Calling the Government’s plan to charge a cess on street lights “a deceptive form of taxation”, the members of all 13 Chambers of Commerce from across the island, say they are going to march on Parliament this week in protest against the cess.
In an urgent meeting of president and executive members in Ocho Rios yesterday, the chambers, in a unanimous vote, called for the immediate roll back of the cess, noting that it has far-reaching implications which could seriously affect businesses across the island. They also voted to have their protest march at the next sitting of Parliament.
“For us, this is a matter of principle,” explained Anthony Chang, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC). “The Finance Minister assured the nation that there would be no new taxes and only two week after that announcement was made we are being told of having to pay a cess for street lights. This could be viewed as a point of deception. We will be going to Parliament with all our members to demand an immediate roll back of what is nothing more than another form of taxation.”
Kendrick Davis, president of the Negril Chamber, was even more forthright. “The business sector cannot take much more of this,” he said. “It is not like we will be using more street lights than the guy down the road, yet we are asked to absorb most of this. All you are hearing is more and more taxes on businesses – eventually we will all fold. The Government keeps making bad decisions and is always coming to the people to bail them out.”
The Government’s decision to start charging a cess for street lights, since announced a couple weeks ago, has been met with a barrage of criticisms. Only last week there was a demonstration in Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay, where residents and a number of civic organisations came out strongly against the proposed cess.
The chamber presidents said they would also be asking the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) and other organisations to join them in their protest march on Parliament, noting that nothing short of a rolling back of the cess would appease them.
“It is unfair and hypocritical for Government to be asking us to pay for their inefficiencies,” explained Mark Kerr-Jarrett, president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce. “There have been a lot of Government waste and corruption from which if they could cut back on, they would be able to pay for street lights without having to come to the people to foot the bill.”
It is not often that the rural chambers and the JCC see eye to eye. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that the JCC was accused by its rural counterpart of representing only the interests of Kingston and St. Andrew. But yesterday they left little doubt that they were united and speaking with one voice.
Former St. Ann Chamber of Commerce president, Joe Issa, who chaired the meeting at the behest of all the chamber presidents, said that it was “historic” in itself to have all the chambers united in one voice. “It shows how mature we have come as a nation to be able to put differences aside and have constructive dialogue,” he said.
Donovan Cover, president of the Manchester Chamber said, “For our democracy to work, we have, as a people, to take matters in our own hand. We will be having debate on the local level and force the politicians to address the issues that are important in the lives of people. We have an opportunity here to make a huge difference.”
The chamber presidents also noted that from now on they would be consulting each other before going public on issues, noting that “there is more to accomplish by speaking with one voice.”
Source: The Gleaner