Tourism and industrial businesses could receive an ease after all from the massive rise in their water bills occasioned by Government’s Garbage and Sewage Contribution (GSC) levy announced on Monday by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mia Mottley as part of her economic recovery plan.
While not promising to reverse the decision, Mottley today hinted at the possibility of a review of the process with a view to implementing a cap on payments.
Hoteliers have complained that the GSC, which will require them to pay a levy equivalent to 50 per cent of their water bills effective August 1, would send their bills skyrocketing.
In fact, outgoing Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Roseanne Myers said yesterday some hotels on the west coast were paying as much as $40,000 per month for water, and the tax would push their bills up to a whopping $60,000 a month.
In response to those complaints, Mottley today told the BHTA’s annual general meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, that her administration would “assess the situation” with a view to possibly setting a new fee for the tourism industry and the “industrial sector”.
She also indicated that special systems would be put in place to ensure they did not unfairly pay more than their fair share of the new tax.
“Just as we have with the land tax relief board there will be a . . . relief mechanism to deal with those situations that are injurious. So if a person has a water leak, nobody is going to be charged on that bill on the basis of the water leak. We will look to the comparable amount as to where the water usage normally is and they will be charged on that. A government must never be an instrument of oppression to its people,” Mottley declared.
“Similarly, we will await the first three months of bills from the tourism sector and industrial sector – those who use a large amount of water – to be able to set, if necessary, an appropriate cap as we have done with land tax in this country,” she added, while indicating that Government needed to collect relevant data so businesses in Barbados could be orderly managed.
“So I ask this sector to bear with us. Any situation that is injurious the . . . mechanism will deal with. I want that to happen without political interference because that is when our governance is best. But at the same time I say, give us the opportunity to see where the trajectory goes before we make any changes because not a single bill has left the Barbados Water Authority as yet on behalf of the Sanitation Services Authority,” the Prime Minister said.
The GSC rate announced in her so-called mini Budget on Monday was 50 per cent of the existing water bills of corporate entities, with half going to the funding of the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) and the other half going to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA).
The GSC charge will also be applicable to householders but at a rate of $1.50 per day, with pensioners who live alone and adjudged by the National Assistance Board or Welfare Department to be below the poverty line paying 75 cents per day.
In Monday’s Budget presentation, Mottley had also announced that there would be a review of the existing sewerage and connection fee being charged to south coast and Bridgetown residents.
Meantime, in her presentation to the approximately 200 BHTA members today, Myers indicated that the organization had made an “advocacy request” to the BWA for compensation for members located on the south coast who were affected by the sewage spill.
“We wrote in a very respectful way and we got back one piece of correspondence, but that is a challenge that we have to continue to fight in terms of how the members will be compensated. Maybe it is not cash. Maybe it is simply, since we are still being billed every month, a credit on your bill that recognizes there is a period of time that you did not get service. So we are going to continue in those efforts,” Myers said, before taking a shot at the ousted Freundel Stuart administration, which she said the BHTA had been “pushing from the back” to fix the sewage problem with haste, but which offered very little help.
At the same time, she pointed to the allocation by Mottley of $27 million for upgrades to the south coast and Bridgetown sewerage plants, exclaiming, “thank God somebody has heard our plea”.
“This is the first [time] we have heard definite leadership and seen it when the ministers got out of their comfortable chair and went down in the swamp and smelt the smells we have been smelling and saw it and felt it and decided no more,” she told the meeting.
It was disclosed during today’s gathering that some BHTA members had lost between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of revenue, “good clients”, and bookings as a result of the vexing sewage crisis.