No “bah, humbug!”

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It was the weirdest thing – the back-to-front idea of announcing the Antigua Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) reduction weekend (a 10% reduction from the legislated regime of 15% this weekend, with no commensurate plan to pay public servants and pensioners early enough so that they could take advantage of the bargains. It was unconscionable! And it certainly made no sense. What point was there in offering the reduction, if consumers had no money to spend? Remember, much like our financially–straightened government, many Antiguans and Barbudans are living hand-to-mouth; from paycheck to paycheck. The business community certainly would not be happy (this is the time of year when many big-ticket items are purchased), the consumers would feel cheated of an opportunity to make that long-overdue purchase), and the government would once again be engaging in a meaningless, self-defeating stunt. In other words, no winners!

Of course, this ridiculous ABST-reduction with no early paycheck, was blamed on a snafu with the Cabinet notes and the post-Cabinet reporting, but it reminded everyone of a similar story in the English classic, A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1843), by Charles Dickens. In that tale, the miserly and heartless Ebenezer Scrooge is intent on stealing the joys of Christmas from his only employee, Bob Cratchit, by begrudging him his well-deserved remuneration.  Scrooge loathes anything that has to do with Christmas, and he makes unreasonable demands on, and is extremely mean-spirited and cruel to Cratchit – long hours, low pay, horrible working environment. Hmmmm! Sounds familiar, eh? Art certainly imitates life! Seemed, much like Ebenezer Scrooge, our government (our biggest employer) was saying, “Bah, Humbug” (Scrooge’s oft-repeated expression to show his disdain for Christmas and humanity) to its employees.

For those of you who may have forgotten the thread of that sad, but ultimately uplifting tale of redemption, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and the Future, and he is moved with compassion. Long story short, Scrooge repents of his selfish and inhumane ways and turns his miserable life around. He does right by Cratchit, Tint Tim, (Cratchit’s infirmed son), and gives him a decent raise. He also becomes generous and kind to the less-fortunate.

In like manner, our government appears to have had an epiphany of sorts, and is making an effort to redeem itself, by paying all its workers and pensioners today.  This will enable folks to take advantage of this week-end’s ABST-reduction initiative.  Hallelujah! Everyone is happy that the government found religion. Of course, if the government really wants to be truly sanctified and “fitted for the sky,” it ought to add another ABST-reduction weekend to this year’s holiday calendar. As the Spanish would say, “Una vez no es suficiente!” (One time is not enough!)

Consider. It was the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, who said at the announcement of this year’s initiative, that the administration wanted to do right by the people, and not only to the rich and powerful. Yes, the good minister said of the administration’s effort, “Essentially, this is not a money-making endeavour by the government. This is an attempt by the government to say, for the entire year, we give wealthy investors concessions, we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in concessions, and the people of Antigua and Barbuda voted for the government, they have a stake in this government, so they too require a little bit of benefit as we have given to rich investors. . . So it’s just a small token of giving back to our consumers. And also many businesses, small and large, look forward to this period of enhanced purchasing so they can turn a profit for the year. So we want to keep our private sector happy. We appreciate the role that the private sector has played. They provide very valuable service, and we want them also to go home happy; that they can pay their overdraft, they can pay their workers, and they can see a little profit for their efforts.” (Chuckle)

We like this helluva ‘Come-to-Jesus’ moment as articulated by the administration’s straight-talker, MP Lennox Weston. Of course, he was not saying anything that most people do not already know: that poor people seldom get a break in this country, and that this administration favours the rich and powerful one percent. It’s a low-down dirty shame that we are encumbered with an administration that is in bed with the monied and the landed few!

Interestingly, the good Minister Weston, he of “mouth-open-‘tory-jump-out-itis,”was not finished. Quoth he, “We don’t expect it to affect revenues. As you know, the Prime Minister made the point that our tax GDP is very low; it has been declining. Our revenue enforcement and collection is not very effective; it’s something we need to speed up, and so we have been losing revenue for the entire year. We are aware of that . . . We believe that the increase in sales will actually make us break even, because there are some purchases that some persons are enticed to make now that they would not make if they did not have the discount.” Amen! Quite a mouthful, eh?

Which begs the obvious question: if the erudite Minister, and the other learned financial wizards in the administration know all of those above-stated truisms, it would stand to reason that a second weekend of ABST reduction would be in order. It would be the right thing to do – a win-win-for all parties. A boon for the economy, the business community and the consumers. We trust that the administration will not say “Bah, humbug to this suggestion. Rather we are looking to hear the beautiful words that were offered up by Tiny Tim (a symbol of the poor and the less-fortunate),  “God bless us, every one!”Forget the cheap and gimmicky ham and turkey. This ‘economic powerhouse’ can certainly afford to give us a second ABST-reduction weekend.

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