MPs reject property tax bill

MPs have rejected a government request to discuss & vote on the bill to increase Immovable Property Tax as part of the island’s bailout deal saying they needed more time to consider its ramifications.

MPs on Thursday rejected the cabinet’s new Immovable Property Tax (IPT) rates, opting instead to postpone discussions on the grounds that more time was needed to study the provisions in depth.

The government wanted the bill approved before Monday, when Eurozone finance ministers are scheduled to discuss the island’s bailout bid.

The bill, approved by the cabinet on Wednesday and submitted to parliament on Thursday, is in line with a preliminary bailout agreement and in theory it could fetch the government some €120 million in 2013.

The government requested the bill to be classified as urgent, meaning parliament would have to discuss and vote on it immediately.

However, the government’s request was rejected by majority vote – 31 to 17 with only ruling AKEL voting in favour. There were no abstentions.

Main opposition DISY deputy chairman Averof Neophytou stressed that despite the postponement, a clear message must be sent to international lenders that parliament remained committed to approve additional property tax after the necessary time was given to lawmakers to study the bill.

“We do not have all the information before us,” Neophytou said during the lunchtime session.

DIKO’s Nicolas Papadopoulos echoed Neophytou in that parliament remained committed to passing a tax bill, adding too that more time was needed to “examine the bill in depth.”

EDEK MP Giorgos Varnava felt the need to stress that this should not be interpreted as an attempt to protect privileged groups.

AKEL however, accused the opposition of trying to postpone discussion until after the presidential elections in mid-February, although House President Yiannakis Omirou said efforts would be made to put the issue back on the agenda and call another session before the elections once some discussion had taken place at committee level.

Nicos Katsourides, the party’s parliamentary representative accused his colleagues of hypocrisy. “In all the years I have been an MP, whenever an IPT bill came to parliament it ended up being shredded to pieces,” he said, adding that under the provisions it was clear that 78 per cent of all property owners would not be affected by the new tax. Wealthy property owners on the other hand, would be.

Addressing his opposition colleagues, Katsourides pointed out that no one had expressed any concerns when parliament hastily passed a batch of austerity measures in December that involved tax and other hikes affecting the man in the street.

Katsourides said the opposition’s intention was clear: “to not discuss the bill before the presidential elections.” “If your intentions are honest then come back in one week,” he added.

Earlier in the day the bill was discussed at the House Finance Committee.

Inland Revenue boss Giorgos Poufos and permanent secretary of the Interior Ministry Andreas Assiotis made it clear to deputies that even a small change would throw off the state’s calculation designed to bring in €120 million.

Posted by George Psyllides