Crop Over stakeholders are calling on Government to give them the same relief afforded to tourism players when it comes to the payment of Value Added Tax (VAT).
The appeal for the rate of VAT paid by promoters to be lowered to 7.5 per cent, down from 17.5 per cent, came during a “robust” meeting this evening chaired by Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley at his Haggatt Hall, St Michael office.
Under the VAT (Amendment Bill) 2013 companies registered as Direct Tourism Services (DTS) are levied the reduced rate of VAT as a means of assisting them in offering their services not only at a reduced cost, but also in driving further business.
In making a strong appeal for the same to be done for them, Crop Over stakeholders have pointed out that the island’s main cultural showpiece generates in excess of
$100 million for island in the space of roughly three months.
They further argued before a Government panel – which also included the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture Ruth Blackman, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Cultural Foundation Cranston Browne and VAT Commissioner Wayne Forde – for a quota of complimentary tickets to be VAT exempted.
Crop Over stakeholders, who earn less than $80 000 during the annual festival, also want to be treated like small businesses under the law.
“Right now if you are a small business and you earn $79 000 you don’t have to pay VAT, but if you are a promoter [during Crop Over] you have to, and that is unfair,” said one bandleader, who is also unhappy that the current legislation lumps him and all other festival operators under the category of “promoter”.
He was supported by other stakeholders, who spoke to Barbados TODAY on condition of anonymity, following this evening’s meeting, which began around 5:30 p.m. and was still in progress well after 8 p.m., at which they said they received a sympathetic ear from Lashley.
The Minister of Culture reportedly promised to take forward their concerns to the Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, who is in charge of the umbrella agency, which collects the VAT.
Earlier today, two veteran bandleaders joined the growing list of festival operators crying out against the Government’s policy on VAT, which is being enforced by the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).
Following concerns raised earlier this week by Chetwyn Stewart, the leader of the popular Power X 4 band, who revealed in a Barbados TODAY interview that he had been forced to produce less costumes this year because of the taxes being imposed on him by BRA, Gwyneth Squires and Betty West also complained that the recent demand by BRA that they pay VAT on all costumes, including complimentaries, was simply unfair and ought to be reviewed.
Barbados TODAY understands that while promoters had always been required to pay 17.5 per cent VAT under the law, the decision had only been enforced since BRA came into being in 2014.
“I don’t think they should do what they are doing because sometimes you don’t sell all your costumes,” pointed out Squires, who is this year celebrating her 30th year in Crop Over.
The veteran designer, who has been adjudged Best Festival Designer 18 times, complained “you still have to pay VAT on the costumes you are giving away”.
She also noted that calypso tents had to pay taxes on complimentary tickets – a situation which she considered to be equally unfair, while exclaiming: “This is something else boy!”
Betty West, whose 2015 band is themed Positive Vibes, took the position that instead of making the bandleaders pay VAT for complimentary costumes, BRA should be offering relieving their tax burden.
“If I have to have a band of 350 people and I sell 300 costumes, I have to give away those 50 costumes to make up that number,” West explained.
She also pointed out that a number of major players with an interest in supporting the local culture had been forced to walk away from Crop Over because they found themselves in a “financial rut and they can’t take it anymore”.
While warning the authorities that the current climate was stifling local creativity, West said “it is amazing that bands that have their costumes at extravagant prices are the ones that are selling out.
“Lucky for these folks that are selling the costumes at extravagant prices, they are earning the money.
“We that are having to market our costumes and are designing to keep the meaning of Crop Over alive, we are the ones that are suffering,” said West, who will be celebrating 25 years in the industry next year.