Margaret Thatcher will be forever remembered in the United Kingdom as the Prime Minister who was never averse to raising taxes in order to cut the British deficit and balance the budget.
She was also very much a champion of free market policies in terms of her willingness to slash welfare commitments to citizens as well as divesting state-owned enterprises. In the mid-1980s the three-term prime minister also cut funding for those seeking higher education. The moniker of the Iron Lady would later fit her very comfortably.
Then came her disastrous community charge or poll tax which put such a burden on the lower-income earners in her country that it divided the Conservative Party and the entire country. Interest groups were formed to agitate against the tax, civil disobedience erupted where millions refused to pay the poll tax. There were instances where court proceedings against defaulters were disrupted by concerned citizens, cases against those who refused to pay clogged up the judicial system, protestors numbering in the thousands took to the streets and eventually what no one wanted occurred – riots.
Thatcher did not heed British pleas and the inevitable outcome was that she lost her hold on the government as a result of the unprecedented tumult caused by what most deemed a bad tax. The succeeding John Major administration immediately repealed the law on coming into office.
Fast forward to 2014, the Freundel Stuart administration and the Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
We do not seek to elucidate on the merits or demerits of the tenet of vox populi, vox dei, but we will argue that a government of the people, created by the people, must give due attention to the cries of the people.
The Freundel Stuart administration, through its main spokesperson on economic affairs, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, has introduced this tax as another of its many revenue collecting strategies. Sinckler has been at pains to explain its necessity from the floor of Parliament and at other official engagements.
On the flip side, the Mia Mottley-led Opposition, and several other interest groups, from the Church and business community, to retired persons organisations and independent politicos, have also been at pains to point out that apart from “poor timing”, this new tax is to be added to the increase in Value Added Tax, utilities, food, tertiary tuition costs, slashes in personal allowances, in some cases salaries and wages, freeze on emoluments, lay-offs and diminished working hours.
It is understood that a foreign company is perhaps months away from setting up an incinerator-based waste disposal plant in the country that will draw considerable revenue from the state’s coffers. The raison d’être of this much maligned tax seemingly has its genesis in the need to facilitate this plant.
But the ground swell of dissent over the new tax is rising, even from the most ardent supporters of the ruling Democratic Labour Party. They are seeing beyond political allegiances and being pricked by national conscience. The question on the lips of many of them, we suspect, is: Can Barbados tax itself out of the current recession?
We do not subscribe to, or anticipate, the level of public unrest that gripped the United Kingdom in the waning days of both the poll tax and the Thatcher administration. Barbadians, to their credit, tend to be even more conservative than their former colonizer. However, what we do anticipate, is that the Freundel Stuart administration will give a diligent ear to the crescendo of opposing views to this Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
We are sure that neither Stuart nor Sinckler would find any comfort in Barbadian history, because of deaf detachment, ascribing to either the epithet of the Iron Man.