Our Readers' Opinions
March 18, 2016
The Budget

The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on the brevity of his Budget address. Adults’ attention span is short and long speeches soon lose their audience. Moreover, short speeches reduce the possibility of repetition.

That Government and Opposition could not even sit together in Parliament to debate the budget is deeply disturbing. Many have been the pleas for more consensual and less adversarial politics.{{more}} Yet we are going in the opposite direction. Collaboration is essential if we are to tackle the grave problems SVG faces, particularly as regards the economy and drugs. Each side is afraid that the other will gain advantage if it takes strong, but unpopular, action. So we contlnue to fiddle while Rome burns.

The pension situation is a clear indication of this. Public servants receive pensions from both the Public Service and the NIS, so much so that some retirees will get more pension than they ever got as salary. The country clearly cannot afford it. The recurrent budget is chronically in deficit and 60 per cent of this budget comprises personal emoluments. Obviously, if civil servants were to receive only their NIS pensions and nothing from the Public Service then this will eventually reduce the deficit and help to make Government finances more viable. Over 20 years ago, new entrants to the Civil Service should have been offered NIS pensions only. Instead, even now, we are still talking about giving the matter careful study!

Turning now to the revenue measures. There is little in the tax proposals about which to take exception.The large number of vehicles and the many big buildings in the island suggest that a substantial underground economy exists in SVG. The Government is in no position to tax its earnings by way of income tax or its output by way of VAT. They have few options. They have to tax where they can. Indeed, in the tax proposals, only two items warrant further discussion: coconut oil and secondhand cars.

For years we used to produce and export copra and coconut oil. Scaremongering, particularly by soya bean oil producers, about the unhealthy nature of coconut oil, led to the decline of our industry. Today, however, coconut oil produced from coconuts, rather than copra, is considered a health food. We have not been able to rebuild our factory, but several small producers have entered the business. The Government is to be applauded for not burdening the industry with VAT.

In the case of secondhand cars, the Mlnister of Finance may have erred on the side of caution.The impact of these vehicles on traffic and on the environment generally has to be considered. The Minister, from his own remarks, is worried about the traffic. Some people are even scared to drive. The police cannot by themselves rectify the situation. We have to slow down the rate of growth in the car population either by banning cars of a certain age or by imposing even higher tariffs. As for the environment, we fear that junk cars will despoil its pristine condition and also provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The zero hunger campaign is a new initiative announced in the Budget. It sounds like a Latin American sort of thing. It rightly proposes to identify the problem, formulate programmes and target beneficiaries. We have to hope it does not degenerate into political clientism, as well as encourage dependence and mendicancy. Like Patel Matthews, many people are wonderlng exactly who the hungry people are. We shall see.

The most heartening aspect of the Budget Debate was the contribution made by the up-and-coming ministers Camillo Gonsalves and Ces Mc Kie. Both looked forward, the one dealing with the provision of jobs and the other with the growth of the tourist industry. Camillo’s emphasis on the private sector and services as the engine of job growth is sound. We are not likely to ever be competitive in manufacturing and back-to-the-land movements for young people are rarely successful. The minister is not just talk; he has a plan of action.

Ces’s grasp of the details of the tourist industry and what needs to be done is overwhelming. He will need all the help he can get. Completion of the Argyle Airport, Canouan, construction of hotels, maintenance of our heritage sites and our pristine beauty, as well as actually getting people to come here will be grist to his mill.