VAT food relief pleases crowd
By RICHARDSON DHALAI Sunday, September 30 2012
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday gave families some hope of financial relief yesterday, when she announced that Value Added Tax (VAT) on all food items will be removed, effective November 15, as part of measures tabled in tomorrow’s 2012/2013 Budget presentation.
Addressing a massive crowd of supporters during the People’s Partnership’s “Pre-budget Rally” at the Mid Center Mall car park in Chaguanas, Persad-Bissessar also took aim at Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley’s recent organised march against the controversial Section 34, saying he was using the repealed section of law to his advantage.
However, it was her announcement of her Government’s initiatives to reduce food prices which drew the loudest cheers from the audience.
“From November 15, 2012, VAT on all food prices will be removed,” Persad-Bissessar said, before repeating, “VAT on all food items will be removed.”
Adding the initiative had been contained in a contribution she had made in 2008 while on the Opposition benches during debate on the high cost of food, she said, “Check the Hansard, you will see.”
She noted that currently, some 59 food items were “zero rated” while on all others the 15 percent VAT was applied.
However, she was quick to add the measure would not be applied to alcoholic beverages and luxury items such as caviar and champagne. “No luxury items will be zero rated, such as caviar, champagne, and no alcoholic beverages,” she reiterated to the crowd.
The Prime Minister said among the items which would witness a reduction would be pig tail and all types of beans, including canned pigeon peas, baked beans and red beans.
She also announced that a committee comprising various government ministries, including the Finance, Food Production and Trade and Industry Ministries, together with the TT Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) and the Supermarkets Association, will also look at review of those food items which attracted import duties, with a goal of reducing such food items. She said, however, that this would be done on a phased basis so as not to harm the local food production industry.
Persad-Bissessar also drew the battle lines surrounding the recent organised marches in the wake of the controversy surrounding the repealed section 34 of the Justice of Administration Act, saying Rowley was attempting to use this to his own advantage to retain power in the forthcoming Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
“This is not about a march about democracy or section 34, which they all voted for. This is about getting in your section for an election,” she said.
“They want to use this as a platform to build the Tobago elections because if they lose Tobago, Rowley’s leadership will be under threat,” she noted, adding there were clear divisions within the PNM.
The Prime Minister also took aim at an allegation that the UNC had received a two-million-dollar cheque during the last general election from party financiers, saying this was not the truth. She said she had directed the party’s general secretary and treasurer to look into the allegation and they had not found any evidence on the records of such a cheque.
She instead accused the PNM of benefitting from financiers, displaying a five-million-dollar cheque, dated June 10, 2007, which she claimed the now Opposition party had received during the 2007 elections from then CL Financial chairman Lawrence Duprey, when then Prime Minister Patrick Manning was then Minister of Finance in the PNM administration. Holding aloft the cheque for the crowd to see, she wondered whether the Clico bailout, which amounted to several hundred million dollars, had not been payback for the donation.