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By Aabigayle McIntosh
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has pledged to implement measures aimed at mitigating the potential effects of a 2% rise in the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) on local consumers.
The recommendation for the increase was made by Ministry of Finance officials.
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“ I would have said to them that in the event we are to proceed we would not increase the ABST on food items and other items in the basket of goods. We want to ensure that we always protect the poor and still valuable,” Browne said.
The head of government said if they follow through with the increase, the idea is to try and time it with a reduction in inflation down to about 5.6 percent.
“It is still relatively high; we are trying to get inflation under 4%. We are getting there and we believe by the end of the first quarter of next year we will see inflation possibly down to about 4%,” Browne stated.
While the government continues to mull the idea of implementing the tax, the main opposition United Progressive Party has already signaled its disapproval.
A week ago, the party issued a release calling for consultations with the public prior to any possible increase.
The party said it was dissatisfied with the manner in which Prime Minister Gaston Browne had chosen to introduce the notion of an increase in the tax.
Party officials noted that it cannot be right for the Administration to make a decision with such serious financial implications unilaterally – especially at this time when so many workers and their families are unable to make ends meet.
It 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 backpay and outstanding salary increases; and dozens of stillborn projects – cannot be simply to raise taxes without the benefit of consultation.
The UPP called on all tax-paying residents – both personal and corporate – as well as the trade unions and trade bodies to join with the Party in holding this Administration accountable and demanding that no taxes be increased without wide-ranging consultations.
They also asserted that 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.
PM Browne has stated on several occasions that the increase will help the government to fulfill is pledge grant a 14% increase to all civil servants and meet other government expenses.