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Cheers! Relief for beer drinkers

The customs tariff on beer will remain the same in the coming fiscal year after a rare moment of collaboration between the two political parties.

However, duty on gas and diesel will increase by five cents in line with the Bermuda Government's amended proposals to boost revenue and reduce the island's deficit.

Finance minister Bob Richards's raft of reworked customs tariffs was put before MPs as they debated the Customs Tariff Amendment Act 2017 on Monday night.

Under Mr Richards's amended proposals the level of tax on a litre of beer would have increased from $1.26 to $1.88.

But Opposition Leader David Burt tabled a Progressive Labour Party amendment, keeping the tax level at $1.26, which Mr Richards said the Government would support.

Independent MP Shawn Crockwell said Government should be applauded for supporting the PLP's amendment, while PLP MP Zane DeSilva congratulated Mr Crockwell and fellow independent MP Mark Pettingill for supporting the Opposition's amendment.

Pointing out that the balance of power had changed now that there was a “minority government”, Mr Burt added: “I am pleased that the members from 25 [Mr Pettingill] and 31 [Mr Crockwell] supported us in this and that the Government has supported them.”

However, the PLP was not as successful with a second amendment put before MPs that aimed to keep gas and diesel customs tariffs at 75 cents and 50 cents respectively.

Mr Richards said that the Government would not support the amendment and the amendment went to a vote that the Government won 18-16 with Mr Crockwell and Mr Pettingill backing the finance minister's proposed increase of five cents to both diesel and gas.

The Government's plans for customs duty relief for renewable energy and electric vehicles were also passed with Opposition support.

However, Mr Richards and his technical advisers agreed to return to Parliament in May with adjustments broadening the category of batteries for electric cars that would be granted customs relief.

Mr Richards's reworked customs tariffs got a poor reception in Parliament, with Mr Burt deriding the One Bermuda Alliance's stewardship of government revenue measures.

“These safe hands can't put together a Budget that can make it more than a few weeks without change,” Mr Burt said, as the PLP chastised the tariff alternations as punishing ordinary Bermudians.

Opposition MPs suggested that the minister had consented to switch the budgetary measures at the behest of mercantile interests that had “called to complain” — claims that were dismissed by Mr Richards as “a figment”.

Meanwhile, Mr Pettingill urged the Government to adopt a sugar tax to raise revenue; a call countered by Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health, who told MPs that while the idea was still being explored, Government was focused on changing behaviour rather than making sugar a revenue source.

Mr Richards said the Customs Tariff Amendment Act 2017 was “not a health Bill, but a tax Bill”, and also described it as a “PLP deficit-reduction Bill”.

He said that he had chosen to give the apparel sector or retail customs relief because it was a sector that just employed Bermudians and tax increases could prompt layoffs.

“What they asked for is much greater than what we have done, but this sector is closed to foreigners and that resonated with me and that is why we made some adjustments here,” Mr Richards added.

Bob Richards

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Published March 21, 2017 at 3:18 am (Updated March 22, 2017 at 7:23 am)

Cheers! Relief for beer drinkers

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