Lead by example, Minister Young

Energy Minister Stuart Young. File photo -
Energy Minister Stuart Young. File photo -

It might seem churlish to question the perks given to a hardworking government minister when the facts about their salaries and allowances are already public knowledge.

On Thursday, Energy Minister Stuart Young defended his new wheels – a million-dollar Mercedes Benz luxury vehicle, which comes with a tax exemption of a half-million dollars, which he is entitled to as part of his emoluments in public office.

This followed the purchase of a luxury vehicle bought by the Minister of Health with an exemption on taxes for a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado costing $700,000.

Mr Deyalsingh's new ride dodged VAT, motor vehicle taxes and customs duty totalling $390,166.63.

The ministers will be paying for their new rides; the treasury just won't benefit from taxes on these acquisitions.

Meanwhile, to make sense of a budget and economy battered by pandemic-related slowdowns and relief payments, the Finance Minister is planning to reduce or eliminate government subsidies, with plans to remove tax exemptions for imported private cars, including both electric and hybrid models.

Last October, the Prime Minister said Cabinet is also considering capping exemptions on new vehicles for public office holders at $350,000, and the matter was before a sub-committee.

The issue is further muddied by the motion moved by Dr Roodal Moonilal, who raised the matter, and apparently also owns a Mercedes Benz for which he too would have been eligible, as an MP, to claim a tax exemption.

Mr Young said he had delayed buying his new car from March of last year but decided to make an order this year, because he felt that "things were looking up and sprightly."

It's a remarkable observation, and one that very few members of the public are likely to identify with.

Mr Young is entitled to buy the vehicle of his choice, but the timing of it raises questions, given the possibility that exemption limits might soon be slashed.

He and Mr Deyalsingh aren't the only ministers to claim their exemptions on vehicles that suit the prestige of their elected position, but they are doing so when many of the citizens they were elected to represent are jobless, struggling to pay basic bills –rent, groceries, utilities – and face an uncertain future and grim present.

Is it acceptable for a minister in Cabinet simply to buy the car he wants, because thanks to certain privileges he can afford it, in these challenging circumstances?

Then too, as Energy Minister, Mr Young might have bought a hybrid vehicle.

Demonstrating leadership in that space would have offered an opportunity to change the conversation about his car to one about sustainability and a national and personal pivot away from fossil fuels.

Ministers are elected to a leadership role, but their job is not to rule, but to serve.

In a time of severe economic difficulty, all their decisions, including their lifestyle choices, loom large in the public mind.


"Lead by example, Minister Young"

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