Judges could ultimately decide whether it is lawful for the Government to use the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) to collect the Garbage and Sewage Contribution (GSC) tax – if a minor opposition party gets its way.
As the BWA moves to ramp up disconnections as result of ongoing customer rebellion against the tax, the two-year-old United Progressive Party (UPP) has revealed that its “legal team is reviewing this situation and will escalate to the Law Courts if required.
“As far as the UPP can determine, under the BWA Act there is no penalty for the non-payment of the tax as is typical in tax legislation. Government should never require a Social Services Act to do the work of a Taxing Statute,” the UPP said in a statement.
“Any levies, which potentially have a direct and negative impact on, the basic rights of Barbadians is inhumane and must be repealed,” the party, led by former Barbados Labour Party senator and minister Lynette Eastmond, an attorney-at-law has said.
The UPP argues that essentially the BWA has now been made into a Government tax collector, but outside the purview of the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).
“The BRA was established in order to create greater efficiency in the collection of taxes. Both BLP and DLP administrations had a hand in it. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Barbados we start to unravel sound policy by focusing on and seeking to satisfy special interests,” the political party stressed.
On Friday, BWA Chairman Leodeane Worrell revealed that customers are flat out refusing to pay the GSC tax, which has resulted in revenue at the BWA plummeting by 40 per cent between August and September.
Worrell said the BWA was merely the conduit for collecting the $1.50 per day tax. This meant that even though customers were paying their bill minus the levy, the BWA was still obligated to take the GSC from the amount paid. At a press conference summoned by Minister of Energy and Water Resources Wilfred Abrahams in the Committee Room of Parliament this afternoon, Worrell revealed that on average the BWA hauls in $10 million in monthly revenue. Since the introduction of the tax on August 1, the intake for the cash-strapped public water company dropped to about $6 million. The situation threatens to worsen the company’s outstanding arrears, which to date run to $15 million.
Noting that Prime Minister Mottley has mandated that the BWA be entirely self-funded, Worrell said the utility had no choice but to get tough with defaulters.
“Those who find themselves in arrears because of circumstances beyond their control will be dealt with under a different dispensation. But those who find themselves in arrears because they are not paying the GSC will be another story,” said Worrell, who revealed results from a recent survey that showed Barbadians paid their cellular phone bill before paying their water bill.
But the UPP contends that such an approach runs counter to the United Nations General Assembly (UN) Resolution 64/292, of which Barbados is a signatory.
In it, the UN explicitly recognizes the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. The resolution calls upon UN member states and international organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity and transfer technology to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
“This smacks of a certain degree of callousness and disregard for the particular circumstances of our citizens. The imposition of this tax was not well thought through, as was the case with the transition from the road tax to a tax on fuel; the removal of NRSL (National Social Responsibility Levy); and the tax on online transactions,” the UPP statement said.