Emma Hippolyte: “You are not alone!”

Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte

Never mind that the stated purpose of yesterday’s House meeting was to amend certain laws governing VAT, scheduled to come into effect on October 1, I fully anticipated a lot more from the MPs on both side of the House. Alas, it began with the prime minister bragging yet again of his own courage in taking full responsibility for the highly unpopular VAT’s implementation (as if he had a choice). A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Or, more colloquially, you reap what you sow! Along the way he took the obligatory distracting swipes at the previous hardly blameless administration, read Cabinet Conclusions from 2007 that clearly indicated the King government fully intended to implement VAT and so on. Time after time he had to place a restraining hand on the deputy prime minister’s shoulder to calm him down . . . after all, what is a meeting of parliament if not show time? Immediately following the prime minister was the MP for Castries Southeast. He began by saying he had a very important appointment ahead of him—a funeral in his constituency. There was no evident embarrassment on the MP’s face as he spoke. Or on the faces of his colleagues on either side of the table. By now it is common knowledge that there is nothing more important in the life of a local politician than the burial of a constituent. And so started the mantra: “My contribution to this debate will not be very long . . .” (Did they also have funerals to attend?) And indeed he kept to his word. He had never seen anything burdensome about VAT he said, his concern always had been with the timing of its implementation. Over and over he suggested the prime minister should postpone it—perhaps until better days are here. The experienced MP for Castries East took his time reading from a VAT-exempt list, noting along the way that opposition politicians had been telling attendants at their recent public meetings the very opposite of truth. It would not be Philip J. Pierre if he did not refer to his proud record as the MP for Castries East, a job he predicted would be his, despite efforts to unseat him, because he is loved by his constituents and by God. Not necessarily in that order. He ended by saying VAT was a work in progress that would be amended appropriately as time went by. At what cost to consumers? He forgot to mention. Neither did he see fit to cite the government’s record as far as the Revised Criminal Code is concerned. For that matter neither did members of the opposition. Pierre carefully avoided the businesses, especially in the manufacturing sector, likely to be devastated by VAT. Neither did he concern himself with the opportunities that will be lost to Trinidad. He did hint, however, at SLHTA concerns but promised the prime minister would set all minds to rest in due course. As for those who say he tends to carry on in the House as if he were speaking from the steps of the Castries market: “I am a politician. There is nothing I do that I do not first consider the political implications.” Hmmmmm. The MP for Castries North, Saint Lucia’s former prime minister, also announced he “would not be long.” And he wasn’t. And while I recalled he echoed Guy Joseph—“If you can’t get the laws right, why should you be trusted with matters of the economy? . . . This is the wrong time to implement VAT!”— I cannot for the life of me remember anything else he might’ve said. For once Emma Hippolyte, MP for Gros Islet, was not en rouge. This time around she wore baby blue and a hairstyle that immediately made me think a certain prematurely bald opposition MP ought to have a word with Emma on wigs. She took to task those who saw no good in the government’s admitting it had recognized its mistakes and set out to correct them. She seemed convinced Saint Lucia was “ready for VAT,” whatever that might mean. No one has bothered to explain. But Emma really got my attention when she said, in effect, that some businesses were concerned about the impact of VAT, “but no need to worry, there are many other people in your situation, but you have a government that wants to help. You are not alone!” She spoke similarly to concerned consumers at large. The government could start demonstrating that concern by responding to letters from VAT-concerned businesspeople and consumers!

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