Government on Friday again used its majority in the National Assembly to railroad the political Opposition which obstinately objected to the several thousand-fold increase in a range of taxes, penalties and fees.
Successfully piloted by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, the Miscellaneous Licences (Amendment) Bill, which was first presented to the House at the end of last year and gives effect to several of the Budget measures that were announced.
It will, however, according to the political Opposition, lead to the further impoverishing of Guyanese people, serve as an incentive for corruption and have a deleterious effect on small businesses and entrepreneurs.
1958 – last hike
Minister Jordan, in presenting his rebuttal arguments in the debate, told the House that the fees were in fact last hiked in 1958 and at the time a $75 fine was in fact prohibitive.
Jordan told the House that 60 years ago the fine was not only prohibitive but also served to act as a deterrent since if a person was caught breaching any of the provisions—such as the requirement for a dray cart licence —“you get punished”.
Jordan conceded that the hikes in the various fees, licences and penalties could be deemed humongous by some, but it was just a play on statistics.
The Finance Minister was of the view “you could make magic with statistics” even as he argued that the new fines despite their thousand-fold increase were still within the realm and the existing fees “mean nothing”.
INCREASES IN PENALTIES UNDER the MISCELLANEOUS LICENCE (AMENDMENT) Bill 2016
|Section||Increase the Penalties relating to Licences other than for the sale of spirituous Liquors||Old Penalty||New Penalty|
|Sec 10. (1)||Not taking out licence when required (8 of 1958)||$6 -$150||$5000
|Section 12-||Acting without licence||$300||$10,000|
|Section 17||Use of or trading under another’s licence prohibited (28)
|$15 – $150||$5,000
|Sec 18. (2)||Painting of name and number on carriage or cart for hire
(4 of 1972)
|Sec 19. (2)||Painting of certain particulars on cart not kept for hire.||$150||$10,000|
|Sec 20. (2)||Painting of number on local cart||$75||$7,500|
|Sec 22.||Affixing of notice-board by person licenced to sell wine
and malt liquor to be drunk on the premises, or to keep a
butcher’s shop in rural districts.
|Current Penalty first offence||$75||$7,500|
|Sec 23 (1)
|Notice to police by butcher in rural districts of intention
|Sec 24||Weekly return of animals slaughtered||$150||$10,000|
|Sec 27||Non-production of licence when required||$75||$7,500|
|Sec 29||Assaulting district commissioner in execution of duty||$300||$15,000|
|Sec 33. (1)
|Liability of person found on licenced premises during period when business cannot be lawfully transacted or they should be closed|
|Sec 37.||Police officer or constable not aiding in execution of this
He was at the time responding to members of the political Opposition which had objected to the Bill in its current form on the basis of the draconian increases that were proposed—the lowest increase being in the vicinity of 3000 per cent.
Jordan in defence of the steep increases in fees said that the next time around the Government would listen to the Opposition and incrementally increase the fees, but given the extended hiatus of some 60 years since the last time they were raised, the precipitous increases were warranted at this time.
He used the occasion of his rebuttal to also take an unveiled swipe at the political Opposition’s arguments, calling them “unbelievable”, since there appeared to be “great sympathy for tax cheats, tax dodgers, unlawful behaviour and so on”.
This, he said, was evident in the presentations of the Opposition speakers.
Wrapping up the Opposition’s arguments against the proposed increases, former Permanent Secretary of the then Local Government Ministry, Collin Croal, told the House that his Party was in no way opposed to an increase in fees, but rather the steep draconian levels to which the fees are being raised.
He appealed to no avail to have Government reconsider the proposal. His Party also failed to sway Government members when it called for a division of votes but lost, given the majority held in the House by the coalition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration.
Croal was adamant that any right-thinking Guyanese would be opposed to such a steep increase in fees, calling the amendments nothing but a case of extracting wealth from poor Guyanese and putting it into the hands of the Government.
Government, he said, intends to tax and penalise Guyanese into poverty, adding that the draconian increases make little economic or financial sense and would “only accomplish the draining [of] the blood of the poor Guyanese and putting them further in destitution”.
He used the occasion to query too what was Government’s plan to educate the nation on the range of increases since many could find themselves in breach owing to ignorance of the many changes.
Croal posited too that while there has been much said by the Finance Minister with regard to the lengthy delay since the last increase was effected, the hiatus was in fact testimony to the prudent management of the economy under the past Administration.
He said this was the case, since even without the increase in fees, penalties and fines, the Guyana economy was in fact performing positively.
“The fact that under the PPP Government you would not have had to touch increases here and the economy was doing so well shows the prudent management under the PPP,” said Croal, as he reiterated the objections to the level of increases being foisted on the nation by Government and not necessarily the need for an increase.
He told the House that there could be an argument had to increase the fees from their current level, but any such increase must be done gradually, noting that the APNU/AFC Administration has introduced some 47 additional taxation measures in the 2017 Budget.
The PPP Member of Parliament added that the debate sought to make the point that ever since taking office the APNU/AFC Administration has been consistently eroding the disposable income available to the average Guyanese and businesses alike.
Croal, like his fellow PPP/C parliamentarians, argued that the measures contained in the Miscellaneous Licences (Amendment) Bill would, in fact, be affecting the poor and small-scale entrepreneurs such as dray cart operators, butcher shop owners, hucksters and the like.