St. Peter MP Asot Michael Slams Limits on Duty-Free Exemptions As Being Against the Philosophy of Labour Party

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

MP Asot Michael Expresses Strong Opposition to Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill

St Peter Member of Parliament Asot Michael has voiced his vehement opposition to a bill passed in the Lower House last week to reduce the power of the executive in granting duty-free waivers.

People importing vehicles will be impacted the most by the Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill.

Michael stated, “Mr. Speaker, I rise to make my contribution on the Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill and to say from the outset, I do not support it. I’m totally against it philosophically against it.”

Michael’s presentation in Parliament underscored his deep concerns about the bill, highlighting his disappointment in Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who is also the Minister of Finance.

He expressed, “I’m very disappointed in the member for St. John’s City West, the Honorable Prime Minister, Minister of Finance.”

The MP, known for his long-standing involvement in Antiguan politics, emphasized the historical context of duty charges in the country.

He pointed out that while duty charges are not a right, they have become ingrained in the nation’s psyche over the years.

Michael referenced past administrations, including the periods under VC Bird, Lester Bird, and the current Gaston Browne administration, highlighting a perceived exaggeration in duty charges during Browne’s tenure.

He remarked, “It has become part of the DNA of the people of this country that they’ve been accustomed, and it has never ever been so exaggerated in the numbers as it has been under the Gaston Browne administration from 2014 when it became the government to 2024.”

Michael resonated with concerns about the impact of high duty charges on vulnerable groups, particularly young individuals entering the workforce.

He emphasized the financial burden imposed by duty and revenue recovery charges, especially for those unable to afford them.

St. Peter MP Asot Michael Advocates for Duty-Free Exemptions Amid Debate on Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill

Michael’s remarks came amidst ongoing debates surrounding the Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill.

Reflecting on past initiatives, Michael recalled, “St. Paul’s member reminded me at lunchtime [of] a program that was brought in to actually pay the overtime of the customs officers but it never became operational.” He noted that this program, initiated under Minister Molwyn Joseph, aimed to replace the Customs Service charge but did not materialize.

Drawing on personal experiences, Michael shared insights from his time closely associated with former Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

He recounted discussions about duty-free exemptions, revealing, “Mr. Prime Minister, why are you signing all these Duty frees?” Browne’s response, according to Michael, highlighted the joy of helping young individuals acquire vehicles without burdensome duty charges.

Michael emphasized the emotional fulfillment Browne found in granting duty-free exemptions, especially to those with limited financial means.

He recalled Browne’s perspective, stating, “Nothing gave me more pleasure than being able… to exempt them from the duty and the RRC.”

The MP underscored the societal impact of duty exemptions, noting that while they are not a fundamental right, they have become ingrained in the nation’s culture and expectations.

He cautioned against the potential disempowerment of vulnerable groups if duty exemptions were curtailed, particularly frontline workers and public servants with modest incomes.

Michael urged a balanced approach, advocating for solutions that would alleviate the financial burdens faced by ordinary citizens. He emphasized the role of politicians in addressing these challenges, stating, “The burden now is going to be on each politician to help those poor people.”

Addressing Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Michael referred to Browne’s earlier commitments, stating, “Mr. Prime Minister, I remember when you ran against the late Sir Lester Bird in your mini manifesto. You said should the people of Antigua and Barbuda, the Labor Party, give you the chance to lead the party and ultimately become the Prime Minister, you shall lead the egalitarian government, an all-inclusive where you will uplift the poor.”

Michael highlighted Browne’s personal history, including challenges faced during childhood and adolescence.

He noted Browne’s previous efforts to support young individuals through duty-free exemptions, emphasizing the importance of such initiatives for economic empowerment.

However, Michael criticized the Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, questioning its alignment with past government philosophies.

He remarked, “This bill is not helping the poor people in this country. This bill is not in alignment with the philosophy of VC Bird and Lester Bird and even Gaston Browne.”

The MP expressed concern about the potential negative impact of the bill on vulnerable citizens who have come to rely on duty-free exemptions.

He urged government officials to exercise restraint and discipline in granting such exemptions, emphasizing the need to balance economic policies with social welfare considerations.

Michael also raised broader questions about the government’s fiscal priorities, questioning the sudden shift in policies related to duty-free exemptions.

He criticized what he perceived as a prioritization of fiscal metrics over social welfare, cautioning against excessive austerity measures that could harm public sector workers and ordinary citizens.

The debate surrounding the Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill continues to be a topic of significant contention in parliament, with MPs like Asot Michael advocating for policies that prioritize the interests of the less fortunate in Antigua and Barbuda.

Impact on Young Antiguans and Barbudans

MP Asot Michael voiced concerns over the impact of the Revenue Miscellaneous Provisions Bill on young Antiguans and Barbudans.

He emphasized the importance of duty-free exemptions for these individuals and criticized aspects of the bill that he believes would negatively affect them.

Michael began by highlighting the challenges faced by newlyweds who have built their first homes, urging the Minister of Finance to continue policies that support first-time homebuyers.

He expressed hope that the bill would not curtail duty-free benefits for young people on construction materials and furnishings, emphasizing the need for flexibility in taxation policies to support their aspirations.

Addressing the PM directly, Michael stated, “You cannot tie your hands, Mr. Prime Minister. You have to have that discretion.” He argued that while accountability to Parliament is essential, excessive restrictions on duty-free exemptions above $110,000 would be detrimental and impractical.

The MP criticized the bill for what he perceived as targeting the poor while neglecting to address loopholes in other areas, such as tourism incentives and tax holidays for large businesses.

He called for a review of these incentives, citing examples of hotels exaggerating costs to maximize benefits under existing laws.

Michael also raised concerns about transparency and the rationale behind the bill, noting a lack of detailed explanation in the explanatory memorandum.

He questioned the need for such stringent measures, suggesting that responsible governance should include setting reasonable thresholds and ceilings for exemptions.

Michael clarified that his speech was not about attacking individuals but rather advocating for fairness and equity in taxation policies.

He urged a reevaluation of the bill’s provisions to ensure they align with the government’s goals of supporting economic growth while safeguarding the interests of all citizens, especially the young and vulnerable.

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