Says Party Cost The Country $200m.
By Ernie Seon
PRIME Minister Allen Chastanet says the former St. Lucia government should be “embarrassed and ashamed” at its decision to rescind an airport development tax, which has cost the island in excess of EC$200 million in revenue.
Chastanet told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that his administration would be re-implementing the airport tax effective April 1, next year, despite calls from the main opposition St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) for him not to do so.
Opposition Leader, Phillip J. Pierre, who was a senior member of the former Kenny Anthony administration, said he was outraged over news that the Chastanet government, which came to office following the last general elections in June, has agreed to an increase in the departure tax as well as the reinstatement of the airport development tax.
“The Labour Party sees these increases in taxation as a betrayal by the UWP (United Workers Party) government which had severely criticised the previous SLP administration claiming that the people of St. Lucia were too heavily taxed.
“Further, the UWP had promised that existing taxes would be reduced to make life more bearable for Saint Lucians,” he said.
Pierre said the increase meant that the departure tax for persons travelling to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries and the French Caribbean Islands will be increased from US$25 to US$35 whilst the tax for passengers travelling outside of CARICOM countries and the French Caribbean Islands will be increased from US$25 to US$65;
The airport development tax will be reinstated at a rate of US$35 for persons travelling outside of CARICOM countries and the French Caribbean Islands. The tax had been suspended by the Anthony administration in 2012.
Pierre said that the new taxes would result in St. Lucians having to pay an increase of EC$27 when purchasing any ticket to travel to any CARICOM island or any French island.
“St Lucians travelling to other places, for example, New York, Miami, Toronto or London, will pay an additional EC$215. All visitors to our island will also have to bear the additional cost of EC$215 per person,” he added.
The SLP said that at a time when tourism is facing increased competition the new taxes will make St. Lucia more uncompetitive.
“It is also strange that this comes after St. Lucia joined the rest of CARICOM in rebuking the UK government for having the Airline Passenger Duty (APD) arguing that the tax was hurting tourism,” the SLP added.
But Prime Minister Chastanet told CMC that the SLP administration should be embarrassed over its initial decision to remove the tax as its represents a loss of over EC$200 million needed to service the local economy.
He said that the plan to reintroduce the tax was no secret and was announced as a campaign promise during the last general elections.
“We considered it a huge mistake by the government to take the tax down to zero. If they had left the US$35 which was assigned to the development of the airport, there would have been over $200 million in the account.
“In fact the opposition should be embarrassed and ashamed at what they have done to the people of Saint Lucia. We now have to continue to borrow money which could have been collected since the day. So clearly we are going to be looking to increase the tax in line with what the rest of the countries are doing.”
Chastanet asked what is “the point of St. Lucia charging a tax that is substantially less than anyone else in the Caribbean.
“These are funds that should have been collected the opportunity for which is going out of the window every single day, and because it’s not in place today or yesterday that’s money we can never recover,” he argued.
He promised to disclose more on the airport tax in his October 31 address to the nation where he also plans to announce the new rate of the value added tax (VAT).