Give duty free option to locals
A longstanding engineer and social commentator is calling on Government to allow both locals and tourists to make duty-free purchases with foreign currency as a way of building up Barbados’ precious foreign reserves.
Grenville Phillips II, a structural engineer for the past 20 years, Internet blogger and former newspaper columnist, told the DAILY NATION recently that precious foreign exchange leaks out of the country when Barbadians travel abroad principally to shop for cheaper items; but that could be stemmed by allowing locals to shop with foreign currency in local stores and supermarkets duty-free.
He said not only were Barbadians spending foreign exchange abroad on travel, accommodation, food, goods and the shipping of bulk items to Barbados during their shopping trips; but the current duty-free policy limiting purchasers to visitors was ineffective.
“Local purchasers can easily get visiting friends or family members to make the purchases with local currency,” he added.“A more effective policy would be to allow both locals and tourists to make duty-free purchases, provided that those purchases are in a foreign currency approved by the Central Bank.“This could include US or Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Eastern Caribbean currency. Technical assistance can be provided to non duty-free retail establishments that wish to participate in the duty-free retail of goods,” said Phillips, who is also president of Walbrent College which offers training in construction.
Phillips opined that significant amounts of foreign exchange were received by people who provided goods and services to tourists, but this money was available for purchase by people who felt forced to shop overseas due to the significantly higher local prices and the perceived wider selection overseas.
“That view is valid to some extent but the selection of retail items in Barbados has improved significantly,” he added.Phillips said, however, that once Government begins to increase its foreign reserves, it must curb the tendency to spend more than it earned.“If we can afford to provide all students with tax-payer funded school uniforms, iPads, bus rides, meals, and their parents with tax-payer funded cars and petrol, then let’s do it, but if we cannot afford to provide these services, then a national discussion should be held on determining a default priority list of Government services that may be limited during economic downturns. This should remove the current uncertainty about, and facilitate proper planning of, these services,” he suggested.
He also lamented the fact that a constitutional amendment had been made 18 years ago to prevent public salaries from being cut.
“The eight per cent cut was an effective option to avoid making many public servants unemployed during a crisis, while maintaining a similar level of Government services. But that option is no longer available to the Government . . . so it may have to cut public servants’ hours or make many of them unemployed – both of which are expected to reduce the level of public services.
“I do not understand why we chose to limit our national options,” he said.
The Barbados Constitution Act 1995, section 112A, provides that the salaries and allowances payable to the holders of offices established under the Civil Establishment Act and the Defence Act – basically, public servants and soldiers – “shall not be altered to their disadvantage”.