Three days after his Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler revealed that the inflated National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) had raked in $50 million in its first quarter of operation, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart today suggested he was still in the dark on the levy’s performance.
Despite Sinckler’s announcement in Parliament this week of the successes of the tax, Stuart this afternoon told Barbados TODAY on the fringes of the launch of the Personnel Administration Division’s correspondence management system at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre that he was still awaiting data on the NSRL’s output for the July to September period.
He said once he had all of the information on the taxes collected he would address the issue.
“The minister can say what he feels like saying, but I don’t have all of the data on the performance for the first quarter and when I get it I will speak on it,” the Prime Minister said.
Sinckler told Parliament on Tuesday as he introduced the National Social Responsibility Amendment Bill 2017, giving the increase in the NSRL legislative teeth, and listing items that would be exempt from the onerous levy, the tax was on track to raise “just around $200 million” for the fiscal year, even before the additional Value Added Tax (VAT) earned on the NSRL is counted.
This prompted the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) to call on Stuart to keep a promise he had made at the end of a meeting of the Social Partnership on August 11 that depending on the performance of the levy, Government would be willing to look seriously at the trade unions’ request for a coping allowance or getting into serious discussions on a salary increase.
“I want to suggest to the unions once again that we give the levy a little more time to work, observe its performance, discussions would be taking place as has been agreed,” the Prime Minister said at the end of the August 11 talks, after repeating a claim first made at a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) luncheon on July 23 that the unions had agreed at previous meetings that the levy should be given a chance to see how it performed in the first quarter ending September 30.
The unions have repeatedly denied that any such agreement had been reached, with General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union Toni Moore saying back then the Prime Minister’s statement was “totally untrue”.
It was at the DLP event that Stuart had said that the levy was Government’s way of dealing “incrementally” with a “serious deficit problem . . . and we hope that the policy works”.
The levy, which was raised from two per cent to ten per cent of the customs value of locally produced the imported goods, effective July first, is projected to raise $291 million in revenue for a full financial year, and $218 million, inclusive of VAT, between July 1 and the end of the financial year.
The NUPW will likely be waiting for the Prime Minister’s decision with bated breath, having made it clear it would not back down on its demand for monetary compensation for its members, who it said were being disadvantaged by the contentious levy.
It has the support of the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, as well as the private sector, all of which came together in July to organize an anti-NSRL protest march in Bridgetown that attracted an estimated 20,000 people.
NUPW President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY on Thursday the union was demanding no more than $5 million in subsidies to help the workers cope until the two sides agree a new wage deal.
However, in seeking to make it clear that no one in the Stuart administration had pocketed any of the NSRL funds, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Small Business Development Donville Inniss yesterday appeared to suggest that the revenue from the taxing levy had already been spent.
“Let’s have that conversation not just about collecting $50 million in NSRL but where it is being spent. This is not money that has gone into any politician’s pocket and what not,” Inniss told Barbados TODAY after visiting his constituent, centenarian Violet Gaskin.
“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.