By Carlena Knight
As the government continues to seek avenues to address the financial fallout caused by Covid-19, one expert is calling for increased taxation for the wealthy.
Akaash Maharaj, of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians against Corruption, believes taxing the more affluent members of society could help guide the country through the pandemic.
“It is unlikely that the international community will be of any great assistance to Antigua and Barbuda during this Covid-19 crisis and the reason for that is that Antigua and Barbuda is a rich country. In the global index it comes out 51st out of 187 countries in GDP per capita,” he explained.
“Antigua and Barbuda is a rich country – but a rich country where the riches are held by a tiny percentage of the population. There is more than enough money in the country to do all the good that is necessary to help the people of Antigua and Barbuda weather this storm but it’s simply held in a few hands.
“The government can assemble the resources it needs but it will require significant increases in taxation on the richest members of society – not just on income but on wealth that those people hold in offshore bank accounts.”
Maharaj thinks this is a necessary step before seeking international aid as countries may make the argument that increased taxes are hitting their populations but not the pockets of Antiguans and Barbudans. However, he pointed out that the nation’s wealthy minority holds a lot of political influence.
“This is a step that any government has to take before it goes to the IMF, World Bank, Commonwealth or to governments around the world who are all suffering during this period,” he continued.
“This is not just a moment of crisis but a moment of destiny for Antigua and Barbuda in whether or not the government summons the courage to redistribute wealth in their society which will set the course for the next generation, not just of the country or of the people alive today, but for their descendants because there is a very real risk that many countries will economically not survive this crisis but become debt slaves to the IMF, World Bank and private financiers. Antigua and Barbuda need not go down that path,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, former Finance Minister Harold Lovell and current political leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) believes that while personal income tax did once reap benefits, the people have made their stance known on the issue. He said it is now incumbent on government to find a replacement for the unpopular tax or face the consequences.
“We did introduce personal income tax in 2005 and it did help us to stabilise,” Lovell said. “It allowed us to start addressing the debt to Social Security and put that on a more stable foundation.
“It allowed us to do a lot of things which otherwise we would not have been able to do but the people have clearly rejected the personal income tax option.” He called on government to announce what the levy would be replaced with and put its financial plans on the table.