The United Progressive Party administration, which presently forms the government of Antigua & Barbuda, seems to have lost its way in the thicket of day-to-day running of the country.
Like the Antigua Labour Party before it, the government is so busy dealing with daily crises that it has no time to follow any sensible plan.
One day it is fighting with the US government over WTO sanctions, the next it is trying to placate frustrated policemen over below par accommodations in Barbuda or some constituent who can’t get to his house because the road is so bad.
So involved is our government with the minutiae of daily administration that it is now unable to see the forest because too many trees get in the way. There seems to be no need for the civil service bureaucrats who normally are expected to make the hollow excuses or promise what can not be delivered.
From where we stand it is clear that the government is about to add to its tribulations by metaphorically shooting itself in the foot. Shooting yourself in the foot is an expression used to indicate an action which does you more harm than good. In this context we refer to the tangled mess that the legislating and collecting of taxes has become.
It does not seem to have occurred to our minister of finance that the country is on the verge of a tax revolt by citizens and businessmen alike. If this revolt materialises the government could be brought to its knee without much effort on the part of the public and It would all be perfectly legal and logical.
The evidence that the public is being pushed to the brink is everywhere. The Antigua & Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST, a VAT) is at the ruinously high level of 15 per cent. Businessmen are expected to collect and pay the tax whether or not the goods are sold.
Theoretically, ABST overpaid or paid in error will be promptly refunded by the government, but that has not been the experience of the businessmen whom we have contacted.
To try and keep the collection of taxes in general as high as possible, we have been known to hire hands who rake in commissions on collected taxes. It is a little like paying someone to collect your paycheck in the hope that it will somehow magically increase the amount you have earned. Nice work if you are a tax collector on commission.
Complaints from businesses abound that the tax collectors are suddenly making demands for late payment penalties with no notice, little justification and less discussion.
In their efforts to force these payments the government is putting importers through the fiscal wringer and even refusing clearance certificates for imported goods at the port. It is this last practice that could result in the bullet through the foot of the government.
Our supply pipeline is so fragile that it would take nothing more than a decision by a majority of businessmen to forego the government hassle and not clear their goods at the port for a month. They might do this while they clear up the intricacies of their ABST obligations.
The estimates we have heard is that it would take no more than one pay cycle to gum up the works. Supermarket shelves would be bare, factory workers would have to be sent home for lack of materials and work to do and the government would be left with no funds to pay its employees.
The results of all this could be ugly indeed. Our advice to the authorities is to listen to the public in general and businessmen in particular to find solutions to the whole business of taxes and their collection.
Of course, if the government insists on shooting itself in the foot we hope it has its pain medications handy.