IMF calls for improvements to social assistance programmes

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By Robert A Emmanuel

[email protected]

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is calling for improvements in local social programmes to better support vulnerable people.

In their concluding statement following a mission visit in September, the IMF team said there were many social assistance programmes which were being handled in an “uncoordinated way by various public entities”.

“Consolidating these programmes would be helpful but, at a minimum, there is a need for a centralised information system to provide an accurate record of all beneficiaries to keep track of the support they receive and identify gaps in coverage and duplication,” the team, led by Emine Boz, stated.

Chief among their concerns was how subsidies and government support were administered.

“There is a need to move from generalised subsidies and support—for example, through broad-based price subsidies for fuel—toward targeted programmes whose benefits are periodically recalibrated to reflect cost of living changes,” they reported.

According to the 2023 Budget estimates, Social Security and Medical Benefits were budgeted at EC$41 million with the budget for pensions being EC$74 million.

Meanwhile, the IMF team called for excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and sugar to be introduced and for online purchases to be taxed.

“The authorities should broaden the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax base by reducing items subject to exemptions or zero-rating (those that do not serve social and economic objectives or were introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic), applying the standard rate of 15 percent to short-term accommodation (currently at 14 percent), and extending the ABST to online purchases,” they wrote.

The IMF team said the implementation of a single window system at Customs should be expediated as well as allowing for “e-filing, e-payment and e-registration of taxes”.

To this end, the team called for the strengthening of fiscal institutions to improve the credibility of the fiscal framework.

The national fiscal frameworks are the regulations and procedures that affect how budgetary policies are planned, approved, carried out, monitored and evaluated.

They called for the establishment of a Fiscal Responsibility Oversight Commission to “[evaluate] the government’s fiscal strategy”.

They also explained that amendments to the Finance Administration Act and the Customs Act should be made to “codify the planned restraint on discretionary tax exemptions”.

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