This year less than an estimated $3M of the projected revenue to be raised from the newly increased Vincentian Customs Service Charge is to be paid out to five major regional emergency organizations, Opposition Leader Dr. Godwin Friday told listeners of Hot 97.1 FM on Thursday morning.
Last Tuesday the Vincentian Parliament enacted what was touted as the only fiscal measure to be entertained by the Dr. Gonsalves-led government in its 2021 National Budget presentation. The measure is meant to raise approximately 10 million Eastern Caribbean dollars annually, in service of this country’s obligations to several regional emergency management entities.
Of the revenues expected to be raised from the 1 percent customs tax hike, which was passed without support from Opposition Members, Dr. Friday said some sixty thousand dollars ($60, 000) is allocated in the Government’s proposed 2021 expenditures to be paid to the Pan-American Health Organisation.
He also reported that the Caribbean Public Health Agency – “the institution that’s been helping us most in the earliest stages of the testing of the COVID-19 samples, CARPHA in Trinidad…” is to be paid one hundred and thirteen thousand dollars ($113, 000) while the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the Regional Security Systems were allotted two hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars ($255, 000) and two million ($2, 000, 000) dollars respectively.
Dr. Friday further noted that the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center was budgeted four hundred thousand ($400, 000) dollars even as work continues to ascertain local volcanic activity.
“The major expenditure is going to pay major Caribbean institutions like the OECS Secretariat – $3.1M, CARICOM -$1.16M, Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court $2.2M; so basically the justification that they are giving for the increase is really not borne out by the figures here because if you needed to support these emergency organisations then you could have found the funds by other means or with a less onerous measure.
“Because the amounts that you are budgeting for them are much smaller than the amounts you’re suggesting that we need to raise,” Dr. Friday said.
While he is not opposed to the idea of paying the dues owing to these institutions, the Opposition Leader succinctly decried what is today a 6 percent levy on all Customs services.
“I don’t understand why at this time when everybody is finding it difficult you’re gonna essentially increase the price of all the imports that we have …. That means that prices are going to go up….
“The amount, if you think about it, the amount they intend to raise from it is equivalent to the amount they intended to raise when they increase VAT from 15 to 16 percent. This is how big this increase really is because they’re thinking of raising between 8 and 10 million dollars from this single measure.”
Citing recent increases in freight and other transportation costs coupled with this one percent tax increase Dr. Friday also explained that the VAT calculations would effectively increase. “… the amount of money that would be assessed for the Customs Service Charge would be on that higher price. The other thing is too, that amount is added to the price, then the VAT is assessed on it.
“So it is in a sense compounded because you’re paying a little bit more in the VAT as well because of the increase in the value of the goods when the VAT is assessed. … Because of the way the tax is actually implemented at the Port where everything is affected, it has a much broader and more damaging effect on the economy, on people’s pockets than might initially appear.”
With his parting remarks Dr. Friday again reiterated his stance on the new tax. He said, “the continuing crisis will affect our economy going into the rest of the year; the government should be finding ways to put money into people’s pockets not to take the money out of people’s pockets.
“This Camillo tax here is going to hurt people very badly because of the way I’ve explained it, it’s broad-based, it affects everything – we import everything that we consume and so the impact would be much greater than they are letting on….
“If we are to take 8 to 10 million dollars out of people’s pockets at this time – to me that is unconscionable. That is the wrong decision.
“We should be helping people to cope with this crisis and whatever funds we have, we should be managing that and keeping it so that we can help people throughout the rest of the year because this crisis is far from over.”