Minister of Commerce, Industry and Small Business Development Donville Inniss is making it clear that no one in the Freundel Stuart administration is pocketing any of the monies raised through the contentious National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which, effective July 1, climbed from two per cent to ten per cent of the customs value of imported and locally produced goods.
In light of the revelation this week by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler that the levy earned Government $50 million in the three months since the increase, Inniss today sought to reassure Barbadians that the funds were being put to good use.
“Let’s have that conversation not just about collecting S50 million in NSRL but where it is being spent. This is not money that has gone into any politician’s pocket and what not,” he told Barbados TODAY after visiting his constituent, centenarian Violet Gaskin.
When Sinckler introduced the tax last year he said it was meant to raise $142.1 million annually to assist “in offsetting the costs associated with financing public health care service provision in Barbados”, to finance a new fleet for the Sanitation Services Authority and to procure parts for the existing fleet.
However, Inniss appeared to suggest that the NSRL funds were being put to even greater use.
“When people call for an ambulance, they want an ambulance to respond in a matter of minutes. It costs money to maintain those ambulances.
“We have bought additional trucks for the Fire Service, [and] the [Royal Barbados] Police Force has been given all the resources they need to fight crime and to be proactive in this society. These things cost money,” Inniss insisted.
He also suggested that the monies collected through the levy helped subsidize “the most complex surgeries” at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, with Barbadians getting those procedures done “without having a clue as to what it costs”.
“That is where the taxpayer’s dollars is going. So it’s not being squandered around,” the minister stressed.
During debate on the austerity Budget presented by Sinckler on May 30, Inniss had complained that the NSRL, along with increases in the excise duty on petrol, would hurt his constituents.
However, in a stout defence of the tax, the minister today boasted that it “has been met with success”, while he suggested that Barbadians should spend less time “talking about high levels of taxation and downgrades” and more time thinking positively about the country.
“I just think that as a society we really can be a lot more positive in our speeches and thoughts and actions. If we spend all of our time talking about high levels of taxation and downgrades, all these things, that negative thought, sometimes drives you to just throw your hands in the air,” he said.
In an apparent reference to the series of downgrades of the country since 2009 – the latest by Standard and Poor’s last week – and the public’s reaction to each downgrade, Inniss complained that Barbadians were “quick to jump on them once it places Barbados in a low position”, and that there were Barbadians “who go on social media and just celebrate”.
He said such reaction was due to the fact that the country was on the eve of a general election, and warned that many more issues would be politicized as the poll drew closer.
However, the minister intimated that instead of going to hell in a handbasket, the country was on the rebound.
“We have a lot in this country to celebrate and I’m satisfied that we have started to go upwards now. It’s been a little rough for the last couple of years, but I’m beginning to see an upward movement across this society,” Inniss added.