National Federation Party (NFP) leader Prof Biman Prasad claims the 1600 zero rated and tax reduced items listed by Government was not focused on the underprivileged.

He claimed the Government had promised people in 2014 that it would never put value added tax (VAT) on basic food items but they did.

Prof Prasad highlighted this in Parliament on Friday when he was speaking on the Customs Tariff (Budget Amendment) Bill 2020.

“When you look at the list, it is really not focusing on the underprivileged, needy and the most vulnerable because items like rice, flour, tea, garlic, onions as well as medicine was already duty free but people will still have the burden of paying 9 per cent VAT on them,” he said.

“While the list of 1600 items also has food items, an overwhelming majority of them can be termed as luxury food products and out of reach for those who survive on basic items.

“Edible oil, for example, still carries a 15 per cent duty on concessions available to retailers. Also, lentils or dhal, is another basic food item, it still carries a duty of 5 per cent.

“The same goes for medication, the medication was also zero rated but their prices will not change because VAT is still not changed.”

Prof Prasad said it was imperative for people to understand some of the issues in the amendment.

In response, the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said in the past years, Government had reduced tariff rates for food items and everyday items continuously wherever possible.

“They stand here and pontificate and say that they are concerned about the poor people as if the poor people only are in rags and only eat some basic food,” he said.

“That is what you are saying, you have not provided an alternative view nor have you recognised what these tariff structures have done or will do.”

He also said over the years, Government had reduced duties on undergarments for children, for men and also women and those were everyday items and not luxury items.

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