Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Lynette Eastmond has dismissed the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) promises to reduce taxation, should it win the May 24 general election, as nothing but “lies” and “gimmicks”.
Addressing a handful of supporters in Heroes Square, The City, on Saturday night as the party formally introduced its 23 candidates to contest the highly anticipated poll, Eastmond charged that the Mia Mottley-led BLP, which released its manifesto on Thursday, had failed to present a credible strategy for growing the economy.
At the same time, she warned electors to be wary of politicians seeking to buy votes.
“We are not going to do it [form the next Government] by trying to buy your votes. We are doing it by coming to you with clear policies, and this is why I could say at the outset, you cannot cut anything as soon as you get [in Government]. Anybody who is trying to tell you that as soon as they get in there that they can start cutting taxes, it is a lie.
“It is a lie. It is a bold face lie,” Eastmond cautioned.
It was during Thursday’s manifesto launch that the BLP announced plans to abolish the contentious National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), reduce the Value Added Tax from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent and replace the road tax with “a small tax on fuel”.
In addition to a promised increase in non-contributory pensions, the BLP also pledged to remove tuition fees for Barbadians attending the University of the West Indies.
However, zeroing in on the planned abolition of road tax, Eastmond charged that it was nothing but “foolishness”, while accusing the BLP of trying to put “plasters over old sores”.
“How is it that a country that just had 21 downgrades and was printing money could suddenly reduce the tax take? How are you going to pay the civil servants, how are you going to keep the buses running? How are you going to keep the sanitation trucks running?” the UPP leader, who was a former BLP member and Cabinet minister in a previous Owen Arthur-led BLP administration, asked.
“It could only be that they think that we are idiots to believe that when you get in there that you could cut something. And then they are telling you that they are going to get rid of road tax and that you will pay taxes at the pump. How are you going to monitor that? . . . We have to use [our minds] and stop listening to the gimmicks.
“What is removing road tax going to suddenly do? What is the plan for the economy?”
The UPP leader went on to explain that the first plan of action for the UPP should it form the next Government was to tackle the issue of corruption, insisting that Barbados had “suffered under the hands of the labourites, who believe that Barbadians forever must be hewers [of wood] and drawers of water and that we should never own businesses.
“So the first thing that we plan to cut isn’t the NSRL. The first thing that we plan to cut is the corruption,” said Eastmond, adding that she had no doubt that her party could run the country because “I was there and I know how it is done”.
Eastmond also explained that the UPP would be encouraging and facilitating greater entrepreneurship growth, while insisting that the creative economy was “the next big sector” for Barbados.
In fact, Eastmond said her plan was to “take a small sum” from tourism to fund the creative sector.
The UPP also plans to build an online platform for creative industry professionals to showcase and sell their products and services.
In further outlining the UPP’s plan for the economy, Eastmond said her administration would cut the island’s over half-a-billion dollar energy bill by upping the ante in expanding the renewable energy sector; reducing the country’s high import bill by placing heavy emphasis on agriculture production; and revamping “some aspects” of the manufacturing sector.
She did not say what the UPP’s plans were regarding the size of the public sector or the number of state-owned enterprises.
However, on the issue of education, Eastmond said it was the “desire” of the UPP to eventually have “free university education”. However, she warned that this goal could not be done “in one fell swoop”.
“If the country ain’t got no money, how are we going to do it? We are not going to make you any false promises. We are pegging our hopes on that creative economy, bringing agriculture back into production, enhancing the tourism product, focusing on getting some aspects of manufacturing back on its feet,” she said.
“So we are looking at earning money. When people ask me about the first thing you are going to cut, that is not the question. The question is how are you going to earn new money. That is the question. And the United Progressive Party is the only party that has come to you with an answer.
“It is doable. I know how to do it because I was there when it was being done in the international business sector, so it can be done.
“It is manageable and doable, but we have to be very careful,” she stressed, adding that “we will reduce taxes gradually, at the same time when we are increasing revenue”.
Labelling her team as “the fearless 23”, Eastmond also poked fun at both the BLP and Democratic Labour Party, saying, “We ain’t got no Eager 11. We ain’t got no Eager seven. We ain’t got nobody plotting to dethrone the leader.”
“Nobody in here ain’t saying that when we get in there we gine move she. Nobody ain’t saying we gine put somebody from St Joseph. We like one another and we got a plan and a programme that makes sense,” said Eastmond, who also pointed out that she had her certificate to show that she had an LLM in commercial law with taxation.