Political leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Dickon Mitchell has announced plans to cushion the effect of rising food prices on the island by taking steps to tackle freight charges at the St George’s port.
Addressing a Town Hall meeting of Congress on Wednesday night, Dickon Mitchell announced that if NDC wins the upcoming general election the party will put a cap on the cost of freight and bring it back to the 2019 price that existed prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the NDC would also add several goods used frequently by the poorer section of the population to the list of existing items that will now become zero-rated where the 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) is concerned.
According to the NDC political leader, an immediate measure of a Congress government is to face head-on “the dramatic increase in the cost of freight” to get the imported goods into Grenada due to the pandemic and the cost of producing them in recent times.
He noted that the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell charges Customs duties and Vat on freight and is collecting a lot of revenue from rising freight costs and it is about time to bring some relief from the high cost of these consumer goods to the population.
“The National Democratic is proposing that once we form the government and we are in fact prepared to say to the government that the government should immediately take steps to cap the cost of freight at pre-2019 Covid pandemic levels and for the next 12 months to charge the Customs duties and the VAT at the port based on 2019 freight levels,” he said.
Dickon called for the cost of freight to be frozen for a minimum period of 12 months as experts are predicting that it will begin to decline by 2023.
“If that happens then it allows us over the next 12 months to ensure that our citizens get some relief that the business community can pass on (from) the freezing of the VAT and Customs charges on a 2019 freight rate to the citizens,” he said.
“We believe that this is a measure that the business community will support, we believe it is a measure that the trade unions will support. We believe it is a measure that our supermarket owners and suppliers of food in particular will support because this measure benefits everyone,” he added.
According to Dickon Mitchell, the NNP regime has already gotten an unexpected and significant windfall in revenue from the rising cost of freight since the pandemic started in 2019.
He said the NDC is simply calling on the Mitchell-led government “to pass on some of that windfall to us the citizens to help mitigate the cost of living.”
The NDC leader has also committed Congress to expanding the current list of consumer items that fall within the zero-rated category of goods where VAT is concerned.
He said that there are many items that Grenada uses as basic and given the recent hikes in prices the people are having difficulties in purchasing them due to a lack of spending power.
He told the assembled gathering at the Town Hall meeting that not long ago the government announced that vegetable oil will receive zero-rated status but the list should now include cooking oil, soya oil and palm oil for at least a 12-month period in the first instance to help mitigate the steep rise in consumer goods.
“We also ask that the following items be zero-rated – soap powder, baby and adult diapers, sanitary napkins, toilet paper, peas and beans, bathing soap, packet rice, smoke herring, sardines and mackerel, and salted meat like pig snout, pigtail and salt beef.
“These basic items are used by all Grenadians and they are staple in the case of the food items in many of our diets. We are therefore calling on the government to zero rate those items for VAT – as you know the VAT rate on these items (is) 15% which is a significant percentage and we are asking that those items be zero-rated in the first instance for 12 months.
We will then monitor the situation 12 months thereafter on forming the government to ascertain whether they should continue or if VAT should return or that the VAT rate be cut in half to 7.5% rather than the 15%.”
Dickon Mitchell also called for a zero-rating of VAT on a permanent basis for Internet or data supply.
He said that Information Technology has to be the avenue to be used to help transform the Grenadian economy for the foreseeable future.
He noted that Covid-19 has brought about changes in the way children are now educated and people operate in the working environment.
The NDC leader said: “It is absolutely crucial for each citizen of Grenada – young, student, old, working, retired – to have access to reliable and affordable data, and therefore, removing VAT or zero-rating VAT on the provision of data and internet services will go a long way in ensuring that we meet the supply of internet services to all our citizens of Grenada, (and make them more) cheaper and more affordable.
The National Democratic Congress will zero rate internet and data services throughout the length and breadth of Grenada,” he added.
The 44-year old attorney at law also announced that NDC will zero-rate inputs for farmers such as fertilisers and seedlings.
Dickon Mitchell said the cost of living has negatively impacted on the ability of Grenadians to buy basic food for their families, and to enjoy a basic and decent standard of living.
The new Congress leader is down to contest his first national election in the St David constituency against Foreign Minister Oliver Joseph and is seeking to end the back-to-back drubbing that the party suffered in the last two elections in 2013 and 2018.