Opposition Shadow Minister Kerrie Symmonds said he was not at all satisfied with Minister of International Business Donville Inniss’ response to this week’s blacklisting by the European Union (EU).
In fact, Symmonds is challenging the suggestion made by Inniss that the Freundel Stuart administration had done all in its power to prevent Barbados from being included on the dreaded list of 17 global tax havens.
At the same time, the Barbados Labour Party legislator said there was absolutely no reason for Inniss to be “shocked” over the development since the island had been warned over and over again since 2008 that its regime for fiscal incentives needed to be amended or removed in order for it to be deemed compliant with world trade rules.
“I think he is being very disingenuous, and if Inniss is in fact shocked then he has been absent from his desk and his mind has been wandering,” Symmonds told Barbados TODAY this morning after the minister held a news conference on Wednesday denouncing Barbados’ inclusion in the EU blacklist, which was announced a day earlier.
During that event, Inniss described the EU’s decision as both “unfortunate and unfair”, while suggesting to reporters that the island was a fully cooperative jurisdiction on taxation matters.
Inniss also assured that Government had been directly engaged with the EU Code of Conduct Group in recent months and had made the required commitments to either amend or eradicate its regimes that were not in line with EU specifications by the December 5 deadline.
However, Symmonds dismissed Inniss’ overall position as nonsense, given that the EU had explicitly stated on Tuesday that the island has “a harmful preferential tax regime and did not clearly commit to amending or abolishing it as requested”.
Based on the EU’s explanation contained in the blacklisting document, Symmonds said it was obvious that the economic union was expecting something more concrete than a letter of intent from Barbados.
And he contended that despite numerous extensions “little or nothing” was done in the last ten years to correct the offending policy, resulting in the worrying listing.
“The fact of the matter is that the European Union has been insisting that they receive clear and easily defined undertakings from us and that must come in the form of draft legislation,” Symmonds said, adding that “you must be able to demonstrate that you have done something conclusively and have taken concrete steps and not just a mere promise.
“What Minister Inniss is saying is that they sent a letter, [but] the European Union is not going to be moved by a letter from Barbados because Barbados has been begging for time for close to a decade,” the Opposition spokesman emphasized, while warning that Government could no longer afford to “kick the can down the road repeatedly”.
“They [Government] are not serious people and they are playing games with people’s lives. We need to take serious steps as other jurisdictions in CARICOM [the Caribbean Community] have done to get their house in order.
“I will be the first to agree that it is a difficult thing when powerful international agencies tell you that you have certain steps that you must take and these steps have an impact on your domestic revenue, but when you beg for additional time you have to make the most of the time and manage your affairs in such a way that you are coming out at the end of the time frame with your hand and head held high saying ‘I did what had to do,’” the St James Central Member of Parliament said.
Yesterday, Inniss made it clear that while Government did not want to get into any showdown with the EU, it was imperative that a robust challenge be mounted immediately with a view to protecting the island’s reputation.
The Minister of International Business also said officials of the International Business Division were already in touch with the EU and that follow up calls were made in a quest to find out which regimes Barbados had not committed to amending.
However, at this stage, the country still faces the threat of EU sanctions and the potential loss of vital access to financing, as well as a dampening of general investor confidence in the island. [email protected]