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Opposition leader critical of increased Customs charges

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THE MONEY GIVEN to Vincentians for volcano relief in coming months will be taken back through the increase of the Customs Service Charge from 5 to 6 per cent, which officially took effect on June 1.

Opposition Leader, Dr Godwin Friday expressed this view last Tuesday during a press conference, where he spoke on several issues affecting St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

The one percentage point increase was announced by Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, during the 2021 Budget Address and was expected to yield close to $10 million which will be used to fund several regional entities that play a role in the safety and resilience of this country.

“It is unconscionable that the government should be taxing the people of this country, which is what it is; everybody will be paying it, rich and poor, because we all have to go to the supermarket at this time,” Friday said at the June 1 press conference.

The opposition leader noted that because many items that stock local supermarkets come in through the customs, the service charge increase will result in higher prices.

He added that the Government of SVG’s was perhaps the only one in the entire world that is taxing its way out of a pandemic and volcanic crisis, which has adversely affected a wide cross section of Vincentians significantly.

Friday also pointed to the $117.9 million supplementary budget passed in Parliament on May 11, which includes $6.5 million in income support for farmers, $2 million in social assistance and $500,000 for rental accommodation for shelters and transportation of students.

“The money that they are going to collect from the Customs Service Charge (CSC) exceeds all of that, and that money that you get from the Government for income support, you got to go to the supermarket and spend it back on the higher-priced goods because of the increase in the customs service charge that takes effect today, in the middle of a crisis

in this country,” he said.

The NDP president questioned the reasoning for wanting to increase the CSC at this time to fund regional agencies, when many people are suffering due to the pandemic and volcanic eruption.

I mean, is the government alone that needs to live, to survive, to pay its bills? What happen to the rest of us? The rest of the people who are suffering? The vendors who can’t sell their goods? The cruise ship workers who haven’t worked in over a year and now have to purchase stuff in the supermarkets and pay increased prices?” he questioned.

He also pointed out that “the hospitality industry that has virtually collapsed because of COVID19 and they have to face the supermarket, and now will have to pay higher prices because the Government decide it needs more revenue”.

Friday also said that “it’s not too late for them to grow a conscience and a heart and say not now. The regional institutions, we can explain to them that we can postpone this measure until we are in a better position to be able to do it. That is the decent thing to do. That is the right thing to do”.