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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: What’s the answer?

DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: What’s the answer?

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NOT AGAIN! I thought Government would’ve learned by now that you must understand how a tax will work before you introduce it. Remember the cellphone tax?

And wasn’t there confusion over the solid waste and consolidation taxes?

But the handling of the social responsibility levy takes the cake. Imagine that Minister Chris Sinckler, in the Budget speech on August 16, stated that the levy would come into force on September 1, but was reported on August 31, one day before the implementation date, as saying the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) would soon be issuing special notes regarding the levy that should make its implementation  smoother.

Shouldn’t the regulations have come out along with the announcement of the levy? Wouldn’t that be simpler? And since the levy will impact everyone, shouldn’t the regulations have been published in the newspaper and via the other media? Must we all contact the BRA to find out how to proceed? Based on the efficiency with which they answer their phones, when would you expect to get the information?

Obviously, the result was chaos. The tax consultants didn’t know what to do, the Chamber of Commerce has been bombarded with calls asking what to do, farmers have been asking the same questions. The manufacturers are asking if they are to charge the levy on their output if it is an input into another manufacturing business which would then charge it again to the consumer of their output.

A definition of domestic output is sorely needed. For instance, aren’t meals the output of a restaurant? Isn’t electricity the output of the Barbados Light & Power Company, water the output of the Barbados Water Authority and natural gas the output of the National Petroleum Corporation?

But the whole concept of this levy is contradictory. On the one hand, it’s supposed to discourage you from spending foreign exchange and, on the other, its goal is to collect a specific amount of funds through the levy on imports to support the hospital and sanitation services.

Some people say it would’ve been simpler to raise the value added tax and are calling it a “stealth VAT tax” because they feel Government was too embarrassed to raise the VAT since they had already broken their promise to remove the last increase, as well as the fact that so many millions in VAT refunds are owed. So they surreptitiously used this convoluted tax collection method instead.

Of course, we still don’t know how the duty-free zones will work. Among other things, will VAT be charged on the duty-free items?

We’re realising more and more each day that this Government is fumbling and Members of Parliament have lost sight of the purpose they are meant to serve. They apparently have no responsibility for anything.

Don’t ask the Attorney General about crime or the backlog in the judicial system. Don’t ask the Minister of Education about problems in the school system, or the Minister of Water Resources about the water problems. Don’t blame them! And definitely don’t continue asking Minister Donville Inniss about the outcome of the “illegal chicken wing” investigation, even if his ministry is the only body that can issue import permits.

If you ask a question or make a suggestion, you’re ignored. If you take Government to court because of some wrongdoing, you can bet the case won’t be heard in your lifetime. If you take a stand and have a peaceful protest, you’re scorned. I doubt anyone would want to return to the 1937 strategy, so then, what’s the answer?

Barbadians are generally peaceful. Slavery is blamed for everything, including the prevalence of diabetes, but to my mind, the one characteristic which could probably be blamed on slavery is an overly submissive attitude, described these days as “laid back”.

But people can only take so much and it’s heartening to see a growing number venting their concerns about our governance on call-in programmes. But whether they will still be fooled by the election bait in the coming months is left to be seen.

A commentator for the cricket match between Steve Blackett’s Elite Cabinet team and the NATION and Starcom Network said Blackett had “retired tired”. Maybe the minister could encourage his colleagues to do the same. Then we could shut down Barbados for “stocktaking” just as businesses do and start fresh. That seems to be the only answer.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email: [email protected]