Parliament in the wee hours of Friday morning approved the controversial National Social Responsibility Act after Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler put up a strident defence of the onerous tax on imported and locally produced goods, which is covered by the legislation and is due to be increased from two to ten per cent, effective July 1.
During Thursday’s marathon debate, which began at 10 a.m. and ended at 1:20 a.m. Friday, two Government ministers – namely Dr David Estwick and Donville Inniss – took exception to the levy, which is otherwise referred to as the NSRL, with Estwick warning his own administration that it simply could not “tax its way out” of its economic problems and Inniss seriously cautioning that the NSRL would result in a rise in the cost of living, as he echoed the call by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley in her Budget reply on Wednesday, for provisions to be made to assist vulnerable citizens.
“All I ask is that we ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not placed in any more of a disadvantageous or uncomfortable position,” Inniss said, while also pointing to concerns raised by the manufacturing sector over the increase in the NSRL.
“When they sell to other manufacturers the National Social Responsibility Levy is not applicable as far as I understand. But when the manufactured goods are sold to the retailers, the National Social Responsibility Levy is applicable, and therefore that leads to an increase in the cost of goods manufactured in Barbados. But it also places us in a position to be less competitive on the local market.”
The levy was first introduced in September last year. However, effective next month it will move from two per cent to ten per cent, as Sinckler, who has a $500 million economic hole to urgently fill, embarks on a series of tough economic measures, including the NRSL, which is expected to rake in $218 million for the remaining nine months of the current fiscal year.
Inniss has also taken issue with the planned increase in the excise tax on petrol, warning that it would also drive up the cost of doing business and the cost of living.
The outspoken Minister of Commerce and International Business has called for a “serious conversation and action plan” to improve efficiency and cut the cost of the public sector, stating that a number of state agencies had got out of hand and had “to be reined in”.
“Let us get real. Some of those agencies need to be merged or closed down. And that is perhaps one of the realities that we don’t want to face,” Inniss stated.
However, after hearing Inniss’ strident appeal and pleas from an equally defiant Estwick, who is a trained medical doctor, for the Government to follow his economic prescription instead, Sinckler was adamant that his remedy was the best one for the times.
In the face of an apparent budget split within the current Freundel Stuart-led Cabinet, the Minister of Finance pointed out that there was no such thing as a “perfect” Government.
Therefore, he suggested to Parliament that differences of opinion were expected to arise from time to time, even among political cohorts.
However, he was less forgiving of Mottley who he claimed repeatedly called him a “liar” during her Budget reply.
And in light of several corruption allegations levelled by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Leader in Parliament, Sinckler sought to warn Mottley that he was holding countless files that could prove to be very politically damaging to her.
Sinckler, who is the parliamentary representative for St Michael North West, further cautioned the Opposition representative for St Michael North East that no one from “Black Rock” was afraid of anyone from “Sandy Lane” as he drew a deeper political line in the sand, suggesting that when Mottley spoke she was doing from a position of privilege, while he was coming from the perspective of the poor working class man.
In fact, he threatened to expose Mottley once and for all for who she really was and in no less of a place than in “Queen’s Park at midnight”, if she proceeded with her planned “Haggatt Hall” witch hunt against the Stuart-led Government.
During his animated closing budgetary statement, Sinckler further attacked Mottley, saying she had failed to present a feasible plan for turning around the ailing economy, which apart from a worrying deficit, is also burdened with an enormous debt in the amount of 160 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product.
In fact, Sinckler accused the Opposition Leader of waffling during her three-hour long reply to his presentation on Tuesday, without giving Barbadians any specifics on how she or her BLP team – who he said were equally anxious to take the Governmental reins – intended to address the country’s worrying economic challenges.
In response to strident calls by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, economist Michael Howard and others for Government to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an economic bail out plan, Sinckler was adamant that this was not the way to go right now, as he warned former University of the West Indies (UWI) economics professor Howard that the UWI would be among the first institutions to be cut off from financial support were Government to take the country down the dreaded IMF road.
However, Sinckler agreed with Arthur that there was “noting that we can’t do [as a country] if we put our minds to it”.
With that said, the Minister of Finance led the passage of the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy Act.
Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite also led the passage of Magistrates Court Amendment Act before the parliamentary session officially came to a close.
Just the 1:20 a.m. adjournment, House Speaker Michael Carrington apologized to his fellow legislators for losing his “cool” during an exchange with Opposition Member of Parliament for St James North Edmund Hinkson earlier in the night.
The House resumes on Tuesday, June 13 at 10 a.m.