78,202 land owners get ease on land taxes

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On Friday August 16, the Government of Belize passed a bill called the ‘Partial remission of arears bill.’ The bill seeks to open a 6 month window for land owners who owe taxes on their property to come in to the lands department and settle their arrears.
According to the Minister of Lands, Hon. Hugo Patt the program will provide relief to 78,203 land accounts. This is representative of 85% of all the potential beneficiaries. These are also persons who owe less than $2,000.00 in land taxes. The program then is tailor made for the small land owner, who has been delinquent tin settling their land tax matters, while at the same time increasing Government’s revenue stream from this area.
Hon. Patt explains that the program will be providing an incentive for those persons who own land and owe taxes to come in and make payment by way of waving interest that has accrued as well as offering an additional 25% discount on what is owed. Currently, in the region of between 90 and 130 million dollars in land taxes, which simply is not being collected.
Kerry Belisle is the CEO at the Lands Department and he explains that the problem of uncollected land tax has been one that successive governments have been unable to address. There has been failures to put in place mechanisms to collect the taxes and that has resulted in such a large backlog of taxes.
While the 6 month tax break window is now being opened, it will allow for persons who owe to come in and make arrangements on a year by year basis, thereby reducing what they owe and increasing the department’s revenue from taxes. This, says Belisle, is important as it will allow for government to collect on taxes that would have become statute barred after 12 years. Belisle says that, as debts become older, they are harder and harder to collect. He noted that if collections are outsourced, a third party stands to gain between 20 and 35% of what is owed. With the program being implemented, it would mean that benefits will be accruing directly to both the land owners as well as government.
Dispelling allegations that government will be loosing large sums of money, Hon. Patt explained that there will be no mass removal of persons that owe. Only those who actually come in to negotiate with the department will benefit from the tax breaks.
After the 6 month window, Belisle says that a robust collection system will be put in place in the next fiscal year for tax collection. Under this program, there will be additional staff that will be hired to specifically deal with collections.