Nothing nauseates me more than the sound of largely uninformed lazy newscasters, talk-radio hosts and their more obvious hack relatives (who like swamp mosquitoes live off the blood of others), holding forth on the issue of VAT. Always, their opening lines are the same: unresearched, stupid, apologetic:
“Okay, we all know it was inevitable. No matter what we do there can be no stopping VAT!” Should someone take his life in his hands and dare to inquire what made a value added tax, of all things, unavoidable, the predictable non sequitur response usually goes like this: “The previous government was going to implement it in April; this government waited until October.”
The fact that the October implementation of VAT only made a bad thing worse for its victims, considering the ever worsening times—more precisely, that things are worse today than they had been last month and the month before—never enters the discussion.
Or that if the present prime minister had considered VAT anti-worker, anti-poor and absolutely oppressive back in 2007, when he was leader of the opposition, why would he now think it the best thing for Saint Lucia at this time?
The unavoidable truth is that our politicians, current and past, together dropped VAT around our defenseless necks with their arrogance, their profligacy, their borrowing and spending as if on every corner of Saint Lucia there were a gold mine. For years and years they had been warned by those they begged, borrowed—and in some cases stole from—that the time would inevitably come when they would have to stand up on their own two feet and pay the consequences of their unbelievable irresponsibility: jobs duplicated as a matter of course, jobs for the party-loyal but absolutely incompetent, therefore a burden on taxpayers, millions of dollars unaccounted for and so on. All of that would have to stop, our governments were told. Or at the very least, curtailed.
When our governments and the people were warned about the stupidity of banana strikes against themselves the strike leaders laughed in their faces—as if no one had ever heard of Chiquita. We placed rocks in boxes provided for banana exportation and doubtless we considered ourselves—to paraphrase Harry Belafonte—smarter than the white man in every way. Well, came the inevitable day: sweet as were our bananas the facts of life as dictated by the WTO and related institutions put an end to the sorry joke. (Of course, it wasn’t long before more jokes at our expense were invented but that’s for another show. . .)
We looked on as the larger countries with their abundance of human and other resources bit the dust. But we felt certain God would lend a hand as usual, just as he had nearly always done at hurricane times. We even encouraged our governments to continue borrowing, borrowing, borrowing—until the IMF and our other one-time saviors read them the riot act: “Either you help yourself or you’ll get nothing more from us,” was how they nicely put it.
All parties, including our educated leaders, agreed without argument that the best way to help ourselves was to devise a more efficient system of collecting taxes from our admittedly tiny tax base. Of course, the IMF and its blood-sucking relatives, to be fair, suggested our broke governments should also quit spending as if they owned Fort Knox, or as if they were debt-free. It was even suggested that our governments cut back on the number of ministries and the number of party hacks rescued from the private sector and offered special contracts.
Did we listen? You know we did not. We carried on as if the crumbs from the masters’ tables would forever keep falling into our grubby hands. But the crumbs did stop coming, even as election promises became more and more preposterous. As if to make matters worse, our public service expenditure continues to rise while our two political parties toss useless verbal bombs at each other, applauded by their respective venal encouragers.
Well, now the piper must be paid. Randomly VAT is being applied in varying amounts on barely breathing businesses, the cost of living is sky-high and rising as the people’s lifestyle more and more resembles that of scavenging birds. That is what we were warned about over and over and over. That is what was always inevitable: The cost of living like millionaires on poor-house salaries—which is precisely what we permitted our wasteful governments to do for far too many years.
It’s the consequences of such unconscionable official profligacy that was always inevitable. Never VAT!