The Government is going after the gambling industry to recover $138 million in back taxes, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn told the House of Assembly today.
Despite being starved of cash, the Freundel Stuart Administration “strangely” refused to collect taxes from that sector during its ten years in office, Straughn said.
But he warned that the Mia Mottley administration would be working out a plan to make the gambling houses pay the outstanding taxes. He did not elaborate on the repayment plan but queried the “strange” inaction by the previous Government at a time when the country was in dire economic straits.
“That is something that completely boggles my mind,” Straughn told parliamentarians. “The previous Government says they had issues with cash flow, short of revenue, the economy not growing. They made all kinds of excuses. But here it is, there have a sector that owes the Government of Barbados $138 million in taxes over the course of that ten-year period,” he said.
Due to “some strange” arrangement between the then administration and the gambling sector that he said cannot be found in law, a memorandum went out that operators were not to pay taxes, Straughn revealed.
“And one set of people stopped paying and then another set of people stopped paying,” he added.
While wrapping up debate on the Public Service (General) Order, 2018 – which was passed – the Minister in the Ministry of Finance promised that Government would be working through this issue to ensure the unpaid taxes settled.
“This is . . . another mess that the previous administration has left for this government to deal with but we are going to deal with it,” Straughn told the Lower Chamber of Parliament.
“We are going to work out a plan for them to repay those taxes. But can you imagine, if we had collected those $138 million from that sector that would have meant a world of a difference over the course of the last ten years to the Government,” he said, adding that the then administration would not have had any excuse for not paying at least some of its own National Insurance contributions on behalf of public servants.
This state of affairs spoke to a lack of planning, care and “downright” incompetence by the previous Government, he said.
Referring to the measure which provides some $60 million in salary increases for public workers, Straughn said he did want to hear anything from the DLP about the five per cent hike being too small when there are still unanswered questions over $1.9 billion in arrears.
“If you could not deliver one cent in ten years for public servants and by extension salary negotiations then in the private sector which would have fueled growth in the economy, then I really don’t want to hear anything. Tell me where the $1.9 billion in arrears gone before I entertain any discussion from anybody with respect to the $60 million we are putting now for public servants in salary increase,” he said.