Yesterday, a good friend and brother of mine who is in the same industry as I am was “dragged” to court, according to the media, to answer to charges of failure to properly display his GST (General Sales Tax) certificate in his tortilla establishment.
He pleaded guilty and was fined $3,000.00. He further informed me that upon exiting the court, he was approached by certain members of the media advising him that if he didn’t want this matter to appear in the media, that it could be arranged.
My friend wisely responded and said, “No, thanks. Let it come to the attention of the public.”
He felt that he had been treated harshly, unjustly and in a manner that was completely uncalled for, and so he walked away with his head held up high. I go on record to stand in solidarity with him and also to bring to light this travesty.
Besides having to endure unjust treatments from the GST department, he has had to endure 8 years of cost-absorbing for his raw material that we know as maseca. Back in 2008, this raw product sold for $42 per bag.
Today, this same bag is being sold for a whopping $63.50, despite the fact that very little has changed in Mexico and Guatemala with the prices. Increasing the price of this product by a few cents can create riots in these countries.
The million-dollar question is, how come it has become so expensive despite the fact that there’s been little price change for this product in the region? The public must be made aware of the facts.
The importation of this product is exclusively controlled by a western importer who chooses to import from Guatemala due to proximity. Of course, this importer also enjoys protection in Government and is jealously guarded so no one else gets a license, since this is a lucrative business where they have the luxury of setting their prices.
Prior to 2008, maseca was imported from Mexico and it was done by several importers who competed, and therefore prices were competitive.
A last check on prices and product grade has revealed that the grade being supplied in Belize is second grade, while premium grade of the same product is currently selling at BZ$25 in Mexico.
This dramatic increase in prices has forced tortilla producers to absorb the cost, since increasing prices on finished products would result in less sales. I myself, being in the industry once, was forced to close down and similarly, my sister, who had a similar business, also became a casualty. I know of two more businesses who say that if nothing changes they will be closing too.
In closing, I want to also share that my friend has had his business establishment in the heart of the south-side for more than 20 years, and I know that he employs well over 60 Belizeans who are permanently employed.
It is from this angle that this government, or more specifically, the Deputy Prime Minister, who happens to have this establishment located in his constituency, should start looking at this very serious matter. This government approach of vindictiveness and milking the business sector has got to stop. Belizean businesses all around this country are closing one by one, and if this government continues on this path of vindictiveness, then heaven help us.
I would like to close off with a quote from last week’s Amandala editorial of Nov 26, 2016, titled “The possible and the real.” It states, “The indigenous Belizean private sector has complained to us that the foreign immigrant private sector has an unfair advantage because they are ripping off our tax regime.”
Read between the lines, GST DEPARTMENT. I know you guys are trying to plug the leaks, but you guys are looking in the wrong place!!
Casa Pan Dulce Bakery