BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Aug 11 2017 – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has defended the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) saying the country was dealing “incrementally” with a ‘serious deficit problem”:
Addressing stakeholders to the Barbados Social Partnership meeting here, Stuart defended the near 400 percent increase in the NSRL amid calls from the trade unions and the private sector for either a reduction or a complete repeal of the fiscal measure that came into force at the start of July.
During the budget presentation in May, Finance Minister Chris Sinckler said the NSRL, which was introduced in September last year, would be increased from two to ten percent effective July 1.
According to Sinckler, this increase will result in “increased revenue of $291 million for a full financial year and $218 million for the remaining nine months of the current fiscal year”.
The NSRL was imposed on goods imported into Barbados and on domestically manufactured goods. The NSRL was designed to finance the burgeoning cost of health care on the island and to assist with maintaining a clean environment.
Stuart told the meeting that the NSRL was conceptualised following widespread discussions both within and outside of the government and “that there are very ordinary people in the society who make suggestions to us from time to time.
“That’s is how policy is distilled and how we are able to formulate particular measures and that is where the National Social Responsibility Levy had its genesis. The diagnosis was done, we had a serious deficit problem which we were trying to deal with incrementally.
“But as we were dealing with it incrementally howls of protests were coming from many quarters as to how much money the Central Bank was printing for Barbados government and so on,” he said.
Stuart said that “that bull had to be held by its horns and nobody knows, I don’t get into the business of fortune telling, economic forecasting is a very slippery business” adding “we hope that the policy works…
“That is what every minister of finance has to do, every government has to do. It is what every business manager has to do, it is what every manager in every context has to do. Put policy in place, put all the necessary pillars of support around that policy and work towards its success”.
Earlier, the general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), Toni Moore, told the meeting that “the challenges confronting the economy was made worse by a combination of inadequate foresight, failed communication and the lack of definite action that gave account to the involvement of the social partners to avert the quandary which we regarded was confronting our country”.
She expressed reservations about the discussions that were being held in a “peculiar format”, but said the union accepted in hope that it would help to resolve some the island’s pressing problems.
“At least the arrangement could be the start of an exercise, even though belated, to open transparent debate not only within the Social Partnership but all members of society on the issues that confront and affect us all”.
General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Roslyn Smith, said that the NSRL was ill-timed, making a case for a full roll back or a reduction.
“The levy was a move too swift, from two per cent to ten per cent. We have been asking either for a repeal of the levy or to have it reduced to five per cent,’ Smith said, challenging the government to come clean on how it was spending the revenue earned from the NSRL.
NUPW president Akanni McDowall said workers should be given a coping subsidy to cushion the impact of the NSRL, widely expected to cause a significant rise in the cost of living.
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