“A government of taxes”.
Those were the words used by Trade Union representative in the Senate, Raymond Roberts to describe the 15-month old New National Party (NNP) administration of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
Sen. Roberts, considered as the most outspoken member of the Upper House, took a swipe at the regime last Friday during his contribution to a debate on a Motion brought by government to the Excise Tax to introduce a 5% VAT on a number of luxury goods and vehicle parts.
The goods that will now cost more to consumers include Vehicle Tyres, Chassis, Mounting Covers, Protective Seat Covers, Windscreens, Rear view mirrors, Vehicle locks, Fuel lubricating or cooling, medium pumps for internal combustion Piston Engine, oil filters and several other vehicle parts.
Despite supporting the measure, Sen. Roberts acknowledged that “tough austerity measures are coming forward from the Mitchell government which is into a 3-year Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to try and arrest a fiscal deficit facing the country.
He then branded the new rulers as a “government of more and more taxes” to rake in revenue, he announced that while the taxes keep mounting the government had not paid him his back pay, owed from his former job as Director of the Government Information Service (GIS).
I ain’t get back-pay yet …not even retroactive”, said Roberts, a former General Secretary of the Grenada Trade Union Council (GTUC).
According to Sen. Roberts, the trade union movement is aware of the challenges facing the country and at this point is not sure if there is any alternative to the government’s approach, which is to increase the number of taxes to raise revenue.
The IMF has agreed to provide financial assistance to the Mitchell government on condition that Grenada took certain measures to address its fiscal difficulties.
Among the tax measures taken so far include a widening of the tax net, a doubling of the Property Tax, and increased user fees for government services.
Sen. Roberts recalled that in the lead up to the February 19, 2013 General Election in which NNP swept all 15 seats, those now running the government had presented a beautiful fruit basket to the Grenadian people and promised them that everything would be perfect.
He said the reality of the situation some 16 months later is that, “those of you in the luxury class, here is your delivery – taxes and more taxes”.
“We were not told this (a) year ago”, he told the Senate, adding that, “we were painted a glorious picture and today it seems the complete opposite”.
In a direct swipe at some of the decisions being taken by government, the TUC Senator said that fiscal management is lacking by the Mitchell government and pointed to the decision taken by the administration to host several cricket games in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL).
Sen. Roberts branded as “irresponsible” the decision taken to spend US$500,000.00 to secure the games when Grenada is under tremendous austerity measures and areas such as the health sector needs assistance. “It is not smart. Use that money to help poor people,” he told the Senate session.
Sen. Roberts reminded the house that Grenada’s financial problems started by the NNP’s reckless spending during the 1995-2008 period in government as reported by the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
He said that what Grenada needs is a lot of honesty and that with more taxes on the backs of the population, Government must think about reducing cost of goods to the public and take into consideration the act of a government minister hosting a talk show during normal working hours.
These are the things, said Sen. Roberts that erode discipline in Grenada and quickly added that, “the image is not good”.
The trade unionist Senator was making reference to Sen. Sheldon Scott, the Parliamentary Secretary for Youth and Sports who can be heard on a local FM radio station every morning in the working week extolling the virtues of the NNP regime.
Sen. Scott has threatened to take legal action against persons who have sought to challenge his appearance on the radio station for up to several hours when he should be engaged in State work.
The trade union representative in the Senate warned the Mitchell-led administration to take heed that the Grenadian people made a judgment on former Finance Minister Nazim Burke and Congress in the last election and that they are now making a judgment on the Mitchell regime.
“The people (have) made a judgment on him (Burke), we are now making a judgment on you (NNP), and your judgment thus far is not that good,” he said.
Sen. Burke, the current Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) also made a contribution to the debate and pointed out that he cannot support another bundle of taxes on the backs of Grenadians.
“Too many taxes at the same time”, said Sen. Burke who was ostracized for his handling of the country’s finances during the 2008-13 rule of Congress.
Sen. Burke charged that for the first time in Grenada’s history, financial institutions are threatening to close their doors, a clear indication that there are no foreseeable prospects for business in Grenada.
The former government minister admitted his defeat at the polls last year at the hands of NNP’s Tobias Clement in the St. George North-east constituency but makes it clear that he will be back.
“I have been rejected and I will offer myself again”, he told the Senate.
Former Tourism Minister, Dr. George Vincent also expressed his concerns about the additional tax measures and accused the NNP Government of managing the country by trial and error and that he was concerned with the country’s tax uncertainty.
Business Representative Christopher DeAllie supported the resolution brought by government but also expressed concerns that too many taxes are being imposed in a short time and the effects this can have in the area of business planning.
Farmer’s Representative Keith Clouden also opposed the new tax increases and called on the Mitchell regime to refrain from implementing this new measure, as it will bring additional hardship on Grenadians.
The Motion was presented before the Senate by Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for Agriculture, Simon Stiell who hinted that there are more measures to be implemented by the Mitchell-led administration that he knows would be unpopular with
Sen. Stiell did not elaborate but sources within the Ministry of Finance have told this newspaper that the IMF is insisting on these measures before it commits itself to the estimated EC$ 21.9 million promised to Grenada as part of SAP.
He said the new tax measures are part of the three-year homegrown structural programme to deal with Grenada “very sick” economy that is characterised by low growth, high debt, high employment, a large fiscal gap, spending much more than the country is
Sen. Stiell disclosed that the NNP administration is committed to a continuous review of legislation with International donor countries and local stakeholders.