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Worrying happenings

Dr Frances Chandler

Worrying happenings

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This is my third attempt at writing this column. I thought that finally we had the details of the solid waste tax straight after months of “wondering”, but after speaking to a few people, uncertainty reigned again.
We were first told of a greening levy in the 2012 Budget, but that seemed to have been stillborn and the solid waste tax was announced in the 2013 Budget as its replacement. We were initially told it was to be 0.7 per cent of the site value of all lots. Then we heard from Minister Donville Inniss that the percentage was an error, but no correction was announced. So we were in total confusion. As someone said recently, “Go to Sinckler and hear one thing, go to Inniss and hear another, go to the Prime Minister and get silence”.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has since confirmed that the tax will be charged only on lots which have been improved (that is, there is a building on the lot), but will be charged on the site (land) value only and not the improved value. Although the 2012 Budget gave a 2014 start date, a Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) report of October 2013 quotes Mr Sinckler as stating that it would be implemented in 2015.
Yet the act states that “it shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 1st day of September, 2013”. The BGIS couldn’t clarify, Ministry of Finance says June 2014 and those involved in its implementation doubt that’s possible. Furthermore, we aren’t convinced it will be used for waste disposal and not just “thrown into the bottomless pit”.
Still unclear
Because of all the “backing and forthing”, some people are still unclear on the site value and improved value issue. This should serve as a lesson to Government when making future public announcements. Decide what you want to achieve, make sure it’s practicable, then place a clear statement in the media detailing what’s expected of the public. This wavering projects a most unprofessional image.
On another topic, I wonder what Sir Roy Trotman is trying to achieve by attempting to extract “blood out of stone” in the sugar industry. As far as I’m aware, when Bulkeley closed, the workers were absorbed into Andrews and Portvale to produce considerably less sugar than previously.  How can a business be sustainable under these conditions? As has been said, the industry is operating as a social welfare institution. Now that a sensible business decision has been made and 57 workers are to be severed, all hell has broken loose.
I don’t understand what’s being negotiated. The workers in question have known for ten months that they could be severed, and furthermore, by their own admission, they were paid to “do nothing” or to “play cards” for that period. Now they are to be severed according to the requirements  of the law, that doesn’t seem to be enough for Sir Roy. He wants an “enhanced package”. Pray tell what is an enhanced package and how can this word be even associated with a struggling industry? Which is preferable – severing 57 workers, or putting the thousands currently employed directly or indirectly in the industry on the breadline?
Another news item which raised my ire was that of entrepreneurs operating on the highway. I’m all for entrepreneurship, but only if it’s based on the right factors. I was disappointed that the journalist (who must be aware of the vexing issue of predial larceny), when interviewing the “entrepreneur” selling peeled sugar cane, didn’t ask him from whence it came. I actually stopped and asked him, to which he replied: “From up by me.”
Of course, the person caught loading cane into a vehicle some years ago claimed he was “only trying to make an honest living”.
Predial larceny is out of control, even in the sugar industry. Farmers often lose up to ten tonnes from a single field. When one adds the late start of the crop and consequent drying out of cane, the cane fires and now the work stoppage at Portvale, how can we expect the industry to survive?
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]