Kenny Anthony was right on VAT!

Obviously, some time during his years in opposition Prime Minister Kenny D Anthony had experienced an epiphany. Earlier he had declared VAT “an oppressive law” and contrary to the best interests of the people. Once his government was reelected in 2011, however, the value added tax became the only weapon between our country and inevitable disaster. This week he seemed to be taking pride in the hotly debated implementation of the law, telling Andre Paul during an interview that he is prepared to take full responsibility for the imposition of yet another burden on our handicapped and already over-taxed nation.
Dr Anthony has perplexingly insisted that despite VAT’s “oppressive and punishing” nature,   the financial state of the country demanded its implementation. His government is burdened with   expenditures that had to be met and VAT is the bitter cure. If I heard Dr Anthony clearly, his responsibilities as Minister of Finance supersede his earlier objections to VAT. Moreover, he would have us believe his government knows what is best for the country at this time. As he put it, if the financial situation is not dealt with right now, future generations will have to bear the burden that this generation of cowards failed to meet.
I, for one, do not share his new-found faith in VAT. The inconvenient truth is that VAT is as earlier described by Dr Anthony: an oppressive and debilitating tax regime. It is particularly punishing to lower income people and does nothing to lift the middle class. It is simply another revenue generating mechanism. It requires those with very little to contribute toward paying for the extravagances of successive governments. For those better off, paying five percent more on ten percent is a drop in the bucket. But for the malaway increased taxes could be a deathblow.
Let Dr Anthony take pride in his unpopular implementation of VAT; let it be his badge of honor, proof of his courage in the face of a now passive people. It does not change the irony that it was a Labour Party administration upon being reelected to office that in its first few months imposed this yoke on the poor people that returned them. History will not be kind to Dr Anthony. It also worries me that a supposed poor people’s party leader can so gloatingly decide that such a punishing tax regime is absolutely necessary at a time of global recession and high unemployment. The late George Charles and George Odlum must be turning in their graves.
Since his conversion to VATism, Dr Anthony has often referred to his party’s election manifesto, as if all it contained were the supposed inevitability of VAT. Indeed, there are several promises in it was in the party’s manifesto that appear to have been long forgotten. But then how many people bother to read manifestos delivered to them just days before an election?
Drunk on the euphoria of “Enrouge” all they hear are the empty but catchy promises of Better Days. Dr Anthony certainly knows this. Ever wondered why Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the late Maurice Bishop of Grenada were able, shortly after assuming power, to undertake huge literacy programs while their so-called progressive brothers in the Caribbean simply pay lip service to the eradication of illiteracy? It would not be a stretch to conclude that success in Caribbean politics depends on the ignorance and poverty of the people.
Another reason proffered by Dr Anthony why St Lucia had no other way forward but the magic VAT was in order to be in compliance with the regional monetary system. Really? Interestingly, the only time when regional unification seems to matter to our divisive politicians is when it comes to collecting taxes. I can think of numerous ways as a region we can unite, but the politicians always stand in the way. We long to see the day when regional governments will act as hurriedly in the interest of the people as they do in the interest of the Consolidated Fund.
Now, if you listen to opposition leader Stephenson King, you will think he is a virgin when it comes to VAT. Nonsense! Long before Kenny and Saul hooked up on the road to Damascus   Stephenson King as prime minister was moving full steam ahead with VAT’s implementation. If the United Workers Party had won the November 2011 election, VAT would have been implemented by April of 2012. Or so King had promised. Lacking badly in credibility on this vexing issue King wants us to believe that his promise was conditional. Yeah, right!
Finally, I disagree with Dr Anthony that VAT is the only way forward. It is my candid opinion that there are other efficient methods of revenue generation without undue imposition on the less fortunate.  It requires some innovative thinking; something thinking out of the Lucian box. Also, there are more effective ways of doing government business in this technological era that can save the tax payers much expenditure. As for VAT, it can only last for as long as the people accept the propaganda that it is a pathway to the promise of better days to come. Or until it runs the country broke!

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