Statement on VAT by Hon. Lillian Misick
I served as Chair of the Consultative Forum during the public consultation process and legislative enactment phase for the implementation VAT in the TCI. Therefore I am very familiar with the procedural and substantive issues involved.
This gives me standing to assert the following without fear of any (fact-based) contradiction:
· VAT was the subject of thorough study and vigorous public debate for almost two years (beginning March 2011).
· With the UK publication of a Green Paper in April 2012 and a White Paper in July 2012, local political and business leaders, as well as ordinary residents, were given more than enough opportunity and time to express their views and concerns.
· Between 11 May and 7 June 2012 British officials conducted “a series of public meetings for people to learn more about value-added taxes expected to begin April 1, 2013” (Free Press, Thursday 10 May 2012).
· Business leaders (predominantly expatriate) expressed visceral opposition to VAT from the outset and executed a vigilant anti-VAT campaign throughout.
· The PNP are on record opposing VAT as early as July 2012. British authorities have been exhorting them since then to produce a viable alternative. PNP leaders have yet to do so….
· “Acting Gov. Patrick Boyle signed value-added taxes into law July 19, accepting several suggestions from the Consultative Forum and pledging to make more changes before VAT is implemented in the Turks and Caicos Islands on April 1.” (Free Press, 19 July 2012)
· The PDM are not on record opposing it until just weeks before the November elections.
To be fair and, more importantly, to keep our people properly informed, it is imperative to bear these facts in mind when discussing, and reporting on, VAT.
That said, let me assert for the record that I believe VAT is the best system of taxation for the TCI. Moreover, nobody can deny that that our current system – with its exemptions and loopholes that favor the rich – imposes an unfair and unsustainable burden on poor and middle-class TCIslanders.
But, like legislators of good faith in any Commonwealth country, I relied on the findings in thoroughly researched Green and White Papers in voting for VAT. I was also persuaded by the fact that several countries in our region, including Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua, established long ago that VAT is the most equitable, efficient and economically viable system of taxation for them.
By contrast, I remain stupefied by the failure of those opposing VAT to accept the UK government’s entreaty to come up with a fairer and more sustainable system of taxation. And since they will have had over two years to do so, their requests for a delay in the April 2013 implementation of VAT smacks of irresponsible contrivance not worthy of comment.
Nonetheless, I was bemused by the report in your lead article yesterday that “the fight against the imposition of value added tax (VAT) in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) has now produced an unusual bipartisan unified front by the government and the opposition”.
After all, this is even more plainly futile than the UK and Denmark forming a unified front to fight against the implementation of the euro. Not to mention that this opposition against the implementation of VAT strikes me as just more of the same feckless defiance that characterized opposition to the suspension of our Constitution.
But surely our leaders should have learnt by now that merely hurling neo-colonial epithets at the British does not constitute effective local leadership. (Like President Obama said yesterday in his second inauguraladdress “we cannot … treat name calling as reasoned debate”.) More to the point, their antic disposition will do little to build the partnership with the UK that is so indispensable to our political viability and economic solvency.
As a case in point, I entreated local political leaders throughout the three-year interim period to work with us in the Consultative Forum to enhance our leverage in negotiations with the British. But instead of doing so they wallowed in some parallel universe where they felt it was more effective to dismiss the Forum as illegitimate and those serving in it as traitors.
This gave rise to their impudent pledges to repeal laws the Forum duly enacted. Indeed, the irony is that, where our Constitution granted the British the authority do everything they have done in the TCI, it does not grant our local leaders the authority to repeal or nullify anything. Alas, this irony seems completely lost on them.
Which brings me to my final, and perhaps most salient, comment:
As much as I sympathize with the frustrations and feelings of inefficacy amongst local leaders, I fear that they have not served our people well by continually vacillating between defiance and victimhood in their dealings with the British.
I note, for example, that finance minister Hon. Washington Misick has been quoted saying that VAT “is being forced down our throats” (CNN, 17 January 2013); whereas the uncontroverted facts delineated above make clear that nothing could be further from the truth.
By contrast I can cite numerous occasions when, in lobbying our British Governor and the head of all Overseas Territories to further the interests of TCIslanders, I had just cause to criticize the UK government. They never failed to accept my criticisms in a spirit of collegiality and, on more than a few occasions, made concessions pursuant to them.
Frankly, our local leaders are going to have to come to terms with the fact that we are still a UK Overseas Territory. Otherwise, their administrative impotence will be surpassed only by their political incompetence.
Apropos of this, I am acutely mindful that the PNP ran on a platform of independence. Therefore, it is stupefying that, instead of engaging the British to chart the course towards TCI independence, PNP leaders (often in concert with opposition PDM leaders) have done little more than complain about the way the British are exercising the authority duly vested in them by our Constitution.
Incidentally, like the enlightened people of Bermuda, I believe TCIslanders have far more to lose by becoming independent than we have to gain.
But it reeks of hypocrisy and cowardliness for local officials to continue mouthing rhetoric about independence without taking any steps towards it. Especially since they know full well that, far from standing in their way, the UK would be all too happy to cut the colonial chord of obligation that makes it, in effect, the parent of now notoriously unruly and ungrateful children.
In the meantime the only way our local leaders will earn the respect they clearly covet is if they begin showing more respect for the constitutional authority the British have to ensure good governance and sound management of our public finances.
They should beware, though, that if they push for independence, they might end up leading a parade with no one marching behind them.