WE ASKED Finance Minister Colm Imbert to go brave. He certainly did last Friday.
Taking to his personal Twitter account, Mr Imbert announced a tax holiday on laptop devices. Saying Cabinet had approved it a day before, he declared, “This measure takes effect immediately.”
It was a move that demonstrated a willingness to embrace social media and to engage the people whose lives are affected by Government, using the very medium purportedly being liberalised.
Still, it cannot be denied that Mr Imbert’s gesture came after the Opposition Leader publicly called on Government to remove computer taxes.
Whatever precipitated it, the minister’s fervour got the better of him. His forward-thinking gesture was undermined somewhat by the fact that, days later, it is now apparent it has had the opposite effect in some quarters.
Instead of laptops becoming more easily available, prices have reportedly been hiked owing to increased demand and fixed supply, a supply which in some cases has been depleted, thanks to a log-jammed customs system.
The objective of wider access to the internet was never going to be realised through a simple tax break. Even Mr Imbert, and the Cabinet he spoke for, must appreciate that making laptops slightly cheaper does not necessarily guarantee students in need will get them.
In sharp contrast to the fleeting nature of social media, Mr Imbert sought to give his announcement an air of finality it arguably did not merit.
Citing Cabinet approval on a personal Twitter account is not the same as a measure being fully promulgated by the relevant legal process, a fact itself acknowledged in a further sub-tweet by Mr Imbert alluding to other measures due to fall under the upcoming Finance Act of 2020.
In this case, the orders on the minister’s desk were dated September 4, and presumably signed on that date, though it is not certain whether they were gazetted at the time of his tweet.
Our praise of Mr Imbert is dampened by the knowledge that an official state measure was announced on a personal social media account and then simply retweeted by the ministry.
The co-mingling of public and private was worsened by the fact that the measure was a political party promise, and by the perception of favouritism which Mr Imbert has acquired through the reported blocking of select media practitioners.
The release of the October 5 budget date likewise had shortcomings.
We welcome the decision of the ministry to convene a virtual event on September 28, before that presentation. But will there be enough time for feedback gleaned from that event to make an impact?
Perhaps the Government intends to adopt the well-intentioned haste with which Mr Imbert moved last Friday.