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Crime and VAT costs twin troubles

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It was inevitable assorted discussion at yesterday’s Parliament session  encompassed the twin challenges facing T&T currently—crime and VAT tax.

On the former, the latest incident in PNM heartland, Laventille, was clearly the last straw for Prime Minister Keith Rowley who announced military presence for the area following the killing of two students who were pulled out of a car and shot on Thursday.

That day around 1.30 pm as National Security Minister Edmund Dillon was telling the T&T Guardian (in Senate) that Government was “going after them” (criminals) following rising murders, Laventille teens Denelson Smith and Mark Richards had only an hour plus to live. Exactly 24 hours after their murder, Dillon’s boss took action to secure the community and try and shake them out of the culture of protecting criminals which has been Laventille’s undoing.

An intelligence official who told T&T Guardian the murder spike is resulting from “new” underworld “management” currently consolidating ranks around various communities, also expressed concern at efforts by certain recently high profile individuals to establish a hegemony, knitting assorted factions.

What results—and fallout—the four-month-old Government’s action will bring, remains to unfold as the PNM also copes with economic issues and public reorientation on this. Rowley’s no-nonsense intervention was hardly surprising since PNM’s major campaign issues concerned crime and corruption. While the scenario is yet to play out on allegations against Housing Minister Marlene McDonald (amid non action by her boss on her) Udecott’s Noel Garcia (with Las Alturas enquiry testimony ahead) and Energy Minister Nichole Oliverre (also subject of  complaint before the Integrity Commission), Government, which had promoted itself as an improvement on the past PP administration, is as obligated to handle the crime situation with the same apparent efficiency used to confront  economic challenges. Particularly so considering the effects on the public from this. And the consequent potential landscape criminal elements might capitalise on.

Government timed announcement of VAT on zero-rated items between Christmas and Carnival, allowing for enjoyment of the former, subliminally recommending limits for the latter (and probably hoping Carnival spirits might dissipate the “bad news.”)

Probably needed since PNM’s 2015 election manifesto sent one message on VAT (whoopee, the 15 per cent would be cut to 12.5!) while its subsequent  2016 Budget sent another (by the way: that 12.5 will hit zero-rated items.)  Dexterity, which while assisting state revenue amid the oil price problem, won’t assist Government’s reputation on promises.

More than utilising the situation to change diets—as Rowley advised—Government made the VAT revenue stream as wide as possible by focusing on items consumers need almost daily. While some food (excesses of which have led to lifestyle diseases) disappeared, and won’t be missed, others containing antioxidants and omega 3s—which PNM officials with health issues must be aware of—have been VATed. Nor has there been assurance from anyone that the Buy Local drive Government urges, won’t be stymied by price gouging.

Government can also legitimately be looked askance on VATing educational tools—books, computers—particularly when Rowley has made it clear the “generosity” of the past on scholarships ain’t happening. Much-needed diversification regarding sport tourism (via which the Sport Minister this week indicated completion of the Lara Stadium could assist the economy) and yachtie services could also be affected by VAT on aspects of these areas.

Government handled the business sector on the issues personally with a (blunt talking) Rowley balanced by an (emotional) Trade Minister at various events. Signals on how changes are sitting within other quarters might have been found in Imbert’s Thursday announcement clarifying some VAT issues and announcing a further reduction of the rate—but additions to the VATable list. Inside discussions at this week’s energy conference may have better been able to shed light on where T&T is heading. 

Hopefully, Government’s measures dovetailing with the results of ongoing audits, reviews, restructuring mid-year review won’t cause the economy to contract too sharply amid the rising crime situation. It could lead to the irony of the economy remaining more steady than the local environment which requires a stable profile if Government is to deal properly with re-orienting away from oil dependence.


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