The Government’s decision to remove VAT from bottled water and juice of unspecified packaging is incomprehensible, given that water and juice sold in plastic bottles are luxuries for many on the economic margin and environmentally disastrous.
Just a few weeks ago, the scope of the problem was blatant when flood waters rushing down from the St Ann’s hills swept through the city, dumping massive loads of single-use plastic bottles onto East Port of Spain and South Quay. Elsewhere, carelessly discarded plastic water bottles choke river courses, canals and drains, and disrupt the natural flow of water out to the sea. Plastic bottles are also a nightmare problem at the nation’s landfills where, according to the experts, each bottle can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
Trinidad and Tobago cannot be serious about pursuing a climate change agenda and still continue to give the plastic bottled water industry the benefit of a tax break. For, make no mistake about it, the removal of VAT on bottled water makes it cheaper and therefore more attractive to the consumer. Given the obvious contradiction between this measure and the environmental agenda to which the Government claims to subscribe, we look forward to hearing what Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis has to say about the removal of VAT on bottled water when she joins the budget debate.
The Government has so far shown a complete lack of muscle and commitment in dealing with the environmental impact of the beverage industry’s operations. There can be no good explanation for why the Beverage Container Bill 2012 is yet to see the light of day. It has been 21 years since the country decided that it was necessary to legislate against plastic bottle pollution. It took 12 years to draft the law which has now been sitting around for nine years.
When this newspaper checked on the bill’s progress in August, in the immediate aftermath of the floods in Port of Spain, we were told that the Ministry of Public Utilities was simplifying the bill for presentation in September. That month has come and gone without any reference to it. Instead, the Government has gone in the other direction by removing VAT on bottled water and juice.
Other items on Minister Imbert’s new VAT-free list are also mystifying in the context of the Ministry of Health’s increasingly vociferous advocacy of healthier eating. With Covid-19 bringing to the fore the danger of T&T’s high rate of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer, the Ministry of Health has been pounding the message of healthier eating.
In the midst of this comes the Minister of Finance to make sugars and processed food cheaper and, therefore, more available to the poor. The fact that several of his selected items were already VAT-free suggests a lack of attention to finding imaginative ways to ease the pressure on the poor with some standard of quality nutrition.