Friday 5th November marked one year since the Unity Labour Party (ULP) was returned to power in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. During the general elections campaign, the ULP made a number of promises to Vincentians but has not delivered. The ULP continues to fail to deliver on its promises. Instead, Vincentians have been experiencing severe hardship.
During the year, cost of living has skyrocketed, unemployment has increased, health care remained a concern, the lack of accountability continued, praedial larceny went out of control and the standard of living declined for most people.
For instance, the price of petrol at the pump increased seven (7) times for the year. And, the government is giving the impression that the cause of the economic hardship in the country is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano; we must not be fooled. The economy has been performing poorly for years. The COVID-19 pandemic and the eruption of La Soufrière volcano have exposed the poor economic condition in the country.
Following the 2020 general elections, the first action of the government was to increase tax. It’s the only government to tax its citizens during a pandemic. In the 2021 budget, the government increased the Custom Service Charge (CSC) from 5% to 6% — i.e. a 20% hike. The CSC is a tax paid on all goods imported into the country. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a small open economy. We import most of what we consume. The CSC is included in the price of most of the things that we buy and use in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So, its effect is very broad. Furthermore, the CSC increase will affect VAT as well. That is to say, the amount of money the government will collect on each VAT item will increase. This is because VAT is charged on the goods after the value of those goods has been raised by the higher customs service charge.
By raising the CSC from 5% to 6%, the price of most goods we buy in the store or bring into the country for ourselves will go up. In fact, some prices have already gone up. People have noticed it. We will pay more for almost everything we use, including foodstuff: e.g. cooking oil, corned beef, chicken and other meats, salt, rice, sugar, macaroni, juices, ketchup, seasonings, detergents, soap, shampoo, school supplies, clothing and shoes, and everything else that we get at the grocery stores and clothing stores.
Also, light bills have shown marked increases. VINLEC is quick to increase the fuel surcharge with the slightest increase in oil prices, but slow to lower it when oil prices go down. To the consumer, it is just as painful to pay his light bill if the increase comes for rising fuel surcharge as from using more energy in his daily activities.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) will do something about it, starting with ensuring that the fuel surcharge never exceeds the cost of units used. In other words, you should not have to pay more in fuel surcharge than you pay for the energy you actually use. Controlling the energy bill is important for the living standard of all households and critical to the competitiveness of businesses. Hotels, for example, have to air condition their rooms. Imagine the bills they see each month, especially when the fuel surcharge jumps. The NDP will relieve the tax burden on Vincentians.
Relieve the heavy tax burden
Vincentians are being taxed more and more every year. As the government’s debt increases, so too will taxes. The VAT, by various means, was increased three years in a row following the 2015 elections. We have the highest taxes and the lowest wages in the OECS. No wonder we feel so poor. We don’t have to be poor; it is the ULP which is making the country poor.
We can do better and will do better. To relieve the tax burden of people and free up money into the hands of consumers, we will reduce the VAT from 16 percent to 13 percent. Taxi and bus operators, we know you are struggling with high cost of vehicles and spare parts. The local contractors also are feeling the pressure of living under this government, especially as government often behaves like a bandit and fails to pay contractors on time or at all for their work. We will assist by reducing the duties and taxes associated with purchasing heavy equipment and other tools needed to do your work. We want you to be efficient and productive so you can serve the nation well and compete successfully for work in the other OECS countries.
Improving Health Care
Despite a promise by ULP that dates back to as early as 2001, we still do not have a new hospital and there isn’t any plan to construct one. As mentioned in our 2020 manifesto, the NDP has a plan to build a new hospital. It will not be just a building but will be an integral component of a properly administered health care system. We will ensure that the hospital is properly resourced with medical supplies and that persons can get tested and receive their results on site in a timely and affordable manner.
Further, the outbreak of dengue fever has shown the critical importance of an effective, well-resourced vector control unit. It saves lives. We will ensure a proactive and rigorous vector control programme combined with a targeted education and awareness campaign to engage our citizens in the fight against dengue fever and other pest-borne disease. Our people need an efficient and effective health sector and that the NDP will deliver. Had the NDP been in office, there would have been a complete transformation of this country.