Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has responded to widespread public calls for refunds or waivers of the controversial Municipal Solid Waste Tax on the site value of properties that generate waste in Barbados saying Government had no intention of reviewing the tax at this stage.
He also said calls by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur for relief on behalf of his constituents in St Peter, which have been echoed by other Barbados Labour Party MPs, was not as straight forward as they may seem.
Sinckler explained that for individuals to be considered for refunds or remittances, they must be paying the tax in the first place.
He said that Arthur was misleading the people and he warned that persons waiting for relief in such circumstances and missed their deadline to pay, would suffer penalties.
He however acknowledged that under Section 5 of the Municipal Solid Waste Tax Act, the Minister of Finance could grant reprieve.
“If the minister is satisfied on grounds of undue hardship or for any other reason that it would be just and equitable to do so, he may remit or refund the whole or any part of the tax imposed under this Act, including any penalties thereon, payable or paid by any person,” the law states.
However, the Minister of Finance pointed out that the law did not make provision for waivers of the tax, amidst pleas from the Dairy and Beef Producers Association for its members to be exempted.
Sinckler also responded to threats by some persons to take him to court to get relief from the tax.
“The legislation is clear. It says that the minister may, it didn’t say I shall [give relief]. The court can’t make its own law and say I have to give [somebody] relief, because it’s may. It’s just a circus they are trying to create. I analyse, and do an analysis . . . and then I make a decision, based on what the advice is [coming] from the technical people,” he insisted.
Commenting on reports that the Opposition was preparing to send letters to him on the matter, the Minister of Finance said: “If they are all over the place giving the impression that if they write a letter to me that I have to automatically do it [that is not the case].
“. . . they have to show the hardship, you pay and then you ask for it,” he said.
He suggested that there was another story behind the solid waste tax.
“People have to know that it is because of the failing of the last administration that we are in the position that we are in now. But we have to do this [impose the tax]. It’s either you’re going to tax it on land, or put it on food. Either way it has to be done.
“And if you do it on imported stuff, it can’t be on imported stuff only, it has to be done on all production in Barbados,” declared Sinckler.
He blamed then prime minister Arthur for imposing an environmental levy which he said the current government was forced to remove because of challenges faced with CARICOM and the World Trade Organisation.
He warned:“If we do it that way again, straight to the CCJ [Caribbean Court of Justice], and the CCJ rightfully will say, ‘it is a tax against CARICOM imports into Barbados, remove it’.”
Sinckler argued strongly in defence of the tax was on land saying “if you have to pay [businessman] Bizzy Williams $30 million to treat garbage to reduce the volume of the garbage going to the Belle . . . there is nothing else.
“They ain’t no other landfill in Barbados. So if you don’t do waste to energy, and if you don’t extend the life, as it is, of the current cell, we have to take [millions of dollars] to get done. If we don’t do that, Barbados will have a problem where we have no place to put garbage,” he stressed.
Sinckler said everybody want their garbage collected, but many do not know that it is a nightmare now for the Sanitation Service Authority.
He said Barbados was now $70 million out as a result of Greenland, adding that “Mount Stinkeroo” was extended to its final cell that cost more than $30 million.
“That’s $100 million that we spent already and then you have turn around now and pay $30 million a year to treat the garbage to reduce the volume so you can extend the life of the landfill, and nobody wants to pay for it,” he said.