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Nov 13, 1998

House meets for first business session

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The two benches on the government side were lengthened… and some hastily upholstered chairs were added, but there was no hiding the fact that the architects who designed the National Assembly building did not contemplate a parliamentary split as radical as twenty six to three. Still, life in Belmopan goes on, and while their numbers were small, the Opposition was not about to lie down and play dead. News Five’s Stewart Krohn was on hand for what will be the first of many performances in the political theatre known as the House of Representatives.

It was the first business session of the newly elected House of Representatives and both sides, along with the equally new Speaker, felt their way cautiously through the work at hand. In his debut as the parliamentary leader of his party Prime Minister Said Musa approached the task with humility… and his counterpart across floor Dean Barrow actually had praise for the government’s motion to enhance the overight powers of the standing committees.

But the love fest didn’t last long as the Opposition posed some sharp questions on subjects as the firing of workers at Social Security, the appointment without competitive bidding of a local company to perform post import customs inspection and the purchase of new vehicles for government ministers. And of course no partisan exchange could be complete without the mention of the dreaded V-word.

Michael Finnegan, U.D.P., Mesopotamia

“Will the Prime Minister, Madame Speaker say when the Value Added Tax will be abolished? I will repeat, Madame Speaker, will the Prime Minister say when the Value Added Tax will be abolished and will he repeat his assurance that it will not be replaced by any other tax under a different name or any other form?.”

Said Musa, Prime Minister

“Madame Speaker I was tempted to say that the VAT would be abolished as soon as the member’s party’s former newspaper pays up its VAT. (clapping and banging)

But Madame Speaker in a more serious bid there is a firm commitment in the manifesto, “Set Belize Free” to abolish the killer VAT: a dishonest and burdensome tax. We will not resign from this commitment and VAT will be abolished. (clapping and banging)

A tax reform committee has been appointed chaired by the honorable Minister of the Public Service, Industry and Labor. The committee has been working and we expect to receive its recommendation by the end of this month. This committee is charged with the specific mandate to reform the tax system in keeping with our objective to restore the economy and improve living conditions for the many, not the few. The committee, which has broad based representation from the public and private sectors and labor, is well aware of the government’s mandate to abolish VAT and come up with a system that is fair and simple and not burdensome like the fifteen percent VAT.” (clapping and banging)

But the Prime Minister’s assurances were not adequate for the Opposition Leader, who saw government’s moves as just one more exercise in deception.

Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition

“Mr. Musa said before the election that upon assuming office the new P.U.P. government will immediately abolish the VAT. That has not happened. What has happened is that a committee has been put in place to look at the whole system. Yet Mr. Musa is telling us that the commitment to abolish the VAT stands. What does that say with respect to the committee supposing the committee’s recommendations are to the contrary? Are we playing games here? Is this a charade? How can you set up a committee to give you answers when according to your manifesto commitment the answers are predetermined? So it seems to me that this is a monumental waste of time. What we are going to get at the end of the day is a VAT by another name and everybody in Belize knows this.”

But problems with VAT were not confined to only one side of the lopsided House. As the Prime Minister had already hinted Mr. Barrow has a VAT problem of his own which involves the now defunct Pulse and the newly born Guardian.

Q: “Could you give us any reason why we should think anything other than that the reason for the creation of this newspaper was simply to avoid the payment of nearly forty thousand dollars in VAT and other bills?”

Dean Barrow

“I think the answer has been given to you in the Guardian. You obviously have a particular axe to grind and you’ve been on this question of the Pulse and I think the Guardian has answered. That is all the answer that I think you need.”

Q: “You’re not going to address the question?”

Dean Barrow

“That’s all the answer that you’re going to get. You are trying to play politics while pretending that you are objective and fair. You won’t get away with it Stewart.”

Q: “So you have no direct answer to that question?”

Dean Barrow

“You have gotten your answer, right.”

And with that the Opposition adjourned for lunch while the twenty-three P.U.P.s, still jammed together like passengers on a Z-Line Bus, continued with a recitation of the state of the various ministries. Stewart Krohn for News Five.

For those who are interested, News Five counted five ties, twenty-four Guyaberas and one suit in today’s meeting of the House.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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