No Big Deal! Gov't refuses to roll back taxes, Opposition walks out over 'draconian' tax measures
There was high drama in Gordon House yesterday before members on the Government side alone passed the 2017-2018 Appropriations Bill or the Budget. The parliamentary opposition triggered a sudden uproar, which was followed by an angry walkout as they protested the $13 billion tax package, which the administration refused to roll back.
In his closing Budget Debate presentation, Finance and Public Service Minister Audley Shaw said that the administration believed in the Budget, which was "cast within a framework of fiscal responsibility".
Describing the Budget as growth-inducing, the finance minister said that it allowed for "opportunity and hope for the people of Jamaica".
The Government side had a full turnout of members of parliament (MPs) in the chamber, with the exception of House Leader Derrick Smith, who was said to be waiting in the government offices at Gordon House in the event that his vote was needed to pass the money bill. Smith has missed a number of sittings owing to illness.
As Shaw drew closer to ending his contribution, People's National Party Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Eastern Luther Buchanan rose and, seemingly, created a stir, after which, his colleagues started to stream out of the chamber.
"Cowards!" shouted Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, while Shaw exclaimed: "You can walk out of the House, but you can't walk away from the Jamaican people!"
However, Opposition Spokesman on Finance Dr Peter Phillips told journalists at a hastily called press briefing in the Opposition's offices in Parliament that the walkout was in protest against the "draconian" tax measures.
He said that the Government showed no willingness to make any adjustments, despite the widespread cries and appeals from Jamaicans for the tax measures to be rescinded.
"We had the option of voting against (the Budget), but the fact is that the circumstance of a successful no-vote in the Parliament at this time would have had catastrophic and far-reaching implications for the country as a whole and its credibility in international financial markets and the social and political stability of the country," Phillips contended.
"It is a bad Budget. It damages the livelihood of the people, and it ought not to pass without us making our voices heard," he insisted.
Phillips said that hoteliers, transport operators, tax drivers, elements in the private sector, and pensioners have spoken about the grievous effect that the Budget would have on each group.
Disclosing plans going forward, Phillips said that the Opposition would have consultations with Jamaicans in the next few weeks "to see what actions they want to take in conjunction with us".
The opposition spokesman also argued that the imposition of the higher rate on property taxes at the same time that the Government has tabled legislation to allow for the speedier seizure of properties because of non-payment of the tax carries with it grave implications for small businessmen, farmers, and others who are facing double- and triple-percentage increases in the rates.