Why the conspiracy of silence surrounding VAT?

It seems the people want to know why there has been little in the media about VAT. On Wednesday’s Newsspin some well known voices expressed concern that the issue was only now being discussed when it was hardly new and had always been “inevitable.” In another time, the day’s government would be blamed for arrogantly keeping public information under wraps!
Actually there’s a simple answer to both questions: most Saint Lucians are relatively uninformed about the VAT because that’s precisely how the Kenny Anthony and Stephenson King administrations wanted it, not necessarily for the same reasons.
As far back as 2005 the day’s prime minister had determined he would have nothing whatsoever to do with the VAT proposition (see story on pages 4&5), on the basis it was “oppressive to the poor, oppressive to the worker,” its sole purpose being “to generate government revenue” regardless of impact on the average Saint Lucian. His recent change of heart was as sudden as it was characteristic.
While Stephenson King has kept to himself his personal views on the tax, it is also true to say he had not gone out of his way to promote it.
Neither he nor the SLP leader had spoken of VAT during their election campaigns, at any rate not in any tone indicative of a planned implementation. Indeed, it had been suggested in the red zones that should the UWP be returned to office, the government’s first act would be to “impose VAT on the people!”
In all events, the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Center, in its paper prepared by Paulo dos Santos and presented in 2002, had issued the following advice to governments intending to operate the VAT: “Once a decision to implement VAT on a given date is taken, it is recommended that the authorities deliver public announcements to avoid distortions in public opinion.                 Also, a publicity campaign needs to be set up with assistance from communications experts to gain momentum as the introduction date approaches.
“Although publicity is a specialized subject that requires the skills of experts specially hired to run the campaign, the VAT introduction team will also have a public relations role to make VAT information available to as wide an audience as possible.                 “Possibilities include setting up a help telephone line, a contact address (and e-mail address) for written enquiries, as well as talks, seminars, lectures, and public meetings.         Often the members of the introduction teams participate in TV and radio shows to discuss VAT and explain its main features to the public. Most countries introducing VAT set up a forum for consultation with trade associations, chambers of trade etc.”
As if instructing a team or used-car salesmen, the paper advises: “Professional communicators hired to help the authorities should use all the communication avenues available including television, newspapers, magazines, handouts, mailings, and should stress the benefits of VAT.
“Some traders will regard having to set up and keep records as an imposition; a logical counterargument to this is to emphasize benefits that can flow from modern accounting, such as profit identification, stock records and the provision of other useful business statistics. Positive aspects should be used in the publicity campaign.”
The best the press can do in the circumstances is to acknowledge the fact that it has been deliberately kept in the dark on VAT, as indeed have the regular government information services and everyone else!

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