There is no deception in the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on food and although some 50 items are already zero-rated, over 7,000 more will now be added to that list.
This was stated by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday as she took issue with comments by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley that the Government had deceived the nation with its removal of VAT on food items.
Persad-Bissessar said it was Rowley who was the "great deceiver" as he had presented a petition to acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith calling for the removal of former justice minister Herbert Volney and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan over the Section 34 fiasco with no signatures even though the Opposition claimed that some 25,000 people had signed the petition.
Speaking with reporters following the budget presentation in Parliament yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said:
"...I am being advised about 7,000 items of food that would not have been included in those 50, every single item of processed food, for example with the exception of corned beef, sardines and mackerel and maybe tuna, they are now covered so you will get all canned food with the exception of those, all foods that are in a jar or in a bottle once it is a processed food it is not zero-rated with minor exceptions."
Cereals, jams, teas, Milo, Ovaltine, mayonnaise, all fruit juices, sweeteners and more were some of the additional items the Prime Minister listed that were now VAT exempt.
"I think it is totally deceptive to give the impression that these 50 items that are zero- rated are all the things that people in Trinidad and Tobago eat. As I said I am advised, there are over 7,000, we may not eat all of the 7,000 but indeed there are a lot more food and beverages out there that are not zero-rated that will immediately impact upon the cost of the food basket that the consumer would take home," she stressed.
"Here we see a budget that is clearly people-centred, it will help the poor man and the not-so-poor man," she added.
Persad-Bissessar congratulated Howai for what she said was a "people's budget" that struck at the heart of the People's Partnership philosophy where all citizens can benefit from the national pie.
She also said the budget had brought closure to the entire CLICO collapse, adding that a major achievement was that some 80 per cent of Clico policy holders had accepted the bonds.
Persad-Bissessar further noted that the largest budgetary allocation went to education.
"The largest slice of the budget you would see went into human capital, training, again that is a very important area if we are to grow our human resources in the country to give us the competitive advantage we need to be world performers," she said.
With respect to the increased taxes on the gaming industry, Persad-Bissessar said, "I doubt they will close down ... they make a lot of money, it is a revenue earner."