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ONLY HUMAN: Value for hefty tax dollars needed

Sanka Price

ONLY HUMAN: Value for hefty tax dollars needed

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?Why do we pay taxes? The simple answer is to ensure good governance. That is, to provide the Government with enough funds to effectively run public services and to support programmes that combat poverty and inequality.
Though paying taxes here is often mandatory, I suspect the average Barbadian citizen pays them with the view that by so doing, they would continue benefiting from the fantastic social welfare net we have.
The fact is, though for decades we have been heavily taxed  the benefits have been worth it. We have enjoyed comparatively inexpensive (not free) health care and quality medication from cradle to grave, and education from nursery to tertiary level. Most households have access to a consistent supply of clean drinking water, an extensive paved road network, a subsidized national bus service, a nationwide garbage collection service with scheduled pick up times, and a professional police service that is generally responsive with a successful crime solving rate.
As workers, we receive a pension on retirement through our National Insurance Scheme (NIS). That same scheme pays workers when they fall sick from general ailments and can’t work, or for job related accidents; and it helps with funeral expenses, along with several other benefits.
Workers also have an unemployment benefit fund to sustain them when laid off. It gives us a percentage of our wages or salaries for six months initially. The Freundel Stuart administration increased this to nine months at one time.
The poor, indigent and elderly are also taken care of in our safety net through the work of the Welfare Department and related agencies.
The provision of these amenities is what has made Barbados such a desirable place to live and work.
All of this was not done by one particular Government. It was crafted progressively from the era of Sir Grantley Adams, through the tenures of Errol Barrow, Sir Lloyd Sandiford, Owen Arthur and David Thompson. Though the most partisan individual often ignores this fact, they cannot truthfully deny it.
The recounting of the past is useful in putting into context the present and probable future, especially when the way forward threatens erosion of earlier gains as Cabinet Ministers have indicated.
Based on what they have said, we know students will pay tuition fees at university; a municipal solid waste tax must be paid to ensure sustaining garbage collection; the police will be hard-pressed to respond as they must reduce costs; the fire and ambulance services must also cut costs; and we may have to pay user fees for medical care.
Up in the air is the possible increase in bus fares; the need to raise water rates to pay for the massive mains upgrades to assure greater reliability of supply; and whether budgetary cuts will impinge on the capacity of other agencies to effectively continue their work.
If, as stated, we pay taxes to effectively run public services and for good governance, when the monies collected cannot sustain that and we must spend more cash to ensure we get what our taxes should be covering, don’t we deserve to know precisely why this situation has arisen? Should we not be told too, how come we have reached this point though no major new roads and significant pieces of equipment were bought in the last five years?
The fact of the matter is that since 2008, Government has sought to keep people working by increasing employment in the public service. This is why they ended up borrowing money, said to be $40 million each month, to pay salaries and wages. This is why we are in this crisis today and not the overused excuse of the global financial depression.
As much of this is known, the question has been what can Barbados do to get out of it? The Government’s answer was what they did initially – more taxes. They are also seeking to borrow to prop up our foreign reserves and are talking about being more efficient and reducing wastage to cut costs. Yet, there is no indication that Government has changed the way it does business, as Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Lalu Vaswani’s plea last week for greater clarity of measures and actual implementation of policies indicated.
Put another way, though a road map has been identified, Barbados is going nowhere fast due largely to Government’s indecisivenessand inertia.
So, we are paying more taxes today than five years ago and getting fewer benefits. Barbadians deserve better.
Like Minister of Education Ronald Jones, I too, am tired of what he termed negativity but what are often pellucidly worthy criticisms about Government. He and his colleagues need to understand Barbadians want them to do a more effective job, and to stop the politicking.
• Sanka Price is a NATION editor.