It is evident that Guyanese have become the most taxed people in this hemisphere, despite being classified by the World Bank as the second poorest in CARICOM ahead of Haiti. In 2015 the World Bank Reports indicated a per capita of US$4,127 (worldbank.org) this minimal increase has pushed Guyana from the lower middle income group into the upper middle income group.
But ironically, what this means is that this rating will affect Guyana’s access to loans from the World Bank since Guyanese have apparently become richer.
What is more ironic is that Guyanese would never have expected that the improved rating, insignificant as it is, would have ushered drastic increases in the rates of more than 200 taxes, in some cases by as much as 1200% and a deceptive VAT reduction!
Even more burdensome is the fact while reducing the VAT to 14% we have seen the removal of many basic necessities from the zero rated category to the exempt category. This sleight of hand has effectively removed whatever benefits would have accrued from the meager 2% reduction. This is further worsened by the fact that VAT is now payable on water and electricity.
The late Sir Winston Churchill, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, made an astounding statement which can be quite applicable to our current situation when he said that, ‘I contend that for a Nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift it by the handle.’
This was emphasized by the Congressional Research Service of the USA and William McBride of the Tax Foundation. They concluded that ‘tax rates do not influence economic growth’ and that ‘higher tax rates slow economic growth. In other words sensible economic policies are required.
This is like a prophecy to our present situation. To destroy savings, consumption and the productive sector will never enable our economy to grow. It is also doubtful that any redistribution of income will be initiated by these increase taxes since it is the poor Guyanese who will face the burden of increased taxation and massive corruption will ensure that Guyanese never receive the full benefits from monies spent.
In our present situation, increased taxation can only result in: insufficient disposable income, low wages, high prices, poor quality products, loss of markets, decline in the productive sector, scarcity and shortages, jobs loss, foreclosures, increase in poverty and crime.
In this letter I will focus on Value Added Tax (VAT) and its negative effects on the Guyanese economy. As was mentioned above, the 2017 Budget has removed many items from the ‘zero rated’ category and placed them in the ‘exempt’ category. The immediate impact of this is not clear to the lay man who finds it difficult to discriminate between the two categories-they mean the same thing. They see ‘exempt’ as not paying VAT and ‘zero rated’ as not paying VAT-so the question is: Why the big fuss?
The Value Added Tax and Excise Handbook published by Ram and McRae clearly shows the difference between the two categories and provides clearly illustrated examples to show the impact on consumers.
On page 31 it states that, ‘Zero-rating is applied specifically to protect the consumer from the impact of VAT by allowing the supplier to recover the VAT he has paid to the Revenue Authority and not from the consumer.’ It further stated that, ‘Prior to 2017, the list of zero-rated items was long and comprehensive…but Budget 2017 reversed the majority of the individual items.’ Therefore zero-rated items benefit the consumers.
Exempt items means that the supplier cannot reclaim the VAT which was paid. Therefore, if the supplier wants to maintain his profit margin then he must pass on the VAT he has paid to the consumer. This will happen so it means that it is the consumer who pays the VAT incurred by the supplier. The consumers do not benefit but are burdened there from!
What is alarming is that basic food items such as bread, rice, brown sugar, cooking oil, milk, baby formula and cereal, fresh fruits (some exclusions), fresh vegetables including onions, garlic and potatoes, dried split peas, chicken peas, kidney beans, black-eye peas, cassareep, eggs, baby chick and live chicken, margarine, cooking salt, and a long list of essential items are now “exempted”. This means that VAT charged during the production or on importation of these products will be passed on to the consumer and will result in increased prices. So where is the benefit from the 2% reduction of VAT?
Fuel such as kerosene oil, propane gas, gasoline and diesel will also be exempted.
Educational materials such as printed books, educational charts, alphabetical charts, numbers charts, maps and globes are exempted as well as school supplies such as sharpeners, pencils, calculators, rulers and even lunch bags and lunch kits among many other items which are now ‘exempted’.
There also a long list of agriculture items and equipment which are exempted. Among these are: paddy, vegetable seeds, fertilizers, harrows, cultivators, weeders, hoes, ice for fishing purposes, fish hooks, etc.
Even funeral services and human remains are exempted.
Therefore, whatever input VAT is paid on ‘exempted’ items will no longer be eligible for tax credit or refund hence the supplier will have to pass on this VAT to the final consumer in the form of higher prices.
However, what is of greater significance is the fact that electricity consumption under $10,000 per month and water consumption under $1,500 per month are zero-rated. On face value it would seem that the small consumers are protected but the fact is that they will have to face the final VAT burden!
The Domino effect will ensure that manufacturers, producers and businesses who have to pay the VAT on electricity and water will pass the charges to the consumers to maintain their profit margin. Some business pay as much as $100 million dollars annually therefore 14% or $14 million dollars will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices! What comments are forthcoming from the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Business on this?
This increased production costs will greatly affect the competitiveness of our local exporters since they will have to now sell at a higher price on the international market. It is important to note that VAT was never designed for the export market but this is exactly what will be the result. Will our local exporters be able to compete with their foreign counterparts? Moreover, this deliberate contraction of the private sector will see thousands of workers on the breadline and increasing poverty.
The Finance Minister in his 2017 Budget speech had openly admitted that the manufacturing as well as agriculture and other sectors have declined in 2016. Yet instead of implementing economic policies to stem this decline he has done everything possible to ensure that this decline continues thereby sounding the death knell of the private sector.
He should have sought advice from experienced professionals before he made such a horrendous blunder. But non-consultation seems to be inherent modus operandi in the current scheme of things since we have the Mayor and City Council ‘parking’ in that direction as well!
It is my humble conclusion that the Finance Minister is more adept at devouring wealth than creating wealth. Furthermore, when we add the increased costs from the ‘exempted’ items to the increased prices resulting from the VAT charges on water and electricity the erosion of the standard of living and the economic development of our country is substantial.
It is clear that the 2017 Budget is anti-productive, anti-business, anti-consumer and anti-progressive! ‘The ‘VAT’ runneth over’ but Guyanese definitely have less to drink from it!
Haseef Yusuf (FCCA;MBA)