Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress NDC), Senator Nazim Burke has sought to set the record straight on the lowering of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on certain building materials in 2012 when he was the country’s Minister of Finance.
Sen. Burke was forced to explain the rationale behind the VAT reduction following a statement made by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell indicating that it was done for selfish reasons by the former Government Minister.
Appearing on a GBN radio and television programme, Dr. Mitchell told the nation, “the same Minister of Finance, when he was building his house, reduced the VAT on building material at the time he was building his house. As soon as the house was finished he brought the VAT up again. What sort of selfishness is this for a man who wants to be Leader of our country and who was Minister of Finance.”
In presenting the 2012 budget, Sen. Burke had remarked back then that mindful of the hardships being faced by the people, the Tillman Thomas-led Congress Government had implemented several measures to cushion the effect of rising prices by having the 15 percent VAT on cement, lumber, steel and galvanise cut in half.
VAT was introduced in Grenada in 2010 by the then NDC Government at a rate of 15 percent.
Sen. Burke said that by the time VAT was introduced he had already started building his house in 2010, and it was completed in October 2011.
He said the decision to have the VAT cut in half to seven-and-a-half percent was due to continuous request from the contractors to have the tax removed from the main items for construction.
“During the course of 2011, we (the government) decided to reduce the VAT. At that time my house was already finished,” he told reporters.
Research shows that in its first budget presentation of 2013 after winning the General Elections, Dr. Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP) Government further reduced the VAT by five percent with effect from May 1st 2013 to December 31st, 2014 on some additional construction material including sand, roofing material and construction blocks.
In his 2014 budget presentation on December 10th, 2013, PM Mitchell told the Lower House that “on account to boost revenue, government has taken the decision to restore the normal rate of 15 percent (VAT) from January 2014.”
According to Sen. Burke, he and his team of lawyers have heard Dr. Mitchell’s statement on GBN’s “Beyond The Headlines” programme and are now deciding what steps will be taken.
“These things must not go unchallenged, these things must not go unanswered,” Sen. Burke said.
The Congress leader stated that he has been speaking to lawyers about the Prime Minister’s accusation and promised the nation that they would get to hear more about it in due course.
During a recent NDC Press Conference, Deputy Political Leader Joseph Andall informed members of the media that political opponents are now resorting to open lies and misinformation on members of the NDC Leadership and this will no longer be tolerated.
“We will like to serve notice that we have learnt our lessons from the 2013 election campaign. We have seen already that even without the official announcement of an election date, that the attacks against our leader and our party have begun, and they have been unleashed in a most vicious manner from the top down from the opposite political camp,” he said.
Andall warned that Congress is prepared and willing to defend itself vigorously against any and all forms of attacks.
“Whenever and wherever we find evidence that they (the attacks) are of a defamatory nature, we are going to take appropriate action,” he said.
Last month, Burke was awarded a high court judgement in default in a libel suit brought against a known political activist of the NNP, former Radio Talk show Host, Ian Edwards of Tivoli, St. Andrew’s in August 2013.
The court action arose out of comments made on May 23rd, 2013 by Edwards in his “Hard Talk” programme that was carried live on three radio stations in which he claimed that “Nazim Burke’s house was for sale when he was in opposition, and then he somehow was able to acquire three or four other properties since coming into Office.”
The issue of Burke and his houses was a major campaign platform of the NNP in its landslide 15-0 victory at the polls in 2013.