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Around February 18 and 19, this publication and other media houses carried a story, based on a press statement issued by the Giftland Group, that the High Court ruled said business owed no taxes to the Georgetown City Council. The case was filed by Mr. Roy Beepat, proprietor of Giftland, who at a subsequent press conference demanded an apology by February 22 from Mayor Pandit Ubraj Narine in his personal capacity or he will sue him for $200 million for defamation of character. The alleged taxes Giftland owes to City Hall is said to be more than $100 million.
To the Mayor Narine’s credit he rejected Giftland Group’s statement that the court vindicated the business’ claim it owed no taxes. He is right. Last month, City Hall was able to get clarification from acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire on the decision she made in February. Madame George-Wiltshire clarified that there was no decision by her that Giftland did not owe taxes. In addressing the misperception she stated, “If everyone listens to the recording of the proceedings, they will hear what was said are taxes have to be paid but paid according to law and as the law requires.”
This publication was also caught in the net of misinformation, taking it for granted that the Giftland statement of February 18 was credible. These instances of media error admittedly could affect the credibility of the media, though in a small society such as ours and given the type of business that issued the statement, credibility was assumed. It was an oversight to ascribe this as inherent without digging deeper.
It is unclear how the misinterpretation of the acting Chief Justice’s decision occurred, though she later did say that her use of the expression “or at all” could have resulted in the confusion. How Giftland arrived at their interpretation the Court ruled the business owed no taxes has not been made public. On the media’s part, suffice to say the incident is proof that nothing should be taken for granted, particularly by the media, without primary sourcing or seeking clarity. Admittedly the media will at times make mistakes in reportage and where this publication does so we will humbly accept.
The acting Chief Justice had issued clarity on the tax debt and her decision is: “Once the applicable procedures are followed then obviously, they would have to pay that which is required, according to law. So, if it is that the media and I don’t know where they would have gotten it from, if it is that the media is of the view that the applicant is not liable to pay any taxes in perpetuity, then they are mistaken.” Giftland owes City Hall taxes. What is yet to be determined is the amount, including interest. The City Hall has stated they plan to appeal the parts of the judgement that deal with the calculation of the rates and taxes and the interest to be paid on the debt.