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By Aabigayle McIntosh
The Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, Lionel “Max” Hurst, has confirmed that the Antigua and Barbuda government will be holding talks with members of the business community and other stakeholders to discuss the possible increase in the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST).
This move comes after Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that the tax could likely be increased in order to fulfill the government’s promise of a 2% salary increase for civil servants and other financial obligations.
However, the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) is objecting to the manner in which the announcement was made and has called for public consultation on the matter.
Hurst has stated that the government will engage in talks with relevant stakeholders, but not necessarily with any opposition members. This issue will likely be resolved through discussions and consultations with all relevant parties involved.
“We believe it is an attempt on the part of the opposition to condemn government and of course to make all kind of fanciful and untruthful claims. In our view the need for get together for consultation is with those who really matter and clearly the private sector matters.
“We are not so sure the opposition matters only to say bad things about the government”, Hurst said.
In a release to the media on Wednesday the opposition party stated that give that the budget presentation is to be delivered in less than a month, the party believes that national consultation should be held with stakeholders- especially the paying public.
“It cannot be right for the administration to make a decision with such serious financial implications unilaterally- especially at a time when so many workers and their families are unable to make ends meet,” the party said.
“In the midst of high unemployment and under-employment, the remedy for the administration’s self-inflicted wounds its excessive borrowings; inability to pay suppliers; overdue back pay and outstanding salary increases; and dozens of stillborn projects – cannot be simply to raise taxes without the benefit of consultation,” the party added.
The party also called on the on all tax-paying residents – both personal and corporate – as well as the trade unions and trade bodies to join with them in holding the government accountable and demanding that no taxes be increased without wide-ranging consultations.
“Any failure by the Prime Minister and his Administration to collaborate on this and any tax-increase measure will lead to the UPP’s call for mass protest action,” the party concluded.