Police corruption, taxing of children

The Rickey Singh Column
Guyana Chronicle
August 29, 1999

IN TERMS of political cooperation in the national interest, the recent meeting between Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and Opposition Leader, Patrick Manning, must certainly be among the most encouraging news out of Port-of-Spain since the formation of the United National Congress-led government in November 1995 with

the cooperation of ANR Robinson as then leader of the National Alliance for Reconstruction.

For all the talk of "consultation" and "cooperation" in the interest of democracy and good governance, rare are the occasions, across the Caribbean, when the leaders of Government and Opposition meet to discuss specific issues of national importance.

In Guyana currently, the situation has been aggravated by the PNC leader's continued refusal to respond to invitations to meet the President.

We are now so accustomed to "opposition" and "confrontational" type politics, that even informal meetings of government and opposition leaders become "news". Much less if they choose to meet on a mutually agreed specific agenda and spend hours, as Panday and Manning did 10 days ago.

With crisis in the Police Service, and specifically the issue of corruption, as the occasion for their meeting, the three-and-a-half hours they spent together before emerging with a joint statement, came like a fresh political breeze that swept aside, however temporarily, the traditional snarling, petty and partisan

politicking that is so much a way of life in this and other Caribbean societies.

The Police Service stands as the first line of defence in ensuring law and order in a society. When, therefore, drugs-related and other forms of corruption become endemic among members of such a service - as was noted to be the case in this country, according to information gathered by a Scotland Yard probe team - then the question of who guards the 'guard' becomes a matter of the utmost national priority.

Prime Minister Panday and Opposition Leader Manning have clearly acted in the national interest by their meeting and in what they have agreed to do, together, to cleanse the country's Police Service of the malpractices and corruption that more than undermining the professional integrity of this vital institution,

pose a grave threat to national security.

There have been examples in Jamaica when the threat to law and order posed by criminals and drug dealers defending turfs, and worrying problems from within the Police Service itself have resulted in consultations between the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

It is a pity that such consultations take place in Jamaica and now Trinidad and Tobago at moments of crisis, when it ought to be the normal practice in the national interest instead of the constant duel between an opposition and government with an eye at the next general election.

Governing and opposition parties in the Eastern Caribbean, Guyana, indeed throughout our Caribbean Community, should take note of the Panday-Manning meeting in terms of how valuable it could prove when a bipartisan approach is taken to resolving a critical problem such as deep corruption in the Police Service.

The drug barons seem to have polluted so many sections of our Caribbean society, including, according to some reports, not just the police, but magistrates and judges in some jurisdictions. This cancerous problem requires sustained surgical remedies that could be more effective if done on a bipartisan basis, involving

the widest possible support of political parties and civil society.

We anxiously await the outcome of the Panday-Manning initiative to curb corruption within the Police Service. But the problem is wider. Ask Guyana, Dominica, St. Lucia and Jamaica, for a start.

Therefore, the CARICOM Secretariat should perhaps be mandated, as a matter of urgency, to organise a special session of Caribbean Community Police Commissioners, Attorneys General and Ministers responsible for National Security and the Police Service to come up with ideas of their own on how to effectively

deal with corruption in the disciplined services and criminality in the society.

On an entirely different issue, I would like Prime Minister Panday and Mr. Manning to also agree to resolve a problem they both may have overlooked over the years, even while the People's National Movement was in government. It is the issue of taxing children by way of an exit tax for travels abroad.

Or perhaps, they never thought of it as a problem, but one which, Barbadians, for example, would find difficult to relate to since it is not a practice in their country, and should not be elsewhere.

The plea for a review of taxing children travelling abroad is also being made to the government and opposition leaders of Guyana, Jamaica and St. Lucia and generally to those in every other Caribbean state where there is this practice of taxing children by way of an exit tax for overseas travel.

Children do not have to pay income tax. What then is the rationale to require them to purchase tax exits in sums equivalent to what adults, their parents or guardians, also have to pay?

Cannot there be a policy, region-wide, that children and students below the age of 16 are exempted from paying a departure, or exit tax? Or, required to pay no more than half the cost, up to the age of six, if this source of revenue is so

vital that it cannot be waived?

Governments already collect revenue on purchased airline tickets, for adults and children. Airlines offer discounts on fares for children 10 years and under.

Why, at worse, there cannot be a variation also in the cost of exit tax for children?

In Trinidad and Tobago with a current exchange rate of about TT$6 to US$1, an exit tax costs TT$100 for an adult or a child (other, I guess, infants).

In Guyana, any child seven years and older must pay the same exit tax as an adult - G$2,500 (US$1=G$175). In Jamaica a child over two years old is required to pay the same exit tax as his or her parents - J$1,000 or US$27.

There must be some way for governments to lighten the burden of an already heavily taxed population in this and other community states, by removing, or slashing by no less than 50 per cent, the airport exit tax for children.

I wonder which head of government will be the first to signal at least a willingness to authorise a review of the exit tax policy relating to children?

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