Elements within the Belizean diaspora have been agitating lately for political representation in Belize. Perhaps many of them are familiar with that old refrain, “No Taxation without Representation”. The phrase is said to have originated prior to United States independence, when American colonists agitated for representation in the British Parliament. The Colonists held the view that if they were to be taxed (or continued to be taxed), then they should have actual representation, i.e. direct involvement in decisions about how their tax dollars were being raised and spent.
The idea of taxation working in tandem with political representation is therefore not new; it has always constituted the basis for a model of fairness. Absent either—and the prospects for fair implementation of the other becomes difficult at best.
Belizeans in the diaspora are not required by law to pay taxes on their income to the Government of Belize. Taxation in Belize is based on the “source principle”, meaning that we are taxed in Belize on earnings which originate in Belize (with few exceptions), regardless of the residence of the taxpayer. In other countries, taxes are imposed on the worldwide earnings of their citizens, without regard for the source of the earnings, i.e. taxation based on the “residency principle”.
Those in the diaspora who now agitate for representation do so without any income tax obligation to the Government (and people) of Belize. In other words, they seek “Representation without Taxation”; they wish to have a say in how taxes are imposed on the rest of us and how our moneys are spent—without having any obligation or responsibility of their own to bear the burden of those taxes or to live with the consequences of their decisions, unlike those of us who earn a living here and on whom taxes are imposed on pain of imprisonment.
Notwithstanding the political and other legal hurdles, would it be fair to grant this special privilege to our Belizean diaspora? Are they prepared to level the income tax playing field in relation to rights of representation? Indeed, how many of the agitators would be receptive to the idea of the Government of Belize passing legislation to impose taxes on their worldwide earnings? Wouldn’t that be a true test of their professed allegiance and loyalty?
Even so, allegiance and loyalty do not figure in this taxation/representation equation. Those are individual, emotional declarations which are always subject to change and which cannot be objectively measured, evaluated or used as the basis for official decision-making.
And what about those remittances? Remittances are not state-imposed obligations; the government has no direct claim to those moneys. They are expenditures of a personal nature for the benefit of those involved in their private transactions. And although their benefits to our economy are undeniable, the fact remains that the benefits our country continues to receive from remittances are only incidental to the original, personal transactions.
Remittances, however significant, will not and cannot fulfill the taxation gap in our taxation—representation model. The issue here is not the quantum of the remittances or the impact on our economy, but instead—the personal nature and the absence of any legal obligation attached to those remittances.
So it really comes down to the issue of fairness in taxation. It is quite likely that most of the agitators in the diaspora would abhor the idea paying income taxes in Belize. But if they truly want the representation they seek, then must be prepared to present meaningful proposals to address taxation. Until then, the refrain will have to be, “No Representation without Taxation”!
(P.S. The narrow focus here on representation is not unintentional; ultimate control of our finances and other resources has always resided with our representatives, whether by result of the process or original intention.)