By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Philip “Brave” Davis told his predecessor yesterday to take his own advice, as he hit back over new criticisms levelled at his administration over its refusal to remove value added tax from breadbasket items.
Meanwhile, press secretary Clint Watson said it was not true the reintroduction of Value Added Tax on breadbasket items was hurting some consumers.
Mr Davis said it was former prime minister Dr Hubert Minnis who gave tax breaks to the rich not long after taking office in 2017.
“He ought to follow his own advice,” Mr Davis said. “If you notice when he came to office the very first thing that he did was to reduce the taxes on the rich. Just look at the business license fees that were reduced when he came into office. All businesses I think earning over $50m had a tax break. He needs to take his own counsel.”
Mr Davis said when he presents his government’s budget next week, people will see the effort and interest that is taken in respect to inflation and in respect to looking at what taxes will be raised to assist the government in its efforts going forward.
“He needs to take his own advice,” Mr Davis repeated.
Mr Watson, in saying it is not true that the reintroduction of value added tax on breadbasket items is hurting some consumers, pushed back at the “political rhetoric” that has emerged since the Davis administration’s decision to tax the items.
Mr Watson took exception to comments by former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis who on Wednesday told reporters that the government should increase taxes on wealthy property buyers, in order to be able to eliminate VAT on breadbasket items. This he said would alleviate the burden on struggling Bahamians.
However, yesterday, Mr Watson questioned what the former Minnis administration did to aid the poor during its time in office.
He said that the Free National Movement’s argument of removing the tax from the breadbasket makes no economic sense, explaining there is more financial benefit to Bahamians who now enjoy a cross-the-board VAT reduction, whereas before they paid 12 percent and had no tax on breadbasket items.
“We’ve been through this story so many times and it continues to remain a cloudy understanding for so many Bahamians because it’s being used as a political football,” Mr Watson said at yesterday’s press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister.
“‘Oh, why are they putting VAT on breadbasket items? It’s hurting the poor man’ and that is not true. It’s not true.
He also said: “If you look at the list of what are breadbasket items in our country it’s not what you go to the food store and fill up your trolley with and leave. It may be a few of those items but definitely not the majority of those items.
“So, when you look at the fact that you may be paying an increase now on breadbasket items, which will be a few of the items in your trolly versus a decrease of two percent in the other items in the trolly when you get to the cash register two things probably happens, it nets out to probably the same or you see a slight increase in savings and that is what’s being explained about the VAT on breadbasket items.
“It is not hurting the poor man as we like to generalise it in saying because at the end of the day when the poor man as we like to use looks at what their spending in a week whether it’s at the food store, the gas station, the wash house, wherever they go and spend money they’re now receiving two percent savings across the board than just focusing on this increase on breadbasket items.
“You talk to people and they say you know what we are seeing the savings. We are feeling it so what is being used as a political football is simply not making economic sense.”
Mr Watson then set his attention on the track record of the former government.
“For the former prime minister to talk about the government taxing the rich and people always ask well if you believe this then why when you came to office one of the first things that you did is you removed and lessened business license fees for the bigger business?
“That was one of the first things that you did. You decreased business license fees for the larger businesses. So, if you are taxing the rich, why did you remove taxes from the rich?
“One of the things that you removed in one of your first budget exercises as the former administration was you removed a lot of the tariffs and you decreased a lot of the tariffs on what we would call luxury items. So, what about taxing the rich, sir?
“So, now all of a sudden it’s convenient to use this example of taxing the rich if there are no examples in your administration of what you did. It makes you wonder if now it’s just political rhetoric.”
He went on to note the Davis administration’s focus on collecting outstanding real property tax payments on high end properties, adding the government was not just talking but doing the things that are in the best interest of Bahamians.