As part of its effort to operationalise several measures provided for in Budget 2017 the APNU+AFC government yesterday used its parliamentary majority to pass the Custom (Amendment) Bill 2016.
This bill according to its explanatory memorandum amends the act by insertion of a new section 7A to impose an environmental levy. The levy is at the rate of $10 per unit on every non-returnable metal, plastic or glass container of any beverage or water.
Minister of Finance Winston Jordan in recommending the bill to the house explained that the new environmental levy applies, across the board, on both imports and locally manufactured products, thus ensuring that Guyana complies with the provisions of Article 90 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC).
A previous version of the section had been found by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to be inconsistent with Caricom trade policy set out in Articles 78, 79, 87 and 90 of the RTC which provide for the free movement of goods and prohibitions on the imposition of import duties on Caricom goods. As a result of this ruling Guyana paid Surinamese company, RUDISA US$6.22M as a refund on taxes paid.
In compliance with the CCJ’s ruling the National Assembly in 2015 to repealed the tax which had been applied to all imported, non-returnable, beverage containers pursuant to section 7(a) of the Customs Act. This section levied and collected $10 on “every unit of non-returnable metal, plastic, glass or cardboard container of any alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage imported into Guyana.”
Jordan stressed that the measure will not only promote the ruling administration’s green economy but also positively influence the behaviours of Guyanese and their lives.
“When we protect the environment, we are protecting our future and ourselves,” he argued adding that neither importer nor manufacturers will have added cost since the administration was “imposing responsible behaviour to protect our environment,” Jordan added.
He directed the House to focus on Section 7(4) of the act which notes that for those units proven to the satisfaction of the commissioner general as having been returned, reused, recycled or re-exported, a credit will be allowed towards the next payment due and excess credit shall be carried forward to the next period until the credit has been fully utilized.
“We are not taking money from them if they return, reuse or recycle the bottles they get their $10 back. This is the same thing Banks DIH is already doing. When you buy a beer you get a refund if you return the bottle and because of this you hardly find a Banks bottle in the gutters,” Jordan passionately declared.
Despite the Minister’s passionate defence of the bill, the opposition was less than impressed. Opposition Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall argued that the bill itself was a representation of the governing administration’s hypocrisy. Quoting from a presentation made by now Minister of State Joseph Harmon in 2013, Nandlall reminded the house that when the former government sought to implement a $5 levy on local manufacturers so as to bring local legislation in compliance with the NTC the then combined opposition argued that it would be an imposition as no consultations were held with the Private Sector.
According to Nandlall, Harmon gave a well-researched presentation in which he said he had consulted with the Private Sector Commission, members of the private sector not active in the commission and the general public, all of whom said they did not want the tax.
“Whom have you consulted with now?” he asked, before declaring to the House that the presentation of this bill speaks to the APNU+AFC’s double standard.
“You say one thing in opposition and now you are saying something else in government,” he stressed. Nandlall further argued that the government’s “green economy” is a repackaging of a PPP/C idea which was intended to be funded by external investment but which is now being funded on the backs of an overburdened Guyanese people.
Nandlall’s position was supported by fellow Member of Parliament Juan Edghill. Edghill who in 2013 had presented the rejected bill, challenged then opposition MP Khemraj Ramjattan, who had declared that a tax is a tax and the Guyanese people were already overtaxed.
“This is not about the environment. It is about getting more money. This measure can only be described as making money off of the Guyanese people,”Edghill charged before challenging the government to defer the bill until consultations could be held with the private sector.
“If it is not about money defer it. Prove to the people that you are not concerned about money but about the greening of Guyana. Let’s get consultation on the … separation of waste, recycling etc. Let’s do feasibility studies; defer the bill,” he demanded.
The bill was not deferred but passed by the government side of the House.