Minister of Education Ronald Jones says the solution to the high costs associated with providing health care and education may be the imposition of a new levy on Barbadians.
Speaking at the Alleyne School Speech Day in Belleplaine in St Andrew today, Jones suggested that a social amenities levy be introduced.
He stressed that if each person was taxed one to two per cent each time they purchased an item, the Government could raise annually some $80 million to go towards the ministries.
“We are searching for the most pliable approach so that the project, which was developed so long ago can continue, even though with adjustments,” said Jones, whose administration has been under fire for its decision to stop paying tuition fees for Barbadian students entering the University of the West Indies from September.
“My grandmother always said to me ‘You cannot make bread out of stone. You can build a house [but] you still have to find something to feed the people who are in the house’,” the minister cautioned.
He went on to ask: “Are our people too heavily taxed? Yes or no, I don’t know.
“I am not an economist but we have two sectors in our country that [are] open to everybody – [these are] health and education. So they become the two most important sectors in whatever the state looks at.
“If we want to make them better, we have to make a greater contribution to them specifically. So at sometime we may have to ask the people of the country to contribute to a Social Amenities Levy,” he said.
The former educator explained that that $80 million raised would be split evenly between health and education and it would go towards tertiary fees, as well as maintaining the more than 100 schools so that principals “won’t have to be saying, ‘Minister the roof is leaking’, because the additional resources now become available”.
He added: “I am hoping that the young people of Barbados . . . would understand that this is not punitive but that it tries to create an environment where something is left for the future, for others to also benefit. If something is not done then that is not going to be able to continue.
Speaking specifically to the contentious increase in UWI fees, Jones said that his Government had not yet worked out all the regiments but that it continued to search for pliable approaches. He said at its highest, Government pumped some $162 million plus into University of the West Indies education, a tremendous amount, which with scarce resources and competing demands was unsustainable.
“I think that countries should continue to make investments in its human resource, its people, but when the bucket starts to shrink, when the amount in it starts to shrink, everybody must be called on to make a collective contribution, everybody. And in this instance this is what we are doing – We are saying . . . times change, circumstances change, we are not constant beings,” Jones added.