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On Thursday night, a group of supporters and curious individuals gathered at the Glanvilles Community Centre to participate in discussions concerning the upcoming increase in the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST).
The United Progressive Party (UPP) organized the event, which featured two panelists answering questions about whether the increase in the ABST rate from 15 to 17 percent is justifiable.
This was the first in a series of meetings the party plans to hold on the topic.
The general consensus from the attendees was that increasing the ABST should not be the primary measure to generate government revenue.
One of the panelists, Cassandra Simon, a chartered accountant, suggested that the government should investigate its revenue and create a suitable long-term plan.
Simon stated, “Every time we need extra money, we add a tax. We are putting bandages on wounds that need to be sutured. We need to step back, decide where we are going, and what the long-term sustainable approach is.”
She also reiterated that ensuring taxes are paid by individuals and businesses is an alternative way of raising revenue without increasing taxes.
“We do not have a system where persons are compliant, and we do not have a system where our revenue departments are investigatory enough, or follow through enough to ensure compliance,” she said.
Harold Lovell, former finance minister, commented on concessions given to investors, stating that waivers on land transfer taxes are not understandable, while concessions on items such as building materials are.
“Transfer taxes ought to be automatic; there should be no waiver on transfer taxes. Once the business is moving and people are buying land, that’s where you should be getting tax revenue,” he said.
Dr. George Daniels, a retired lecturer, who was the second of the two panelists, said that there is no need to increase taxes if the country is experiencing economic growth.
“If all the taxes remain the same, growth by itself should generate the additional revenue,” Daniels remarked.
He added that when tourist arrivals increase, tourism also increases spending, which should provide additional income.
“Every year you hear the boast that Antigua’s economy has grown by five, six or seven percent; that is because we have more tourists coming in, more spending… That’s growth in the economy and that naturally should produce additional revenue,” he added.
The next town hall meeting is scheduled for December 14 at UWI Five Islands. On November 24, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced the two percent increase in the rate of ABST to fund an increase in public workers’ salaries.