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WILD COOT: Butch strikes again

Harry Russell

WILD COOT: Butch strikes again

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A woman telephoned me blue vex.
“I worked in the hotel industry from when I was 17 and have never heard such confusion. I was cleaning a room that a guest had just vacated when I heard the manager in the corridor in a rage.
“‘How could he do that to we?’ he screamed in riotous anger? ‘I do not have $500 million in investment to warrant similar treatment. I do not see where other people have made or will be making $500 million in investment.
“‘Anyhow, I am going to fight fire with fire. I own a restaurant on the South Coast, and whatever prices any new restaurant that has these fancy concessions charge, I intend to charge even if I go bust. They could bring in things without tax cost, but I will match or even better their prices.’
“The boss then spotted me. He apologized for shouting, but came and laid his hand on my shoulder. With teary eyes he asked, ‘What you think, Hilda?’
“I said, ‘Mr B, you will lose everything that you have worked so hard for. If them people were to open a restaurant built with tax-free construction material, tax-free furniture, tax-free furnishing, tax-free people with tax-free housing and tax-free motor cars, you cannot compete. It will ruin your business.
“‘Take my foolish advice and get together with the other hotels and restaurants that will be likewise affected, and go down on wunnuh knees and ask the minister wuh to do.
“‘And to besides, my man who is a taxi driver tells me that with an all-inclusive hotel, people don’t come out and frequent the rum shops, or patronize the tour buses and taxis.
“‘But I also hear you say that when a tourist books into an all-inclusive hotel, money for accommodation, food and drinks changes hands over and away so that only wages and incidentals come to Barbados. So if the people expect that a lot of foreign exchange is going to come in, they should temper their expectations.   
“‘I already told my grandson, who is ten years old, that when he reaches 35 years old all of the sweetness would have gone out of Barbados; therefore, get an education and try and go away and work.’
“The boss turned away from me. You could see dejection, the way his shoulders slumped. He was muttering, ‘I never quarrel with them for any beach rights. I never even refuse to buy a condo in paradise. I ain’t no Muslim.’
“I then asked him a question that to me was logical. ‘If other people could get all of these concessions without putting up $500 million in investment, as is obvious, would not the Minister of Tourism concede that the hotel sector is a drag on the Treasury; that lack of taxes would mean negative growth?’
“‘Hilda, you are a perceptive lady. It is not like these concessions are given to a company unique in Barbadian endeavours; Tom, Dick and Harry can now apply. Why don’t you run for St Peter in the next general election? You bound to win because with the economy in tatters now, it will be totally shot by then.’
“‘Mr B, the things that the politicians do now, I can’t do. What I say has to make sense. I can’t give away the country so. Concessions are all well and good for companies manufacturing computer parts and so forth, but not for a hotel that will challenge others with fierce competition and deprive the Treasury of revenue; and the citizen still paying 17.5 per cent value added tax.’
“My boss told me that this is yet another diversion from the real issue. The Government owes everybody, public and private sectors. Most of the institutions are in disarray. International Monetary Fund beckons for cheaper money. Central Bank has blown its top. Banks are in retreat. Now not even Mr Stewart’s creative marketing skill can put dollars into our Treasury. The position started its slide with the tax measures in 2009.
“Mr Wild Coot, I live in a house worth $500 000, but sometimes I can hardly buy food. Am I middle class?”
 Harry Russell is a banker.