There is a strong sense of trepidation among some businesses in the country’s second town as they prepare for the dreaded National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) to begin to bite.
While the Speightstown retailers said it was much too early to say just how badly the tax, which went into effect on July 1, would affect them, they had little doubt it would hurt their bottom line.
Commercial activity in the northern town is already virtually non-existent, said Ciham Arnouk, the owner of Bridge Store, who was worried that the NSRL would make things a lot more dreadful.
“With all the things happening, they are making things worse. The business is very bad and it can’t get worse than that. There is no business here,” Arnouk told Barbados TODAY.
“Nobody thought to come for a visit and see what’s going on in Speightstown. Business [is] dead. This is not business; this is wasting time . . . . In town, some people [are] crying too, but you see movement. . . . Sometimes you don’t see people here in this street.”
At Do It Best hardware, Joseph Mendes did not have as strong a feeling of trepidation, despite his conviction that things will get worse.
However, he expected that it would not be long before the ten per cent levy – which is applied to the customs value of all imports, with the exception of goods for the manufacturing, agriculture and tourism sectors – begins to take a toll. Until then, he said, he was prepared to wait and see.
“We haven’t seen a difference in customers as yet, so we are still waiting to see what will happen,” the store manager said.
“It’s an increase and with every increase it would affect anybody in any way, so we just have to wait to see how people react to it. We are hoping that we don’t see a decline [in customers].”
Over at Snacks Plus, owner Caroline Worrell said she too was adopting a wait-and-see approach, even as she anticipated that prices would increase by no less than five or six per cent.
Worrell contended that the NSRL, which was originally meant to finance the burgeoning cost of health care when it was introduced last year by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler at a rate of two per cent, but which he said this year was needed to help close a gaping fiscal deficit, was no answer to the current economic woes.
“I can’t see it helping anything if they are in the same frame of mind of spending. We pulling it in with one hand and sending it out with the next, so still at square one. I don’t see that they have done anything to change their spending habits. Therefore, the income they receive will just go back out to pay what they are spending it on. They just taxing the people more and more and you can only tax so much,” she lamented.
However, at least one entrepreneur adopted a different position on the onerous tax, insisting Barbadians needed to stop complaining and simply adjust their spending habits to suit.
“I’ve been coping for the last 45 years. Every time something happens, I have to make an adjustment,” said Clement Armstrong, owner of the popular Fisherman’s Pub.
“ I sell myself and my product. I can’t sit behind the office and people come and put money in my hand. It’s hard on the customer but [they] have to make the adjustments. Instead of buying six beers a day, buy three; instead of eating two foods, eat one and some fruits,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Insisting that he would not take political sides on the issue, Armstrong added: “If the next party gets into power, I want to know if they are going to reduce everything by ten or 20 per cent. Can they assure me that? So I’m not getting caught up in politics. I provide a service to people and I want to make sure my customers are satisfied.”
With the businesses still carrying old stock that would have escaped the levy, prices will remain the same, but only for the time being, they all said.
Nonetheless, Armstrong said he would consider charging customers more as soon as commercial activity begins to improve.
“I [am] not going to move my prices now, because it is very hard now. When things pick up in the season, I will try to move them [up], but not as this time,” he explained.