A leading political scientist today warned of serious fallout for the Freundel Stuart Government over its implementation of the controversial Municipal Solid Waste Tax, even as Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler insisted that Government would be sticking with the revenue measure.
Dr George Belle went as far as to suggest that even if the Government was to withdraw the tax at this stage in a quest to silence strong public opposition, it was now too late for it to recover; therfore the matter could only be settled through a return to the polls.
This as, Sinckler called on Barbadians to stay the course with him and the Government, despite the pain. In an interview with Barbados TODAY the Minister of Finance maintained that the tax was necessary.
“Stay the course, it is painful and in some instances it is inconveniencing . . . but it’s absolutely necessary,” he said.
“Regardless of who is Minister of Finance, who is Prime Minister, who is Government and who is Opposition, this course of action, absolutely has to be done. There is no escaping it,” Sinckler insisted.
“So we can chose to do this in support of the country and ensure that we get to the place that we want to be in 2015/2016, in relation to our economy, have it growing, get those investments . . . Sandals, Four Seasons, the greening project, cruise terminal, the waste-to-energy plant; all those things are nice things [that] are lined up to be done,” he said.
However he cautioned that if the fiscal situation was not brought under control by cutting expenditure and raising sufficient revenue “so that we are living within our means” then, “all of these things that people like to hear about – tourists coming – none of that would matter, because you would just be too unstable, in order to achieve that.”
He acknowledged “the difficulties of it and the pain of it” but in this instance, he said “the pain would lead to gain”.
Therefore, he said, Barbadians must endeavour to help each other to ensure everyone got through this period as a country. He noted that sometimes when a country was going through a rough time, sacrifices had to be made “and as one person put it, ‘there is no Easter Sunday celebration without the pain of Good Friday’.
“You have to go through Good Friday for Eastern Sunday to make sense,” Sinckler said.
He said while he did not enjoy putting measures in place that caused pain, he wanted residents to rally around their flag, their country and the Government and themselves.
But political scientist Dr Belle told Barbados TODAY the country was in big trouble, with little light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are in a lot of problems, the Government needs the money, the society is at the point where it cannot afford to give very much, the middle class is under tremendous pressure, the working class is being laid off, the business class is saying that it doesn’t have a surplus to invest or employ people, they cannot be confident about giving investment when they do not know what is the next policy which might impact on them negatively. It is not an easy situation if you put all those things together, the picture is very difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dr Belle added that in a situation like that even if you are accused of being partisan, one must ultimately conclude “there is a need for political solution in Barbados”.
“You have to have something that says we are going to try something differently and the way to deal with that is by constitutional means by which you have a national debate which is definitive and that means that you have to go back to the people,” he told Barbados TODAY.
The political scientist has written off the municipal tax as another case of the Government acting under pressure to raise badly needed revenue without properly studying the implications.
“This tax is characteristic of this attempt to gain revenue because of cash flow problems and as a result you tax people who are already overtaxed. It is being done too in a context where people have not had raises in income for a number of years, where there are other taxes and where there are expenses that have been increased in relation to the cost responsibilities that people are being asked to carry now where they had formally assumed that the taxes they were paying would cover those expenses. So it is being done in a context of desperation, ” he said.
He further argued the Government was in a sense trapped and it would not be easy to scrap or review the tax which would mean returning to parliament.
“That is going to have some fairly serious implications for alternative sources of revenue and the Government does not have much space to play with so that it is easy to say that, but it is not easy for the Government to reverse the position at this stage.”
The political scientist said the Government could not escape political fallout from the controversial measure as he pointed out that it only serves to “increase insecurity and a lack of confidence in the regime”.
“The only way that you can hope for a change is if there was somebody else who could carry out policies that would facilitate the possibilities of growth, that could facilitate the possibility of increased disposable income; without that you are sustaining a condition of insecurity and lack of confidence to investors.”
But Dr Belle was quick to caution that while it was the prime opportunity for the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to take up the Government, the Opposition needs to get its house in order.
“The problem is the divisions within the Opposition and it means that people will have a difficulty in relation to being sure about whether they can steer the way forward especially when they see contradictory things. If you have that kind of dilemma presented to people, it compounds the situation so there is a problem with the Opposition, but it is the only viable, sufficiently organised force to be an alternative to the current regime.”