It was Budget week in Barbados. Many business people and members of the public were hoping for a package that would provide some tax ease, but Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had other plans.
Come July 1, he announced in Parliament, the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) will move up significantly – from two per cent to ten per cent, there will be a new two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions, and excise tax on gas and diesel will increase as well.
As he began presenting the 2017 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals in which those measures are contained, Sinckler told Barbadians they would have to make “major sacrifices” to rescue the ailing economy.
“Are we prepared to stand together as one in a concerted effort to stabilize our economy and protect and defend the strength of our currency, the standard and quality of our lives and even our sovereignty as a nation? Or are we prepared to surrender to any narrow agendas whether political, social or economic?” he asked.
But he came under heavy criticism from Barbados TODAY readers.
“Aren’t we currently putting Barbados first!? We get up and show up every day to be whacked with senseless comments like these from people who just care about power and money. [Were] the ministers putting Barbados first when they asked the already ailing society to increase their salaries?…Too long, too long we are sitting by and allowing this clan to make a mockery of countrymen whilst the rich and famous gaff at the poor and lowly, caring only for their own. It’s time for Barbadians to unite,” one person wrote.
Readers were also not very happy about the tax on foreign exchange transactions, as many Barbadians will be affected when they shop with their credit cards overseas and online.
One reader suggested that it would also “exponentially increase” the sale of foreign currency on the black market.
“The Government will not be bringing in more revenue but, to the contrary, it will bring in less than it is now. Does anyone think that people will pay an extra two per cent levy on exchanging Barbados currency for hard currency when they can easily avoid paying that? To think that this will produce more revenue for the government is not thinking clearly.”
Meanwhile, one of the island’s leading political scientists also labelled the Budget as “harsh” and “brutal”.
While Peter Wickham gave Minister Sinckler credit for attempting to balance the budget, he said the various revenue raising initiatives would be hard on Barbadians who had already been complaining of being overtaxed.
“The Budget was harsh…The reality is that a balanced budget in an environment such as this is brutal,” Wickham said in an immediate reaction to Tuesday’s presentation.
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley seemed to be very popular this week. As she arrived at Parliament on Wednesday to give her reply to Sinckler’s presentation, she was greeted with loud cheers and plenty of hugs, while Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was met with incessant boos and jeers.
A large animated crowd, comprising mostly supporters of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), gathered at the gates of Parliament and were quite vocal about their disgust with the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
In a scathing rebuff of the Budget, Mottley charged that Sinckler had announced the “most vicious tax take” ever to hit the country since the introduction of taxation in 1941.
“I don’t think people will set about to disrespect the Prime Minister, but we have a leader who does not show the ordinary person that he cares. Time for this administration to leave office. Too much hardships while they living good,” one reader wrote.
During her presentation, Mottley thrust the controversial Cahill waste-to-energy project back into the limelight, charging that Prime Minister Stuart’s hands were not clean in the matter.
Many are still upset about the Cahill issue, as was expressed by one reader: “I pray that a comprehensive investigation is done…Any acts of dishonesty discovered must be harshly dealt with.”
The Budget package got Parliament’s stamp of approval last night and many have been very vocal in asking the Prime Minister to ring the election bell.