Les juges Bushan Domah et Rehana Mungly-Gulbul, siégeant en instance d’appel contre une décision de l’Assessment Review Committee (ARC), ont donné gain de cause à l’ancien vice-président de la République, Angidi Chettiar, aujourd’hui décédé, à l’effet qu’en tant que tel, sa pension n’était pas imposable. Dans le même souffle, les juges font remarquer que les dignitaires ayant pris leur retraite des fonctions qu’ils occupaient à la State House n’ont pas droit d’occuper un poste rémunérateur quelconque.
D’emblée, les juges considèrent que Angidi Chettiar « took the courageous and unconventional view that he is not liable to tax on his retirement pension ». La Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) était, elle, d’un avis contraire. « The MRA took the conservative view that, since the appellant was no longer in office but in retirement, the office pension, by that fact, becomes taxable », avait-elle soutenu.
Le litige fut pris charge par l’ARC, qui trancha en faveur de la MRA. Cette décision a été contestée par deux points d’appel qui sont les suivants : 1) … « erred in law when it failed to consider and/or properly consider and/or address the point that the emoluments of the Vice Presidents, including the Pension of the Vice President, is exempt from taxation under the Income Tax Act 1995 ; all the more so as the point had been raised before it by both Counsel for 1995 ; all the more so as the point had been raised before it by both Counsel for the Appellant and Counsel for the Respondent. 2). … erred in law when it imported and applied the definition of “pension” and “office”
from the President’s Emoluments and Pensions Act when, for the purposes of the Income Tax Act, the word “emoluments” is already defined in the Income Tax Act itself. »
La loi traitant le point litigieux se trouve dans l’Income Tax Act de 1995. Il est stipulé notamment que « the emoluments derived from the office of the President and Vice President shall be free from taxation ». Pour sir Hamid Moollan QC, avocat de l’appelant, la loi ne peut être on ne peut plus clair : vu que la pension est attachée au poste de président ou de vice-président, elle doit être exemptée de toute imposition.
L’ARC avait de son côté tranché la question en ces termes : « Only emoluments derived from the Office of the Vice President (or President) is exempt from Income Tax. Under the President’s Emoluments and Pension Act, it is clearly established that a retiring Vice President (or President) is a person who
ceases to hold office as Vice President (or President). This means that any pension derived by the Vice President, by the fact that he has been Vice President, cannot be a sum derived from the Office of the Vice President because he does not hold the Office any more. »
Les juges prennent la peine d’expliquer la signification légale du terme emoluments et celle de la pension. Se référant à l’article 2 de l’Income Tax Act de 1995, ils parviennent à la conclusion que ce terme est wide-ranging. « It means any advantage in money or money’s worth. Pension is payable in money. It is clearly included », écrivent-ils.
Ils rappellent que sir Dayendranath Burrenchobay n’avait pas payé la taxe sur sa pension en tant qu’ancien gouverneur général. Quand Maurice accéda au statut de République, « the Governor-General was replaced by a President with the same powers except its allegiance to the Queen of England. The legislature could have brought amendments to the Schedule to say that the pensions of the President or the Vice President, once out of office, shall be liable to tax on income derived from his office. It did not ».
Les juges concluent en faisant les observations suivantes. « The tax free regime of emolument inclusive of pension is not without a quid pro quo (ndlr : quelque chose contre quelque chose ou main gauche main droite — à ne pas confondre avec le terme quiproquo qui signifie confusion) from the part of the President and the Vice President. They are not entitled once out of office to undertake any remunerative employment for the rest of their lives. That restrictive covenant constitutionally imposed upon a person with wide experience in personal life, public life, political life who can put so much of all this to remunerative work at various levels of a developing nation is not a mean restriction which he suffers for the rest of his life right up to the end of his life. Vice Presidents could well argue — but we are not aware they do — that the restriction is unconstitutional. Others raised on a diet of constitutionalism would argue that it is a Convention converted into written law. But the fact remains that there is quid pro quo which is of no mean value. The value is not merely in cash. There is a constitutional and institutional value add. »