and showed the utmost disrespect for the elderly mamas and papas. We were threatened court appearances, home visits by staff and the unthinkable bank raids.
Why didn’t RMD deploy the same energy and tactics chasing after us to go after these chronic tax offenders?
One of the placards displayed during our marches read, “Tax the real tax dodgers, not us”.
The local coconut wireless is rife with the names of these people. The tax department knew who they were. What did they do? They went and barked up the wrong tree.
A $1.5 million windfall by the tax department out of Grey Power is far outweighed by millions more added to the putunga moni kaiou (debt) that is generated by a rampant, out-of-control core tax base – an additional $13 million in seven years under the present government.
Now the monkey has become a gorilla – unmanageable, so it has to be set free. Hence the birth of the tax amnesty.
The $18 million write-off is the same amount of money that is allocated to the Department of Internal Affairs to manage the welfare of the people of the Cook Islands – from cradle to grave, so to speak. With an ever-increasing number of elderly people in this country, the department is under constant pressure to provide for them.
The $18 million that has gone down the gurgler does not help in any way.
It is clear that this intervention by the government lacked serious consideration and in the end benefitted only the unjust. It is time for a change of government.