Senate approves reduction of ABST filing window amid debate over impact on small businesses

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It is almost completely official; businesses will have less time to submit their Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) returns.

The Sales Tax Amendment Bill reduces the window for filing the tax from 30 days to 15.

The Senate approved of the amendment in the Upper House on Friday and all that’s left is for the legislation to be gazetted.

But the Bill was not passed without some debate.

Senate Minority Leader Shawn Nicholas lobbied for businesses saying that there should have been some consultation.

Nicholas expressed concerns about the potential implications for small businesses reliant on credit to operate amid the shortened timeframes for ABST payments.

She highlighted the challenges faced by small business owners, who often operate on credit and may struggle to meet the new payment requirements.

“There are people, the hairdressers, the nail techs. the village shops, who have to wait until the money comes in. They get paid to pay at the end of the month for goods taken the month before. What does that say? That we’re now telling our small businesses that they now have to pay cash so that the wholesalers can pay the ABST within the given time?”

Emphasising the need to incentivise compliance rather than penalise businesses, Nicholas called for strategies to expand tax compliance while supporting small enterprises.

She clarified that withholding payments is not recommended but urged for measures to encourage more businesses to fulfill their tax obligations, thereby increasing government revenue.

Meanwhile, Senator Phillip Shoul rebutted Senator Nicholas’ remarks, recalling past instances where LIAT failed to remit departure taxes to the government of Antigua and Barbuda, resulting in substantial financial losses.

He disagreed with the notion that extending the timeframes for tax payments would alleviate struggles for businesses.

The government senator argued against providing incentives for fulfilling tax obligations, questioning the rationale behind rewarding individuals for fulfilling their legal responsibilities.

He suggested that granting exceptions to punctual taxpayers would be unjustified and urged for a fairer approach to tax compliance.

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