AN APPLE a day keeps the doctor away – but not Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
On Tuesday, Mr Imbert continued to wage war on fruits like apples and grapes.
Seeking to justify his budget decision to subject such items to value-added tax (VAT), he lumped them with “luxury” items like lobster, escargot, smoked salmon, pâté, and clams. Such imports, he said, guzzle too much foreign currency.
This is much too fruity.
If Mr Imbert’s VAT measure is meant to ensure the wealthy carry some of the burden of adjustment, he has forgotten people in the habit of eating escargot – if he can find them – are unlikely to care if a few cents are added to the cost per unit. These members of café society will buy anyhow, and the effect on foreign exchange might be negligible.
It would certainly pale in comparison with some of those luxury car tax exemptions enjoyed by a relatively small group of MPs.
What is real, though, is the fact that Mr Imbert’s position conflicts with the Government’s own policy.
Time and time again we are told by the Ministry of Health that we should make better choices so as to reduce the shockingly high levels of lifestyle diseases and the cost of caring for the sick.
Exercise. Avoid smoking. And eat healthily: limit alcohol and processed foods, eat vegetables and fruit.
Yet here is a finance minister who, instead of providing incentives for people to eat fruit, seems intent on discouraging the practice.
It is true the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have good reason to encourage more consumption of local produce. One minister was recently quoted in the press telling people they can eat sapodillas instead of apples.
But now Mr Imbert says apples are to cost only a few cents more than at present. So is it really a good use of his time to police what variety of fruit people eat?
There is absolutely no reason why fiscal policy cannot be used as an instrument to promulgate the Cabinet’s healthcare goals for the population.
Only last year, Dr Rowley, in speaking about the same food import bill, made a distinction between processed and unprocessed food.
“We eat all kinds of refined products imported from abroad,” the PM observed. “The local produce we eat is what you buy in the market, the fresh produce. Outside of that, that is where the huge import bill is.” Indeed.
In the Garden of Eden, it was an apple that symbolised knowledge. Mr Imbert needs to take a bite.
The minister would do well to focus on making it harder to buy processed foods, not making it harder to eat what his Cabinet colleagues say we should.