June 12, 2014
Prominent businessmen expressed concern yesterday about rising poverty levels in the country, claiming that they have never been inundated with so many pleas for financial assistance and urging the government to take bold policy steps to address the problem.
Commenting after a Department of Statistics survey revealed that poverty in the country has risen by 3.5 percent overall since 2001, with 43,000 people now living on less than $4,247 annually - the official "poverty line" - Philip Beneby, president of the Retail Grocers Association, said this figure is particularly disturbing ahead of the government's plans to implement value-added tax in January 2015.
He voiced concern that with the rise in poverty that will accompany VAT, the government may simply be "moving from the right hand to the left" as it is forced to implement more costly social welfare programs to assist those who will struggle under the price rise.
"I've seen more people than ever coming to me asking me personally for assistance - financial, food, whatever I can do to help. What VAT will do is make it even harder for those living in or under the poverty line to rise above that. VAT for them is going to be almost like quicksand. The more they try to wiggle out of it, the deeper they'll sink into it."
Dionisio D'Aguilar, president of Superwash, said that he was not surprised at the poverty figure, adding that he has been "simply overwhelmed" by requests for financial assistance coming from members of the public.
"Every single day I get about five to 10 requests. It's at epidemic levels. I've never seen it so bad."
D'Aguilar said that he believes that the only way to address rising poverty levels is to ensure growth in the economy.
He added that achieving significant growth is dependent on changing attitudes toward issues such as immigration, allowing more "job creators" to enter the country, regardless of citizenship.
"We've got a problem, and the poverty level and unemployment is showing that problem; even something like Baha Mar will take a dent out of poverty, but it will not eliminate it."
D'Aguilar said the government's current approach, which has seen it placing or planning to place ever more taxation on the private sector to fund a variety of initiatives, will dampen prospects for a significant reduction in unemployment and poverty.
"There are two ways to deal with this problem. One: you can try to tax and spend your way out of it - tax heavily to transfer wealth from businesses and business people to poor people. Or number two: you can try to stimulate the economy to create more business activity, but ensure that additional wealth that is created doesn't end up being more and more concentrated in the hands of few people.
"The government seems to, from the outside looking in, have decided we have to tax more. All you hear is VAT, keeping import duties the same, national health insurance, raising of the minimum wage;
all of these things are basically sending a coded message to the business community that whatever you make, more of it will go to the public purse, and that doesn't exactly excite people about expanding business and growing employment."
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