By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- Consultative Forum chair Lillian Misick has suggested that the ongoing debate over the introduction of value added tax (VAT) in the Turks and Caicos Islands is tantamount to “round two of the Boston Tea Party.”
Consultative Forum chair, Lillian Misick
In her opening statement at Thursday’s meeting of the Forum, Misick said, “Thus far, public debate on VAT has featured mostly business people acting like American colonists and government officials acting like British tax collectors in what is playing out as round two of the Boston Tea Party.”
She went on to say that conspicuously absent from their debate (or media war as is more accurately the case) has been anyone representing the interests of the ordinary citizens and residents of the country.
“I appreciate, of course, that many might regard this debate as moot given repeated declarations by British officials that they are fully committed to implementing VAT for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2013,” she said.
However, she expressed the hope that Thursday’s Forum debate would distill all of the pros and cons of VAT – not just for members of the Forum who are being called upon to vote on the VAT Bill, but more importantly for members of the public, far too many of whom, she said, are expressing solidarity with the anti-VAT business community without fully understanding what that means for them.
“For example, I have had the very unsettling but instructive experience of speaking to a number of ordinary folks who were convinced that VAT is the worst thing to come to our shores since Hurricane Ike. But in every case they changed their opposition to it on the spot after I cited the long list of existing taxes it will replace and the even longer list of basic goods and services that will be exempt from VAT,” Misick said.
It should come as no surprise that ordinary folks are so clueless, she said, because government officials have responded more to complaints from business people about how VAT will affect their bottom line than to inquiries from ordinary folks about how VAT will restore fiscal soundness to public finances and help build a sustainable economy, establish functional civic institutions and alleviate poverty in the country.
“This is why I feel constrained to say that anyone from the business community who is complaining about the government ramming VAT down our throats without giving us enough time to chew on and properly digest its provisions is being plainly disingenuous. In fact the government gave anyone who had any interest in reading the Green Paper on VAT months to do so. Therefore it is a mischievous perversion of the public debate for anyone to suggest that those of us who had a duty to read it were given only hours to do so,” Misick said.
She acknowledged, however, that there may be legitimate criticisms of VAT.
“For example, I gather some critics believe that, whatever its merits and benefits, this is just not the right time to implement VAT. Perhaps. But it is for them to explain not just why not now but when would be the right time to do so,” she said.
She went on to characterise what she described as “belated press statements” from the leaders of both political parties expressing their opposition to VAT as manifesting “little more than oppositional defiant disorder” that do not contribute much to the debate.
Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Clive Stanbrook, chairman of the newly-formed Turks and Caicos Independent Business Council (TCIBC), issued a statement hard on the heels of a press release from Acting Governor Patrick Boyle.
Stanbrook said, “I regret that we have ‘genuinely alarmed’ the acting governor. However, I do not see why. As he admits, the ‘TCI ....by any measure ... turned a corner over these past three years.’ We can both agree on this.
“The cause for his so called ‘genuine alarm’ appears to be the view held by the TCIBC that the country's ‘finances are no longer in a mess’ and that the ‘(TCI ) deficit is a thing of the past’.
“He need not be alarmed. The interim administration has achieved this through its own cost cutting programmes. Indeed, in the same press release credit is taken for both being in the black this year and for a projected surplus next year.”
Stanbrook went on to say that the acting governor should ask himself whether it was appropriate and within the guidelines he has been given, to give all the independent members of the Advisory Council a matter of hours to read the complex 111- page VAT bill before asking them to approve it.
“Then he should ask himself whether it was a surprise that none of them apparently, except one, who coincidentally also works for the government, turned up and why several of them have now resigned from the Council,” he added.
“There is every reason to believe that the existing taxes properly controlled will deliver as much of a revenue stream and as reliably as any VAT and without all the complexity and substantial extra costs of implementation and collection. Since the VAT system will, as all parties agree, cost a significant amount, it seems only right that the ultimate decision on this should be left to the incoming democratically elected government,” Stanbrook concluded.
In his earlier release, Boyle said he was alarmed at the “partial, self-serving picture being painted by others of the TCI’s circumstances,” hence his desire to place their potentially misleading remarks in the correct wider context.
He said that the Advisory Council has discussed VAT several times and at length, including before and after the publication of the Green Paper, during the consultation and again examining the draft Bill last week.
“As I indicated to you all yesterday, two members of the Council who could not be present made written submissions, a further two were on leave. Only Joe Connolly has resigned from the Council in respect of VAT. Theo Durham resigned previously for personal reasons,” Boyle said.