Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday has outlined a number of steps that his New Democratic Party (NDP) thinks the government can take to help citizens cope with the rising cost of living.
In a national address Thursday night, Friday said that the NDP urges the government to reduce VAT from 16% to 13% and ensure that the savings are passed on to ordinary consumers.
“This will help everyone across the board,” he said, adding that the government should also increase the number of zero-rated VAT items. “This will reduce grocery bills for everyone.”
He said that the government should immediately rescind the customs service charge increase in an effort to reduce import costs.
In the 2021 Budget Address, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, said the Unity Labour Party government was taking a step back from implementing a slew of revenue-earning measures in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but announced a one-percentage-point increase in the Customs Service Charge.
Gonsalves said that the measure was expected to raise almost EC$10 to go to funding regional agencies and organisations from which St. Vincent and the Grenadines benefits.
In his address on Thursday, the opposition leader said that the government should also increase support for lower income families by expanding existing support programmes and ensure that the support is distributed based on need and not by political favour.
Friday urged the government to provide import duty concessions for the transportation industry — to say minivans, buses, and taxis.
The government should end “the unlimited increase in the VINLEC bill by putting a cap on the fuel surcharge and improving efficiency.
“These measures are practical and realistic and can deliver benefits to everyone immediately,” the opposition leader said.
He said that the government’s revenue from VAT is boosted by the higher prices for goods and services.
“As prices go up, so does government’s revenue from VAT. We must put people first, not government revenues first. I said it early in the COVID crisis that we must put the money where the pain is. That is, in helping families who are being squeezed by the increase in prices.”
He said Vincentians have always known that they are stronger when they stand together.
“We value community and look after one another. Everyone has a role to play in seeing us through this crisis,” Friday said, adding that the government must look to do everything it can to reduce costs and support those who need help.
The opposition said that importers and retailers must continue to do everything they can to hold prices in the short term.
“And, now, more than ever, we need to ensure that cost reductions are passed on to consumers,” Friday said.
He said that with resolve and focused leadership, “we can turn this time of challenge into a moment of opportunity that can be our springboard to a better tomorrow.
“But this requires political leadership that focuses on real problems, not on made up ones, and puts our people’s welfare at the top of the agenda.
“Anyone who does not see this is out of touch and out of time.”
He said that amidst the national challenges, the Unity Labour Party is self-absorbed by its leadership transition issues.
“Let us not be distracted. We must remain laser-focused on dealing with the real and immediate problems confronting us — making ends meet, doing right by the teachers, public servants and police officers who were fired because of the government’s misguided vaccine mandate; prioritising our people for jobs from projects such as the Buccama hotel re-development; helping farmers and fisherfolk to become more productive and to be truly ready to benefit from initiatives in agriculture and the blue economy.”
He said that SVG can have a bright future.
“I want our young people to be able to remain here and have a good life, with employment, decent health care, safe communities and with optimism about our country’s future,” Friday said.
“How we get there is a conversation truly worth having. So, we will talk again over the coming weeks as I continue to show how we intend to reach our goal of improving the political and economic conditions in our country.
“I believe in our people. I believe in our country and I know we can do better! Working together we will meet the present challenges and we will embark on the path to a bright future,” the opposition leader said.