Despite repeated calls from all sections of the St Lucian public for the removal of VAT on medication, the Government yesterday issued a response which did not resonate with the pleas of Saint Lucians.
After her admission that the Ministry of Health was inundated with calls from concerned Saint Lucians over the imposition of VAT on medication, Minister of Health Alvina Reynolds yesterday took a back seat to the Government’s hired political mouth piece who attempted to respond to the outcry from the public.
Through a read scripted message, the Acting Press Secretary to the Prime Minister attempted to pour cold water on the concerns stemming from members of the public who have had to contend with a rise in the cost of medication since the implementation of VAT on October 1st, 2012. In his message the Acting Press Secretary indicated that Government secured an agreement from CARICOM to suspend the application of import duties on the importation of pharmaceuticals into Saint Lucia for the next four (4) years. This was offered as a trump card to quell the demands of Saint Lucians.
Notwithstanding the latest statement from the Government, there still remain lingering concerns which are linked to the imposition of VAT on medication. Like many other products which falls within the transition period of VAT implementation, Saint Lucians may have to contend with higher cost on medication for the next 6 to 8 months as a result of “old stock” which attracted both import and consumption tax. This would effectively cut into the four (4) year period of reprieve referred to by the Government.
Further it must be recognized that the arrangement with CARICOM is a short term message, which means that the higher cost on medication would re-emerge in time. Whereas the Government’s statement referred to an arrangement from CARICOM as relates to import duties, it did not indicate when this arrangement would take effect.
The UWP is recommending that Government seeks to absorb retroactively all import duties on medication since VAT for the St Jude Hospital. This is relevant given the special circumstances of that health institution since the fire of 2009. We have no doubt that the Minister of Finance would make it possible to institute such a measure given the fact that St Jude Hospital is located within his constituency.
Finally what the Government is insensitive to is the fact that the imposition of VAT on medication at this time, whether on top of or without import duties is inhumane and grossly insensitive. The UWP shares the view that given the hardships brought about with the institution of VAT, Government should demonstrate a degree of social consciousness by the removal of VAT altogether on medication. Here again we are reminded of the plight of the poor diabetic and hypertensive people within our society as well as women and children.
We therefore call on Minster of Health Alvina Reynolds to come out from her hiding and address the concerns of Saint Lucians on the matter of high prices on medication in a concrete and reassuring manner. Our nation’s health and the plight of the poor and indigent should be given greater priority by the Minister of Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations.