Spotlight on bosses who steal’ from staff
A spotlight will be turned on employers who “steal” from their staff by failing to deposit social insurance and pension contributions, the Minister of Finance warned last night.
Curtis Dickinson said he wanted to help workers keep better track of their benefits so that they could hold bosses accountable.
His comments came during a public meeting about the Government’s Pre-Budget Report, when the minister also indicated that steps could be taken to address price hikes in groceries made under the guise of the sugar tax.
Mr Dickinson said, after a question from a member of the public: “I have been moved, over the course of the last several weeks, with folks who have come to my office to tell me about situations where their pension contributions or their social insurance contributions that they have had deducted from their paycheques are not showing up in their accounts.
“I have directed both the Office of the Tax Commissioner and the Department of Social Insurance to change their procedures to bring enforcement closer towards the front end of the process as opposed to the end.
“What ends up happening is, if you wait too long, you can never find the money.”
He explained that it was better to tackle problems through talks with employers “early in the process when they have an opportunity to get out of the hole”.
Mr Dickinson said the Government needed “to do a better job” in collecting the funds. He added: “We’re going to be doing some public service announcements around what people can do to help themselves, and that way they’re better informed in terms of holding their employers to account.”
Mr Dickinson was applauded when he said: “What’s happening is, people are stealing people’s money.
“If we make it very clear that stealing is going to be prosecuted, my hope is that the stealing will stop.”
Earlier in the meeting, at the Heritage Worship Centre on Dundonald Street, a woman asked about the possibility of using some of the money raised from the sugar tax to help people with diabetes pay for healthier food.
The duty was imposed on October 1, 2018, and collected $5.4 million by December 1, 2019, with the revenue intended to be used for health and education.
Mr Dickinson told the meeting: “We’ve heard, from you, concerns around the implementation of the sugar tax and how it’s applied to various products inside of grocery stores.
“We are very concerned about what we’re hearing and we are committed to taking a hard look at how the tax is actually applied.
“A really hard look, because the reality is that the tax is intended to drive behaviour away from things that are unhealthy and, inasmuch as there are instances where stores are taking advantage of the tax to bump up prices across the board, that was not the policy intent and we’re going to put a stop to it.”
The meeting heard that the Government plans to boost its capital spending to about $85 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year, using revenue such as increased cruise ship passenger taxes to revamp the island’s transport infrastructure.
Mr Dickinson said land tax would not be increased in the Budget but explained that a reassessment of land valuations will take place at the end of this year.
He told the meeting that the concept of “zero-based budgeting” was returned to government departments, with the intent that ministers and public officers must “justify every dollar that they spend”.
The finance minister pointed out that although he faced comments about the size of the civil service, it was against his values to “take a slash and burn approach” to the public sector.
He said the numbers of Civil Service workers had declined over the past five years.
Some MPs, including David Burt, the Premier, and senators were in the audience of about 60.
• The Pre-Budget Report can be found on the government portal at gov.bm/prebudgetreport. Comments can be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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