Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s call for laws to compel self-employed Barbadians to make contributions to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), has been slammed as “highly irresponsible” by Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Association (SBA) Lynette Holder.
In fact, Holder has suggested that if anyone is to blame for the current level of arrears to the State, it is Government itself, which by its very policies, has drastically affected the ability of the self-employed to pay there NIS contributions.
“Any time you see small business persons or self-employed persons struggling to pay taxes it is not because they are evil minded or ill-intentioned,” assured Holder.
“The reality though is that small businesspersons have been struggling in this current climate,” she added.
Addressing the NIS’ 50th anniversary awards ceremony at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Saturday, Stuart described the matter of coverage of the self-employed as “a challenge”, which “still needs further analysis and urgent attention”.
He stressed that for the past years any attempt at persuasion of such persons to join the NIS programme “has produced only modest results”.
“Self-employed persons must be convinced of the need to register and make sure that they can access the benefits when necessary,” he said.
“I am aware that several self-employed persons, and many in the informal sector, operate on a seasonal basis, but this is simply no excuse for non-payment since the threshold for payment is low,” the Prime Minister said.
In an impassioned response, Holder told Barbados TODAY that Barbadians by nature not only generally law abiding, but prepared to pay their fair share of taxes.
However, she expressed concern that the Stuart administration was not concentrating enough on fixing the macro-economic issues facing the country but was instead attempting to vilify the small businessperson.
“Instead of these pronouncements that we are hearing from politicians about sending out a task force and rounding up people and all sorts of nonsense, what we should be focusing on in my view is fixing the macro-economic realities. We should be concentrating on improving the economy and getting it to a growth path, ensuring that we have an enabling environment that businesses can find their niche areas and be competitive.
“I put it you that if you put the policies in place for businesses to grow, they would contribute, they will do it,” said Holder, in reference to the austerity measures announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his recent Budget.
Several business people have strongly criticized the measures, which include a 500 per cent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), predicting increased layoffs and insolvency within the private sector when the measures take effect at the beginning of July.
In addition, the small business spokeswoman is also contending that if businesses were paid the Value Added Tax (VAT) returns owed to them, they would be more than able to meet any outstanding statutory obligations.
“We get the calls every conceivable week from members who are owed VAT returns. If you have small and medium enterprises that are unable to get their VAT returns – Government owes them $40,000 or $50,00 and climbing on a monthly basis – do you really think with economy in the way it is that they are going to find the cash flow to meet all of their expenses and requirements on a monthly basis?” she asked.
“So when I hear these pronouncements I wonder really why is the plan to put this message in the atmosphere that is really irresponsible? It is really irresponsible in my view. Fix the economy and I dare say that businesses will do the honourable thing,” she stressed.