It should be clear to anyone who has lived, breathed and had their being in this country since the early 1990s that the International Financial Institutions have been trying relentlessly to shove their winner-take-all, neoliberal economic orthodoxy down our throats.
Indeed, many here have begun to repeat their mantras with a devotion of cult members fervently following a leader to doom. We are all too familiar with these well-worn shibboleths and euphemisms: more taxation is shrouded as “revenue enhancement”; making taxpayers pay for what they already pay for in taxes is “cost recovery”; those public goods and services already bought and paid for by taxes are “entitlements”.
Indeed, “structural adjustment” has a ring of reasonableness, logical inevitability, but has been anything but reasonable – slashing public spending, cutting salaries and benefits, and encouraging state-owned enterprises to be turned over to the private sector.
Even the label to which these structural adjustment policies are attached – the Washington Consensus – is a cynical nod to George Orwell’s 1984.
The World Bank has encouraged larger class sizes and school amalgamation in public education and private schools. The International Monetary Fund presses for privatisation, austerity and economic liberalisation (see also currency devaluation) that have resulted in unequal growth and social discontent.
And make no mistake – the linguistic shell game has not gone unnoticed here. We are in the middle of a structural adjustment programme rebranded as “Economic Recovery and Transformation”, wearing an acronym complete with an innocuous, Sesame Street characterisation – Bert.
Now, after decades of resistance, we have succumbed finally to one of the latest structural adjustment blows, by word and deed; it is the concept of paying “user fees” for public services. In effect, you get the privilege of being provided that which you already paid for, twice if not thrice, through income tax and indirect taxation.
Back in 1991, the IMF suggested that we pay full price for all public services, from housing to health care to education. For the IMF, public services should only be free at the point of delivery to those flatly unable to pay for them. A mean income inequality has emerged, propelled by a meanness in public policy and mean public opinion that embraces selfishness.
But now, even those who advocated making us all pay for the services our tax dollars already buy have been silenced by the crude, crushing weight of fees, levies and taxes.
Perhaps the most egregious of these has been the Garbage and Sewage “Contribution”. No one who has seen water rates grow by over 60 per cent during the last administration should draw comfort in paying double the quantum of their water bill for waste management under this regime.
We might not have approved of the brief taxpayer revolt against the waste tax but we understand the sticker shock that water authority customers received in their GSC-added bills.
The administration has said nothing but the message in the sheer level of this add-on user fee is unambiguous – Barbadians are expected to pay – twice -for the bulk of the Sanitation Services Authority and the Bridgetown and South Coast sewage systems.
Like the rise in the VAT from 15 per cent to 17.5 per cent, we have little confidence that the Government has in mind any shelf-life for this levy. That which is temporary becomes, by custom, usage and tradition, permanent.
We beg to differ.
The doubling and tripling of BWA bills is an ugly grab at the purse strings of an overtaxed population. We do believe that Barbadians are willing to pay more but not to receive less and less. The bonanza that the GSC has reaped for the Government should not merely be enough to buy second-hand trucks, which are then subjected to rough driving and careless handling, poor maintenance and a lack of spare parts.
We are convinced that there is more than enough to pay for a comprehensive waste management system, including waste separation, recycling and perhaps even viable waste-to-energy solutions such as biogas.
To reduce the waste tax to a cash grab to outfit the SSA with a new fleet of old trucks and fix a sewage system that was doomed by poor planning and lax maintenance is to throw good money after bad.
This, too, is unsustainable.
We say to Government, put a shelf-life on the so-called Garbage and Sewage Contribution, reduce its fat, ugly rate, show us where the money is going, and bin this tax sooner rather than later.