Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley has added his voice to the debate surrounding proposed amendments to the Value Added Tax (VAT) legislation, which are due to go before Parliament on December 15.
Following a meeting at his Haggatt Hall, St Michael office last Thursday night with 30 members of the entertainment industry who voiced strong concerns about some of the proposed changes, Lashley made it clear that the issue was not one of payment of VAT. In fact, he insisted in an interview with Barbados TODAY that no such request was currently on the table.
“I am of the firm view that promoters, like any other taxpayer, should meet their obligations and they are required to pay VAT by the law and therefore they are supposed to pay the VAT, but the discussion is not about whether or not they should pay VAT. In fact, I have never gone on record and said that promoters should not pay the VAT and I believe that the promoters themselves will tell you that the issues that they want to outline to us do not have anything to do with whether or not they pay the VAT,” said Lashley, who has been tasked with communicating the concerns raised by the promoters to the Ministry of Finance and the Cabinet.
However, he added: “I think they, like any other sector of the economy, have spotted some concerns in relation to the proposed changes and they have communicated those changes to me as the Minister of Culture. Like any caring Government, I believe that we have to listen to them and we have to look and see if the concerns are credible and if they are credible to make sure that the proposed changes to the Value Added Tax are appropriately tweaked and changed to ensure that any valid concerns raised by the promoters are in fact addressed.”
Over the weekend, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler responded to reports that members of the entertainment fraternity were plotting an offensive against the imposition of the 17.5 per cent VAT on the industry, which they contend could be catastrophic should it be allowed.
He made it clear that while Government would be going to Parliament on December 15 to formalize the current arrangements under the VAT Act, the amendments were nothing new. In fact, he pointed out that “public entertainment has always been taxed and was always intended to be taxed since the inception of the VAT”.
Sinckler drew reference to last weekend’s Hennessy Artistry Show, pointing out that a 12 per cent withholding tax has always applied to the use of foreign artistes at local events.
“It is also known that they [promoters] are liable to pay income tax,” the Minister of Finance said, while emphasizing that all the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) was seeking to do right now, as the leading tax enforcement agency, was “make it far clearer as to what is required of persons who engage in promotion of public entertainment activities”.
The Minister of Finance also dismissed any suggestion that promoters should not have to pay VAT and that VAT should not be levied on tickets for events, while arguing that it was the consumer and not the promoter who pays VAT.
“What the promoter is doing is acting as an agent on behalf of the BRA as all businesses do in Barbados that are required to collect VAT. They are collecting the VAT and paying it in to the Barbados Revenue Authority,” he stressed.
Sinckler also advised promoters that there was nothing in the VAT law called a “complimentary ticket”. Therefore, he said, the onus was on them to control the distribution of all event tickets to ensure that they were not left holding the bag.
“People usually say, ‘Oh, a sponsor will give me such and such amount of money and therefore I am giving them 200 free tickets, but it just does not work that way, because each of those tickets you gave away, without collecting the VAT, not only causes you to lose a sale . . . but it causes the rest of the country to have to forego revenue because you have automatically waived the VAT which you do not have the authority to do,” said Sinckler.
He suggested that the Cultural Industries Bill held the key to unlocking any waivers from taxes and other benefits for operators in the sector.