Prime Minister Freundel Stuart says his Government is willing to review the controversial municipal tax, but it will stay for now, and he is pleading with Barbadians to give it a chance.
As former prime minister Owen Arthur prepares to fight the battle of the underprivileged in his constituency who cannot afford to pay the tax, Stuart said those who faced genuine hardship could get relief, as is the case with land tax.
And although admitting that the timing of the tax may be “unfortunate”, he said he believed that with the passage of time people would understand the tax better and “we will be one happy family again”.
“I don’t want Barbadians to be too agitated about the municipal solid waste tax. If it is thought that the tax is wreaking hardship not contemplated by the Government at the moment of its imposition, the Government, after we’ve seen how it is operating, will revisit it,” he told Barbadian media at the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa where he was attending the 35th CARICOM Heads of Government Conference.
Drawing reference to the powers of the Minister of Finance, under the Municipal Solid Waste Tax Act to use his discretion to exempt payment of the tax where hardship is most evident – which Stuart acknowledged was the plank of Arthur’s mobilization against the tax – Stuart said: “I don’t think that there is any need for agitation at the moment.”
“Perhaps one of the unfortunate features of this tax is the timing of it. It comes at a time when the country is passing through other challenges and people are not disaggregating these challenges and separating out particular measures on their own merits,” he added.
Stuart’s comments came a day after Arthur opened his St Peter constituency office to pensioners, unemployed persons, individuals in single parent households and returning nationals so they could provide information and sign letters, which will be forwarded to the Minister of Finance, seeking relief from paying the tax.
The prime minister was also speaking ahead of another march organised by political activist and attorney-at-law Robert “Bobby” Clarke which has as one of its central components strong opposition to the tax.
Clarke, in a press release yesterday, described the tax as “misconceived, oppressive and extremely anti-working class” and said marchers would be demanding that it be cancelled.
But defending the decision to impose the tax on homeowners, Stuart said Government needs taxes to run the country.
“High levels of governmental performance come with a price,” he said, as he dismissed suggestions that the tax caught people off-guard and that people did not understand its purpose.
“Until the moment came when people got their bills there was calm in Barbados. The moment you get the bills you hear that people don’t know what it’s about, how it’s unfair and all of that.
“I don’t know of any tax that is fair because people wish they didn’t have to pay any taxes at all. I certainly wish I didn’t have to pay any, but I know that that’s how governments carry out their educational, health, transport and other programmes in the society,” the Prime Minister added.
Stuart said the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) had become very expensive to run, with transfers to that government agency increasing.
He said his administration had to take a decision at some stage to confront the issue of solid waste management and “the time was right” for a tax to deal with some of the challenges posed by solid waste.
The deadline for the payment of the first installment of the tax is July 28.