Following the presentation of the 2016 budget address by Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith both of the members of the Opposition expressed concern that the Government is endeavouring to raise revenues via taxes and fees.
Leader of the Opposition, and Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser was the first to comment on Premier Smith’s budget which was estimated to be in the region of $330M with a recurrent expenditure of some $286M.
In his comment on the figures and plans outlined in the budget, Hon. Fraser said that he was surprised that the budget did not include allotment figures: “The Premier has given a philosophical version of the 2016 budget. What he hasn’t done is spell out specifically how the budget is contributing to the society itself, in terms of monies going towards education, what is going towards health, what is going towards security of the people, which is police. And I was kind of shocked when I heard him coming to the close and I didn’t hear all of that,” Hon. Fraser mentioned.
The Leader of the Opposition noted the various tax and fee plans outlined by the Premier and cautioned the people of the Territory that hardship is ahead: “He (Premier) did mention a series of tax hikes, new taxes that he is going to impose upon our people, bringing in $20M. I want to see how he is going to do this. So our people must brace themselves for some form of hardship and in the coming days, I will expound on my thoughts on the budget.”
“I presume that with $330M, there is a lot to go around. Unfortunately, what he said though is that with that revenue, there isn’t much left over after expenditure; things are going to be scarce, things are going to be hard,” Hon. Fraser added.
Hon. Fraser expressed concern that although the Premier gave estimated revenues that were higher than recent years the Territory still had cash shortage: “Those are the areas that concern me the most, when government talk about hiking taxes and raising fees for revenues. We are collecting more money now than we ever had and we are still having a cash shortage in this Territory. Up to this point government hasn’t paid a dime to people they have owed money to.”
The concerns expressed by the Leader of the Opposition were echoed by fellow Opposition Member and First District Representative Hon. Andrew Fahie moments after the budget address was delivered.’
Hon. Fahie lamented the increase which Government was proposing: “It is clear that more revenue is intended to be derived from many increases in government fees and taxes on the people at a time when most persons have less. In that vein, I must respectfully state that a government that seeks to tax its way to prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket seeking to lift himself to a higher place – a task that has been proven as one of colossal failure.”
“I hope this is not being done to cover up mistakes in terms of looking for revenue for mistakes made where the people have to now pay for it.”
“The Premier delivered what he was reading extremely well. Nevertheless, we will hope for the best. I want what’s best for our Virgin Islands and will assist in whatever way I can do to secure a brighter future for present and future generations, while ensuring from henceforth that best practices in accountability and transparency are realized,” Hon. Fahie added.