Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who spoke just before 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, sought to fend off damning allegations raised by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley against some of his Cabinet ministers, describing the charges as nothing new.
Pointing to recent accusations made against House Speaker Michael Carrington and others, Stuart charged that it was a classical tactic of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party to stain the reputation of people so badly that public confidence in them would be undermined.
But the Prime Minister insisted that he would not take the low road or be sidetracked as his Government continued efforts to return the island to economic viability.
“That politics has never held any attraction for me. I am not going to walk around Barbados trying to distinguish myself by picking up litter from the political sidewalks. Politics is about much more than that,” the Prime Minister said.
Turning his attention to the financial measures, he acknowledged that the Government was still facing challenges, particularly in relation to its debt, warning that the problem could not be ignored.
“We have to take it seriously and we have to wrestle that challenge to the ground but the Government is working on that,” Stuart said.
The Prime Minister made it clear that his administration would not be apologizing for the $200 million tax measures imposed in the 2015/2016 Budget, while pointing out that proceeds from the new mobile airtime tax would go towards assisting students, who are unable to pay for their university education at Cave Hill.
The Prime Minister also strongly defended the tax levied on sweet drinks, warning that the bulk of the island’s spiraling health care costs was being spent on treated non-communicable diseases and the issue was now approaching a national crisis.
“We didn’t do something in this Budget about it whimsically either. We were specifically advised by people who are monitoring this problem that since these are all lifestyle illnesses we have to target people lifestyles. We have to nudge people in the direction of changing some of their habits and we nudge them by imposing a tax on their consumption patterns.
“We do not apologize for that, we want a healthier Barbados, we want a Barbados where the issues of NCDs is brought under more effective control.”
On the issue of betting and gaming, Stuart said the tax meet the demands of what is fair and just in light of complaints by some interests in the sector that the playing field was not level.
“In the meantime though the Government will do a comprehensive study to put mechanisms in place to ensure that sector pay its dues to the Treasury while at the same time they continue to employ as large a number as possible and yielding respectable profits for those involved.”