Friday, March 1, 2024

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Perpetual confusion


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We’ve long known and seemed to have accepted that most contracts involving Government end in a state of confusion. This is in spite of the bureaucracy and red tape that appear to be necessary for these contracts to be awarded. These include the Al Barrack affair, the highway project, the office building at Newton, the clean-up of the Mobil site at Needhams Point, and the list goes on.
In fact, the Needham’s situation seems to be literally and figuratively a mess as one of Barbados’ prime pieces of real estate is reportedly now an environmental hazard.
This saga has been going on since 2004, has had two restarts and a court case, but still doesn’t seem near a conclusion. In the meantime, the cost of the clean-up has allegedly gone from $14 million to $64 million. Can Barbados continue to waste money on litigation and increased costs due to procrastination?
But this year, when we need political clarity rather than uncertainty, confusion seems to have reached an all-time high following the apparently ad lib portions of the Budget speech.
We first heard that there was to be a solid waste tax of 0.7 per cent imposed on unimproved property values, in addition to the normal land tax. Now we hear that this was a slip of the tongue and it’s rumoured to be 0.25 per cent. Is this really so or was the Government “trying a thing” on the public to see if they would be their usual selves and accept it without question?
Then there seemed to be a lack of consensus on the hospital cuts. Was the Budget not a result of a collective decision? Of course, there was the hullabaloo about University of the West Indies tuition fees and the temporary public sector workers. Shouldn’t all this have been worked out prior to the release of the Budget?
The younger generation has already questioned the rationale for imposing land tax, saying that they can understand road tax, which is to maintain roads (even if this is not always done), but what is the land tax for? One can imagine how they’re reacting to another tax on land.
They also want to know if only landowners produce garbage. But, of course, we’re far from convinced that this tax has anything to do with garbage, but rather is headed straight to the Consolidated Fund. The garbage problem will remain unsolved since the obvious solution of separation at the household level seems to elude the powers that be.
Then there’s the consolidation tax on gross income. Apparently, there is no such term in the Inland Revenue regulations. Then followed the confusion about the percentages to be charged. Furthermore, one can understand how the tax would be collected monthly from employees, but how about self-employed people?
First of all, self-employed people wouldn’t know in advance if they’re eligible since they don’t work for consistent monthly salaries. Then, apparently, they have to trek to the Treasury Building to pay this tax every month. They couldn’t consider mailing it since there would always be a row over if it arrived in time.
Can Inland Revenue handle this extra load when errors already seem to be rampant with the normal returns? Furthermore, is it a productive use of the public’s time? Wouldn’t it make sense for self-employed people to pay at the end of the year? But I suppose Government is desperate for the funds.
Minister Richard Sealy says locals should be able to buy duty free products as long as they use foreign exchange. It’s a good idea, but isn’t it against the law for citizens to hold foreign exchange while in Barbados? I’m told that certain categories of people who earn foreign exchange are allowed to hold a percentage of it in foreign exchange accounts, but I’m sure this doesn’t hold for Tom, Dick and Harry.
Apart from Government confusion, it seems that even within civil society, everything ends up in conflict and confusion these days. Sometime ago, efforts by local groups to help a mother of twins undergoing hardship and more recent efforts by a church to assist a needy family seem to have ended in disarray. Why is this? Have we now developed a culture of confusion?
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.


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