The coalition government continues to pursue the flawed fiscal policy of supplementing the shortfall in revenue by increasing taxation. This lazy and unscientific approach is preferred rather than one which energizes and invigorates the productive sectors, expands the traditional base of the economy and creates an atmosphere and environment that conduces and encourages the growth and proliferation of local and foreign investments. The grand plan appears to be to augment revenue by taxing the population to the hilt, while waiting on the oil revenues to flourish. This government appears oblivious to the stark economic truth that no country ever accumulated its wealth by taxing its people. Thus far, this government has produced neither a plan nor a policy that would lend to job creation, increase the size of the economy, attract and generate local or foreign investments, source new markets for our produce, address the astronomical cost of energy or deliver social justice – all of which are so vital to economic growth and the social elevation of our people. Theirs is a vision that sees taxation as our national economic panacea.
So, thus far, we have witnessed astronomical increases, in some instances, as high as 1200% in 140 public licences fees; the imposition of VAT on heavy duty equipment in the agricultural, mining, forestry and construction industries which were hitherto VAT-free; the imposition of taxes on imported raw materials for the manufacturing industry; the imposition of higher import duties and taxes on motor vehicles by banning the importation of vehicles that are 8 years and older; the imposition of higher taxes on steel; the imposition of a tax on containers; the routine subjecting of almost every container imported to almost 100% inspection by Customs which invariably leads to increases in customs and excise duties; increased parking fees for parking at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport by 400%; the impending implementation of parking meters within the City of Georgetown; the increase in application fees for state lands from $5,000 to $55,000; the proposal to increase rates and taxes on properties throughout the country; the proposal to increase drainage and irrigation charges by MMA/ADA from $2,500 per acre to $6,000 per acre annually; the proposal to increase fees at the Demerara Harbour Bridge, inter alia.
This avalanche of increased tax measures have been imposed in an environment of no commensurate increase in wages, no new investments and no job-creation opportunities. To compound the plight of the ordinary Guyanese, these economic disincentives are complemented by and coupled with a plethora of similarly oppressive and anti-business policies imposed by the government. The result has been gross economic decline, commercial stagnation and fiscal inertia. Indeed, anyone unfamiliar with the realities of Guyana, reading the vast and varying compendium of tax measures to which I have alluded, would never believe that that regime of tax measures was imposed over a period of merely 7 months, that is, March to August, 2016.
However, it does not end there. The 20th of August, 2016, publication of the Official Gazette, published a series of by-laws, made under the Municipal and District Council Act by the Linden Town Council and approved by the Minister of Local Government. These by-laws, in essence, impose toll charges on vehicles travelling through the Municipality of Linden. Significantly, the by-laws provide that these tolls do not apply to vehicles which are registered in the names of a person living in Linden. It provides that these persons are to pay a toll to be determined by the council twice a year in January and July. Presumably, the toll that would be fixed for Lindeners would be appreciably lower. I set out hereunder the toll charges fixed by the by-laws:
(a) “no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect”; and
(b) “no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.”
Article 8 of the Constitution provides as follows: “This Constitution is the supreme law of Guyana and, if any other law is inconsistent with it, that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”.
Applying these constitutional provisions to those by-laws, every first year law student would conclude that those by-laws are discriminatory and inconsistent with Article 149 and, therefore, are null and void by virtue of Article 8 of the Constitution. I must presume that those by-laws would have enjoyed legal scrutiny as well as the approval of Cabinet. I cannot help but express my bewilderment, as I have often done, at how such elementary legal mistakes can survive the scrutiny of a Cabinet comprising an Attorney General and four other lawyers.
I have advised the Leader of the Opposition to hire a full-time lawyer for his office. A successful law suit can be filed against this government every week.
Mohabir Anand Nandlall, MP