Saturday, December 16, 2017

Barbados’ brewing political storm

 HEADS MAY soon roll within the parliamentary opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) over growing dissent among some leading party stalwarts now that disagreements have moved from internal status to the public domain.

And amid the  final stages of the country’s intoxicating annual  cultural festival, ‘Crop Over’—Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s governing Democratic Labour  Party could well have a respite from incessant political batterings  to which it has been subjected  for some two months now.

At the core of widespread expressions of disenchantment is the government’s introduction of an across-the-board ‘‘municipal solid waste tax’’ (SWT). Based on the estimated value of private and business properties, the tax has sent all classes of owners howling—the rich, middle and working class.   

Amid rising clamours to ‘dump’ the tax—which must be paid by this month end with a penalty fee for late payments—the opposition BLP may have unwittingly fumbled into trapping itself by a surprising display among some of its more influential representatives who are baring in public internal differences in pressuring the government to repeal the controversial tax. 

 For the benefit of Express readers, it is relevant to point out that helpful as it may be to the government in enabling needed financing the state-run Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) for waste disposals, the new SWT in effect amounts to a double tax for owners of the same property.

This time around, however, instead of property owners receiving the customary payment notice on ‘land tax’, they have received from the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) due payment on the new municipal solid waste tax which, incidentally, is supposedly based on the prevailing land tax.

This in essence means having to make two separate payments for the same property  as previously assessed and by this month  end or face a penalty fee.

Well, former three-term prime minister and leader of the BLP, Owen Arthur, felt this was  simply  too unfair and burdensome. So he launched a campaign in  his own St Peter parliamentary constituency to roll-back the solid waste tax and, hopefully, to influence wider public support outside of the BLP.

Meanwhile, as Prime  Minister Stuart and his controversial Finance Minister, Chris Sinckler, were signalling gestures for remedial initiatives—without any wholesale dumping of the new  municipal tax—there came a proposal from the BLP’s leader and former deputy prime minister, Mia Mottley, for an alternative approach in helping the Revenue Authority to meet the financial burden of the Sanitation Service Authority.

She proposed  a smaller and more equitable levy on existing water bills from the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) but not including Barbadians who fall below the  poverty line.

Mottley feels so strongly about the government’s solid waste tax that she announced  at a mass meeting of her party in Bridgetown on Sunday night that she was ready to lead a protest walk from Parliament building to Government headquarters on tomorrow—even it meant “walking alone”!

 However, it soon became apparent that disagreements exist within the top and  middle echelons on strategies to be pursued  by the  BLP in both the short and longer term, as the media were to learn from various spokespersons of the party.

One leading BLP parliamentarian, Kerry Simmonds, who has maintained close working relations with Arthur, was to inform a radio talk-show on Monday that he had declined to speak at the BLP’s Sunday night meeting  as a consequence of differing approaches to the new tax.

By yesterday the Daily Nation was reporting another BLP parliamentarian, Trevor Prescod—known to be more favourable to Mottley—as having described with bitterness unnamed elements of the party as “snakes in the grass.” 

Stay tuned for new developments.

\Rickey Singh is a noted Barbados-based Caribbean journalist