Lower House passes cap on RRC waivers amidst Opposition’s disapproval

Prime Minister Gaston Browne
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By Kadeem Joseph

The ruling administration is continuing its push to improve revenue collection with the passage of a Bill to limit waivers of the revenue recovery charge (RRC).

The Revenue Recovery Charge Amendment Bill 2021, which was presented in the Lower House of Parliament on Thursday by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, is expected to cap any exemption to the RRC at 50 percent.

The measure was announced in the Budget presentation earlier this year, however, Browne said the law will not affect pre-existing agreements.

“There are certain agreements including PLH [Peace, Love and Happiness project] and various projects even at the Mill Reef Club, for example, in which we would have agreed to waive the full amount of the revenue recovery charge for specific investments, and they have argued that they have already done their costings, they would have done fixed price contracts and if now they have to pay an additional 10 percent, that would obviously carry up the cost of the project,” Browne explained.

The PM added that the government will retain the discretion to provide full waivers for large capital projects in a bid to keep Antigua and Barbuda attractive to investors.

While there was little debate on the amendment Bill which still has to receive the green light from the Upper House before it is made law, the Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle questioned the timing of the adjustment to the law.

“Mr Speaker, why are we moving to this at this time when so many businesses… so many persons out there are suffering and could do well with a relief?” he queried. “Why would you limit yourself at this time to offer the people some relief by waiving that 10 percent so that they can catch themselves and restart their businesses?”

Pringle added that he thought the ruling administration was a “wicked government” because of what he considered to be a lack of measures to help “the man on the street and the small business owner”.

However, Browne said if there are indeed business people who may need a waiver and a justifiable argument is made, the government still has the discretion to reduce the charge, noting that people who are able to pay the charge should not feel that they “have a right” to receive discretionary waivers. “In a small society, it can be difficult for a finance minister to say no to certain individuals if he has the discretion. So, I am of the firm view, Mr Speaker, that sometimes you have to reduce or eliminate the discretion to make sure that there is no abuse, maybe inadvertent abuse,” he added.

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