ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Businesses owed millions of dollars in tax returns are unlikely to get their money any time soon unless other businesses that owe taxes to the government pay up.
That is according to the Minister of Finance Harold Lovell who said paying out an estimated $23 million in sales tax returns will not be easy without first collecting millions more in Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) being withheld by other businesses.
“We have received in all audited claims for refunds totally just over $53 million dollars and of this we have paid approximately $30 million in refunds leaving an outstanding balance of about $20 million,” Lovell said.
“What we have also discovered excluding penalties and interests just in terms of ABST owed to government we are looking at over $200 million,” Lovell added.
The finance minister, however, said he understands the concerns of businesses waiting for their returns and is quickly trying to address the situation.
“That is something that is very troublesome and persons understandably are very concerned that the government has taken some time to pay some of the refunds that are due,” Lovell said.
Lovell said part of the problem is that many businesses have spent the taxes they collected to operate their businesses.
“Given the economic climate, obviously some people when you go to them you know things are tight and they would have used government’s money to cover some of their operational expenses,” Lovell said.
However, the finance minister reminded businesses that any ABST collected belongs solely to the government.
“ABST is not collected for the business, it is collected by the business for the government, but some persons have utilised those funds and used them for proposes of operational expenses and that kind of thing. So what we are trying to do is to recover that money to assist us in repaying the refunds that are due,” Lovell said.
The finance minister said much of the $200 million owed was accumulated during a period of low compliance, but he said that the compliance rate has now soared to 88 per cent.