Taxes

Budget 2019/20 – Much Ado About Nothing

  • Budget communication falls flat

  • Government has credibility deficit

  • No relief in sight for hurting masses

  • Focus on figures at the expense of Bahamians

  • Duty reductions will have minimal impact after VAT


The Minister of Finance delivered his third Budget Communication in the House of Assembly yesterday to a nation in desperate need of hope and some positive news. Once again, the Free National Movement (FNM) administration showed its lack of compassion and disconnection from the plight of the masses. The delivery of the communication was both uninspiring and underwhelming, while the extended rendition of shallow pronouncements was painful to watch.


In a communication that fell flat for most Bahamians, the government’s idea of positive news was the continuous reminder that the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate will not be increased again. In the aftermath of a 60% increase in the VAT rate in the previous year, this heartless administration expected nationwide jubilation for choosing not to worsen the financial condition of the Bahamian people.


Bahamians can now confirm that the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) was right in its assessment of the 2018/2019 budget of hardship when we stated that the government would fall short of its revenue projections and the economy would be negatively impacted. The admission by the Minister that the government fell short of its revenue target by hundreds of millions of dollars is testament to the accuracy of our prognosis a year ago.


The government is projecting that the GFS deficit for 2018/2019 will come in at $229 million dollars despite the revenue shortage as a result of spending cuts. We note that this administration was forced to admit that the Minister of Finance’s deficit forecast for the 2017/2018 fiscal year was higher by $105 million dollars. Hence, the government has a credibility deficit when it comes to projections on both revenue and expenditure.


We witnessed another episode of self-aggrandization and pats on the back by politicians who have forgotten that they are not doing taxpayers any favors but rather spending our hard-earned dollars on projects they select. The reduction in customs duties to the tune of $28 million in the face of the massive increase in taxes to the tune of $500 million last year is a slap in the face of struggling Bahamians. A closer look at the reduced tariffs and the affected items for the 2019/20 budget will show that they will have minimal impact on the finances of majority of Bahamians.


It was noted that the deficit is at its lowest in 10 years and the Minister demanded some commendation for this achievement. What he failed to mention is that 10 years ago, the government’s revenue was half (about $1.3 billion less) of what it is today, and total expenditure was $1 billion less than it is in 2019. Hence, within a decade, successive administrations have significantly increased taxes on the backs of the Bahamian people to fund their insatiable appetite for spending and wastage.


The current administration is out to lunch and oblivious to the dilemma of Bahamians challenged to make ends meet daily. They believe that eliminated tariffs on pencils, crayons and sharpeners is worthy of praise while being convinced that several Bahamians have the disposable income to embark on the purchase of new furniture and appliances. This follows a recent international report that notes that The Bahamas is the fourth most expensive nation in the world to live in. While taxes and fees have continued to rise, so have unemployment figures while the income of average Bahamians have remained the same or lowered.


The budget communication perpetuates the practice of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) which places the burden of taxation on the poor and the middle class. The pontification on tax fairness is disingenuous when taxes are not based on individuals’ earnings and ability to pay. The current system of governance for special interest groups will not change until there is campaign finance reform in The Bahamas. Until then, he who pays the piper will continue to call the tune and the decimation of the Bahamian middle class will not cease.


The highlight of the show that was the budget communication was the suggestion that the FNM is committed to meritocracy. This follows several conflicts of interest, failure to provide details on spending, appointment of FNM cronies to high-paying jobs, award of contracts to supporters without a transparent bidding process and political interference in government agencies among others.


The DNA will be taking a deeper dive into the numbers within the actual budget in the days ahead and provide the Bahamian people with the key themes from a budget that is anything other than the people’s budget.


Arinthia S. Komolafe

Leader

Democratic National Alliance


Regressive fiscal policy hurting The Bahamas

  • Government’s efforts not tied to long term vision

  • FNM and PLP place tax burden on poor and middle class

  • Blacklists will not stop; goalposts will continue to shift

  • Complacency is bane of current administration

  • IMF and TJN initiatives show delay of the inevitable


A recent report issued by the Tax Justice Network (TJN) placed The Bahamas on another tax haven list. The Corporate Tax Haven Index (CTHI) ranked our nation as number nine on an adverse list among ten jurisdictions with corrosive corporate tax policies.


This blacklist follows the passage of myriad legislation and implementation of regulatory changes by the government to ensure compliance with international standards. We have expended much time and resources on being removed from lists produced by international agencies while increasing the cost of doing business and concurrently reducing our competitiveness.


The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) has repeatedly advised the current administration to adopt a more holistic approach and redefine the value proposition of The Bahamas as an International Financial Centre (IFC). It is regrettable that our recommendations have fallen on deaf ears by an administration that lacks or has failed to articulate a long-term vision for our country.


We call on the government once again to wake up from its self-induced slumber and substitute its rose-tinted glasses of naivety with clear lenses of the new global reality. The goalposts will continue to be moved and the prospect of a real level playing field is wishful thinking. The Bahamas must chart a new course which sheds the tax haven label and reposition itself as an IFC without the baggage associated with perceived inadequate tax practices.


The Free National Movement (FNM) and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) have perpetuated a regressive and oppressive tax system on the backs of the working and middle class while taxing businesses on turnover rather than profits. The DNA submits that comprehensive tax reform which prioritizes the creation of a progressive and more equitable system of taxation is long overdue.


There is a direct correlation between the challenges we face as an IFC and the regressive tax system that both political parties have maintained for the benefit of special interest groups. The Bahamas is being held back by the complacency and lack of fortitude by a government that governs for a select few.


We remind the government that momentum is gathering around global corporate tax reform and they are only delaying the inevitable. They were elected to lead with vision, and it is their duty to put the interest of the nation ahead of that of a select few.


The proverbial clock is ticking and the future of our financial services industry hangs in the balance.


Arinthia S. Komolafe

Leader

Democratic National Alliance

EU Blacklist: What has really changed?

  • Bahamas remains on grey list

  • Strategic not myopic approach to financial services

  • New standard imminent and inevitable

  • Government kicking can down the road

  • Time to govern for Bahamians

The recent announcement by the European Union (EU) that The Bahamas remains on its grey list and has not been blacklisted is a welcomed development. This follows the removal of The Bahamas from the EU blacklist to the grey list in May 2018 after the government made several commitments to carry out reforms.


While the temptation to embark on celebratory exercises and seek political brownie points may seem attractive to the government, it would be prudent not to do so. In reality, The Bahamas’ status as a country on the EU grey list has not changed since May 2018.


According to the European Commission, 25 countries from the original screening process have been cleared; The Bahamas is not one of those countries. The Bahamas remains on a grey list of countries that will continue to be monitored in 2019 and is listed among 34 jurisdictions that have already taken steps to comply with the requirements under the EU listing process. The EU has directed that jurisdictions on this list must complete this work by the end of 2019, to avoid being blacklisted next year.


The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) reiterates that the current administration continues to adopt a myopic approach to the second pillar of our economy. The government has taken the view that the avoidance and removal from adverse listings by international agencies is their priority over developing a growth action plan for the industry. They are squandering an opportunity to truly govern for the Bahamian people by rebranding, refocusing and reviving the financial services industry.


As we have seen in times past, the goal posts will continue to shift as new standards will be established to undermine the value proposition of The Bahamas as an International Financial Centre (IFC). It would be naïve for the government not to realize that the next standard or hurdle is imminent and inevitable. We submit that it is even more egregious for the government to adopt a reactive approach and kick the proverbial can of comprehensive tax reform down the road.  It is an open secret that the ultimate goal of certain global organizations is the demise of the Bahamas' financial services industry. The government cannot be complicit in this endeavor by continuing to capitulate to the extra territorial demands of multilateral ‎bodies until we have no financial services business to regulate. 

 

The discussion about a global taxation standard has commenced and it is only a matter of time before this becomes the new agenda. In the interim, The Bahamas must be proactive and strategic in shedding the tax haven label while articulating a vision for the future of our financial services industry.


It is common knowledge that we have a tax system that is regressive and oppressive to the detriment of the masses. The middle class and vulnerable in society bear the brunt of the tax burden imposed by a government that has worsened the misery index. The question on the lips of Bahamians is when will this FNM administration start governing for them rather than special interest groups and international agencies?


Arinthia S. Komolafe, Leader

Democratic National Alliance