Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 35/2017]
Sir, I support ongoing efforts to go green with the amendments for an opt-out scheme for an electronic service.
This Bill also provides IRAS will further enforcement powers to do their duties, but some of which may be considered slightly intrusive. To address this issue, allow me to seek some clarifications on the Bill.
Empowerment of IRAS in Section 64A may be viewed as going too far in breach of private affairs
The Bill makes bold amendments to provide IRAS with stronger enforcement powers.
I refer particularly to the new Section 64A which gives IRAS “full and free access to all houses, buildings, lands, documents, computers, computer programmes and computer software”.
This gives IRAS the ability to gain access to a wide variety of resources, as it will now be able to acquire any devices and documents it requires. These are powers which some might consider to be excessive and a breach of privacy.
People who are under investigation (or those who have information regarding the investigation) will also be obliged to be personally examined.
I understand that Section 64A is similar to the new Section 65B in the proposed Income Tax (Amendment) Bill. However, commentators have raised the point that while authorities may need to conduct in-depth investigations on cash transactions of businesses, the case is different for property tax investigations, where data is widely available.
I would like to ask if we have seen an increase in property tax offences, which warrants such an increase in powers for IRAS. Can the Minister provide some justification for the empowerment of IRAS specifically for property tax investigations?
Furthermore, could we also then anticipate similar enforcement powers for all forms of tax in the future?
Increase in penalties
I also refer to the amendment of Section 56 to increase penalties for hindering or obstructing the Comptroller, Chief Assessor or IRAS officers.
The increase from the current maximum fine of $2,000 to $10,000 (and an imprisonment term from a maximum of 3 months to 12 months) is a significant jump.
I understand that this increased figure is benchmarked against the GST Act. I do support the increase in penalties to act as deterrence but can the Minister clarify if these increases are due to an increase in cases of hindering and obstructing?
Rejection of third proposal after public consultation
Finally, I understand that the proposed amendment relating to the exemption of machinery from property tax was not included in this Bill following the public consultation. Can the Minister provide more details on why this was not included and whether it will be conducting further public consultation on this?
Sir, notwithstanding the above clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill.