The Ministry of Revenue has been taken to task over its alleged failure to consult local businesses when plans were first mooted to increase excise tax on liquor by 100 per cent.
Business owners including manufacturers of locally-made liquor voiced their disappointment at a consultation session with the Ministry on Wednesday. The Ministry was represented by Solia Tanuvasa Kalolo with State Solicitor Siovia Lui standing in for the Office of the Attorney General.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Officer, Hobart Vaai, told the senior civil servants that the meeting on Wednesday was "not a true consultation” and the Ministry should schedule a time and a date for a proper meeting.
“This is not a consultation this is a briefing. The difference is that with a briefing you turn up and present your ideas but a true consultation is when you take our feedback and you actually make changes. Can we please have an answer on that or when the deadline date is for submitting our comments for a true consultative process, faamolemole,” he said.
Co-owner of Aga Reef Resort and the now-closed Chiefs vodka manufacturer, Va'atuitui Apete Meredith, expressed his disappointment with what he described as “ad hoc planning” of the Alcohol Control Bill 2017, which went to the Parliament for passing in order for the new excise tax to be enforced.
“It would have been great if you had given it out before we came so that it would have given us some time to prepare properly and give proper feedback. On one hand we are grateful that you are revising the Act, on the (other) hand you should have given us the courtesy to prepare properly.”
Va'atuitui appealed to the Ministry officials to work with the private sector to assist them draft a better bill and insisted that there should be a special session between the local manufacturers of liquor and the Ministry, following the consultations.
“Can I request a special session after the meeting with just the manufacturers and the importers? We have current issues we need clarification that came through your changes to the excise tax act in April and we need that clarified urgently, because it impacts the essence of what you are trying to propose here with the changes to try alleviate the problems being cause by alcohol.
“We just had this in 2011 and now you’re changing it again we need to do it properly. We need proper feedback from everyone. We need to help you and help each other to alleviate this problem once and for all. We need to clarify the enforcement of excise tax because that has a direct link to what you are trying to achieve with these new changes. It’s no use having this if we are not going to address the root cause of the problem,” he added.
Earlier in the discussions Solia offered to give the businesses owners and representatives a chance to schedule a second consultation the following day, in order to inform them of the changes to the liquor legislation. But the offer got a rebuttal from Sinalei Resort financial controller, John Stunnenberg, who said that is not how a consultation is done.
“It’s a sad way of doing a consultation, it’s more about preaching and us listening than inviting us to give actual feedback. I don’t think that’s how it should be,” he added.
After intense negotiations between the businesses and the Ministry, the parties settled on September 14 as the deadline for feedback with the second consultation between the two sides now set to take place a week later on September 21.