By Makeda Mikael
COVID has totally exposed the protection given to the expatriate businesses while the local businesses are dying and no one in the government seems to know or even care.
This stems from the existing system which initiated the welcome package of incentives and concessions to draw business to our shores, and which the watch-dog organizations for fair trade have advised should now cease or be adapted for inclusion of the local entrepreneurs.
The old and outdated system gives away the entire shop which has allowed businesses to manipulate their accounting systems whereby the money which circulates in Antigua and Barbuda is minimal and barely covers the operational needs of their local company.
All surplus is kept abroad, and even the charges which banks could make from the payment of overseas bills is denied by the freedom given to expatriate companies to operate against the normal standards of good business.
The time has come for fair play in the business favours which the Cabinet and various Ministers in their own right give out on a daily basis to all and sundry if their melatonin is in the narrow spectrum of pale to white.
Instead of reducing the expat bounty by sharing the giveaways with local entrepreneurs, the government has begun giving away land to the Chinese to build strongholds like the gigantic fully secured Embassy, and worse the multi-million dollar construction company near the stadium slated to beat down the bids of all local and regional construction companies.
It just does not make sense in this 21st century to be inviting businesses to our country which seek to monopolize the area business to the detriment of those who have no loop holes to hide their earnings from the tax collector.
The ignorance of our people on how some expatriate businesses work and are able to do most of their financial affairs abroad away from the watchful eyes of Customs and Inland Revenue must be overturned. The cooperation which Ministers of Government and their staff extend to those whose methodology is to corrupt the systems which are in place to protect the country and its people’s patrimony must cease.
The country’s taxes are shrinking daily as the YIDAs and the other privileged expatriates enjoy the assets of our country paid for by the poor and unfortunate Antiguans who happen to make the paltry salary which is taxed and with deductions continuing at the supermarket and every expenditure on the island. It is not fair and any new administration must consider the people first and foremost.
With the advent of All-inclusive hotels, a scam developed whereby most of the tours being fully paid up abroad, and the ability to hoodwink the local tax collection system and transmit to Antigua’s coffers only what is needed for operations and the occasional contribution to charity to make a good impression.
The airlines also have their systems in place to undercut the taxes on fuel, the highest cost item used in aviation. The procedure involves brokering their fuel abroad whereby the real money margin stays outside of the countries of fuel uplift and does not impact their tax returns.
Our tax collection in this new normal post-COVID poverty-epidemic must wake up to the ripoff which the expatriate businesses are able to effect almost legally whilst dumping the country’s losses on the local entrepreneurs who are obliged to pay taxes and prove that they do.
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