If anyone is to blame for the recent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which was hiked from two per cent to ten per cent on July 1, it is Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss.
This was the contention of United Progressive Party (UPP) Leader Lynette Eastmond last night during the launch of her party’s candidate for St James South, the constituency which is currently represented in parliament by Inniss.
While others have sought to lay blame for the increased taxation squarely at the feet of Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, who reported last week that the levy has so far raked in $50 million over the past three months, Eastmond argued strongly that Inniss was really the one at fault as far as the dreaded levy goes, since the sectors under his direct responsibility were simply “not producing anything”.
“Inniss is responsible for commerce, small business, manufacturing and the international business sector, sectors that are not producing anything,” she told those gathered at Notty’s Bar in Haynesville, St James for the launch of Christal Austin’s political campaign.
While zeroing in on the declining performance of the international business sector which reportedly fell from $300 million to $96 million, Eastmond suggested that this was the reason why Barbadians were being made to pay more taxes.
“That is why you have the National Social Responsibility Levy which some people call the starvation tax; that’s why Value Added Tax has gone from 15 per cent to 17.5 per cent and though they told you it was temporary, that was a big lie,” she said.
Her comments come on the heels of Inniss’ stout defence of the levy last weekend.
Noting that the measure was designed to dampen demand for foreign exchange and to assist in raising the necessary revenue to reduce the country’s deficit of six per cent of Gross Domestic Product, Inniss, who had initially raised concern when Sinckler had announced the tax hike back in May that the NSRL would result in a rise in the cost of living, suggested that “the critics, however constructive they attempt to be, ought to be addressing what other measures can be implemented to address the issues of the deficit in Barbados,” while demanding to know “what are the options?
“Quite frankly it would be a reduction in public expenditure which should mean one of the ways of doing this is to reduce the size of the public sector by extension reducing the size of the payroll,” he suggested to Barbados TODAY in an interview last weekend.
However, addressing a gathering, which, apart from herself included three other Opposition Barbados Labour Party rejects in Christ Church West incumbent Dr Maria Agard, former St John candidate Hutson Griffith and ex St Michael South Central representative David Gill, Eastmond warned members of the public not to be fooled by Government’s assessment of the current economic situation in the country.
“If you look at Chris Sinckler’s budgetary statement, he himself admitted that there was a decline in almost every single sector in Barbados,” Eastmond said while suggesting that the reported increase in tourist arrivals was not reflective of the tourism spend coming back to Barbadians.
“The truth about the tourist sector is that a lot of that foreign exchange that should be coming to Barbados is left outside of Barbados. It does not touch Barbados. But every year the Government takes up millions of your dollars as a taxpayer and puts it into the tourism sector. For what, a few jobs?, Eastmond asked.
In a hard-hitting address, the UPP leader also accused Government of holding taxpayers to ransom in the tourism industry as she alluded to recent concessions given to the international hotel group, Sandals.
“Every year, asking for every concession possible and recently a hotel got all the concessions that they asked for. So now we have a hotel in Barbados that can advertise on CNN, but doesn’t pay any taxes, that cannot be right,” Eastmond said, adding that Barbadians should not re-elect a Government that would agree to that.
Elections are constitutionally due here by the middle of next year.