Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
–– Mark 12:17.
Margaret Sivers and her team at the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) must be smiling all the way to the bank, or so it would only appear, given the current slew of taxes which we all are being made to pay. From the August Budget announcement of the new Consolidation Tax to the more recent and much maligned Municipal Solid Waste Tax, it seems there can be no getting away from this Government and its levying, which adds up to a very worrying payment heap for the ordinary Barbadian already contending with Income Tax, the Value Added Tax, and the like.
No matter how we turn, there is simply no getting away from these onerous taxes –– or is there?
Yesterday, we heard Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, for the umpteenth time, putting delinquent taxpayers on notice. He told Parliament the level of tax avoidance and non-payment in this country was now “epidemic”, which we interpret to mean is at a crisis stage.
Said Sinckler: “There is now rising, almost to a level, an uncomfortable level of tax avoidance and non-payment of taxes in Barbados and it is becoming routine. And we have to let people understand that that is not the basis on which the society can be run.”
The minister also served notice that Government was prepared to give BRA the power it needs to ensure that people pay their taxes and that “ if it becomes necessary, I am prepared to bring an amendment to this House of Assembly and fight it through, [so] that the Barbados Revenue Authority be given the appropriate authority to ensure . . . that this situation where people believe that they can avoid X tax and Y business and just go along with it, cannot be done”.
Enough said! Time for action, Mr Minister. It certainly is not fair to the majority who struggle to fork out the exacted amounts, if others are allowed to circumvent payment without punishment. What is especially disturbing is the suggestion that more often than not, it is the professionals and businesses, who can afford to pay but don’t pay, topping the list of the guilty tax evaders.
Unreasonable, to say the least. After all, professionals and businesses would not tolerate their clients trying to shortchange their earnings. But this does not mean that the Government gets off on this matter scot-free.
Indeed they are questions for the administrators to answer, like why do we allow offenders to continue to run up bills in the thousands, only then to lament that tax evasion is at crisis level? And what overtures are being made to encourage those reluctant to meet their responsibilities to do so? In some instances, it may not require a high-handed, punitive approach but an amicable, persuasive discussion that results in a payment plan.
One also cannot help but wonder if the Government itself has not opened the door to this bad practice through its own failure to pay businesses and individuals thousands of dollars owed in returns.
Certainly, the Government is far from innocent when it comes to this matter of payment delinquency. Just ask some of our farmers, entrepreneurs and others who have been pleading with the Government to honour outstanding VAT refunds.
On both sides of the coin, therefore, this business of payment evasion urgently needs to be addressed.