At some point during his Thursday morning contribution to the House budget debate the MP for Southeast Castries, Guy Joseph, referenced the government’s recent decision to “zero rate VAT on prescription medication,” while retaining taxes on, to quote the prime minister, “vitamins, tonics, energy drinks, food supplements and similar products ostensibly for promoting health and well-being.”
Joseph had barely unloaded his chest when the prime minister’s press secretary took to her infamous BB. “In his presentation during the debate,” she gushed, “Joseph stated that the prime minister said poor people do not eat butter. Prime Minister Anthony rose to correct Guy Joseph’s statement. Thereafter, Joseph agreed and withdrew what he presented [sic] and acknowledged that it was false.”
The prime minister’s press secretary also supplied the official version on the matter of butter consumption in Saint Lucia, at any rate, as spoken by the prime minister:
“Data on expenditure patterns revealed that some items on the existing list were more readily consumed by higher income groups and as such exemptions of these items have minimal impact on the poor.”
Conceivably for purposes strictly professional, the press secretary chose to edit her boss. The following was left out of her dispatch: “Accordingly, government has elected to collect the standard VAT of 15 percent on the following items: fish, butter and margarine, beans (not including lentils and pigeon peas) and salt.”
Nevertheless, the Speaker reacted predictably. At the prime minister’s command he demanded that Joseph prove the veracity of his assertion or withdraw it. He challenged the Southeast Castries MP to establish the prime minister had said “poor people don’t eat butter.”
Joseph readily apologized for “paraphrasing” but quickly proceeded to quote directly from the prime minister’s published address, delivered on Tuesday evening.
But then what exactly did the prime minister mean when he said butter (and several other food items) was “more readily consumed by higher income groups,” therefore an associated VAT would have “minimal impact on the poor?”
Did he mean to say the “minimal impact” was based on reliable information that the poor person’s regular diet does not include butter and margarine?
Is there something in the poor man’s physiological make-up that renders him allergic to butter and margarine but leaves impervious the “higher income groups?”
Or is the poor person’s presumed aversion to butter and margarine actually a matter of economics?
If poverty is the reason the majority of Saint Lucians cannot afford bread and margarine, let alone bread and butter, shouldn’t that be cause for governmental alarm?
The new price for brown sugar will be one dollar per pound, up from ninety cents. Refined sugar (which many authorities say is a greater health hazard) stands at ten cents higher. Just wait till the prime minister discovers that in some respected quarters butter is considered a more prolific killer than sugar, white or brown!
Meanwhile the World Health Organization in its latest report has listed Saint Lucia as the second highest per capita consumer of alcohol in the Caribbean—as much responsible for diabetes as sugar.