Over the years, I have been complaining that the system of governance practiced in Barbados is merely a parody of the Westminster System that obtains in England. In a previous article, I wrote that we have all the trappings of a Westminster type democracy but they do not work as designed.
It is not my intention to disparage or in any way pull down an institution that history records as existing for over 376 years. I am concerned that the present occupants are not doing enough to make Parliament a place of which all Barbadians can be proud. To this end, I am calling on Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to do whatever is necessary to halt Parliament’s slide into irrelevance by ensuring that its rules and traditions are observed as intended. But it appears to me as though the Opposition could care less and is just biding its time until this DLP administration crashes and burns. Unfortunately that strategy might fail and it is the people of this country that will continue to suffer.
In my last column, I referred to the Minister of Finance waiving taxes under the Duties, Taxes and Other Payments (Exemption) Act. That act and the Interpretation Act require the minister to lay orders to waive or remit taxes in Parliament, “as soon as may be after they are made”. Only last week, while reading the Official Gazette, I came across one such order that should raise the hair on the back of the necks of all right-thinking members of this society, especially the members of the Opposition.
Official Gazette No. 102 dated December 14, 2015 carried a notice published as S.I. 2015 No. 90. It is an order made by the Minister of Finance designated as the Duties, Taxes and Other Payments (Exemption) (Cost-U-Less (Barbados) Inc.) Order, 2015. By now some of you might be saying that you don’t understand the fuss I’m making since the tax concessions to Cost-U-Less is old news.
Unfortunately, it is not. According to the notice in the Official Gazette, the Minister of Finance only made the order on December 4, 2015. My question therefore is: Under what authority were these tax concessions accessed by that company back in 2011. At best, this whole episode amounts to an insult on the intelligence of Barbadians. Paragraphs 7. (2) and 8 are instructive. They state:
7. (2) The exemptions referred to in paragraphs 3 and 4 are granted on the condition that the project commences on or before June 1st, 2011 and is completed by 30th of November, 2012.
8. This Order shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 1st day of May, 2011.
By regularising these unnecessary, and so far unexplainable, tax give-aways four years after the fact, Government has ensured that parliamentary oversight of the minister’s actions would be an exercise in futility or rather a veritable mockery on the institution called the Parliament of Barbados.
The people of Barbados, through the Opposition, must demand answers from Government explaining why it was necessary to lavish tax concessions on a company to develop a shopping mall to house a supermarket, restaurants and other related amenities at Warrens. I well remember that a shopping complex was constructed at Carlton, Black Rock and I am yet to see any order giving tax concessions to that project.
Further, it would be interesting to see if Government could give credible explanations for paragraph 5 of the order, which states:
5. The Company is exempt from the payment of withholding tax payable under the Income Tax Act, Cap. 73 for a period of 15 years in respect of
(a) the interest and dividends paid by the Company to resident or non-resident shareholders or individuals who have given loans to the Company; and
(b) fees paid to non-residents who were contracted to provide management services, consultancy or technical skills for the construction of the project.
It would also be interesting to find out the identity of these favoured investors.
Government is proposing that this country become a republic, which basically is a government by the people for the people. Unless more information is forthcoming from Government about this deal, it would appear that we have a government by the people for their friends. That scenario is not a republican form of government; it would be corruption if found to be true.