financial services

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


Government imposed hardship not delivering desired results

  • Lazy approach to governance continues

  • Bahamians will not forget hardship FNM imposed

  • DNA warned government on projections

  • Revenue shortfall was foreseeable

  • Poor planning, poor execution and incompetence impacting credibility

The Free National Movement (FNM) opposed the imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) while in opposition and described the introduction on taxes on the Bahamian people as a lazy approach to governance. In true fashion and living up to their reputation as hypocrites, they increased the VAT rate by 60% on the backs of the struggling masses.

The Bahamian people will not forget the actions of a government that passed a budget of hardship. A government that focuses more on numbers than economic growth and the people that are impacted daily with rising cost of living.

The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) warned the government against embarking on an overly aggressive timeline for eradicating the fiscal deficit and urged them to develop an economic growth action plan. We further advised them that based on elementary economics, it has been proven that an increase in tax rate does not automatically yield a corresponding increase in tax revenues.

It comes as no surprise that the Minister of Finance has finally admitted that the government will fall short of its projected revenue for the 2018/2019 fiscal year by seven percent or a whopping $185 million.

The argument that the renegotiated tax structure for gaming houses, lower than expected VAT collections and delay in the establishment of the Revenue Enhancement Unit is responsible for the shortfall is simply unacceptable and inadequate. It speaks to the poor planning, unreliable assumptions, incompetence and poor execution by the government. The FNM administration cannot talk this away or minimize their failure in meeting projections that have been relied upon by Bahamians, investors and international agencies. This could negatively impact the credibility and trust reposed in our nation’s projections in future.

While their admission is commendable, it was always foreseeable and does not exonerate them from this embarrassing outcome. Having placed Bahamians and taxpayers under intense unnecessary financial strain to meet their own self-imposed targets, the DNA submits that an apology is warranted.

As part of its budget of hardship and pain, the government had sought to extract an additional $500 million out of the private sector and by extension the economy. The Minister is now hopeful that they will collect about $400 million in extra revenue as a result of the increases in VAT, fees and other taxes. It is unfortunate that this administration’s focus is not the people but rather making the figures look good; an objective they are also failing to achieve.

The Bahamian people are still waiting for this administration to unveil its economic growth plan rather than grandiose announcements and public rewarding of special interest groups and political supporters.  In the absence of a plan, the government is still struggling to get its fiscal house in order. A priority item for any administration should be addressing the burden and inefficiencies State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) impose on the public purse and ultimately the Bahamian taxpayer. It is common knowledge SOEs receive subsidies and subventions to the tune of approximately $400m annually.  The Government has announced that further studies and analysis will be commissioned in the coming months. This is in spite of multiple studies and reports on SOEs over several years and successive administrations. After almost two years in office, they still lack a comprehensive strategy or plan for SOEs and continue to pontificate with political rhetoric while wasting taxpayers’ funds.

There is nothing to celebrate in the mid-year budget statement for the average Bahamian who continues to struggle to make ends meet amidst rising unemployment. Any commentary on the reduction in the fiscal deficit year on year must be considered in the context of a massive increase in taxes by this government. They continue to pat themselves on the back at the expense of the masses that have seen a decrease in their disposable income and spending power while special interests’ pockets continue to be lined. The Bahamian people are simply not impressed with this uncaring government.

The DNA calls on the government to shape up and harken to the voices of the people. As the saying goes “Time is longer than rope”

Arinthia S. Komolafe, Leader

Democratic National Alliance


EU and OECD: Wrong Impetus for Reform

  • Financial services under constant pressure

  • Agility of Government questioned

  • Long term strategy required for Financial Services

  • Domestic-driven comprehensive tax reform long overdue

  • Proper consultation and details required

The Bahamas' financial services industry has been under intense pressure over the last year. During this period, we have seen The Bahamas placed on adverse listings or blacklists by the European Union, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Financial Action Task Force (FATF), United Kingdom, United States of America and The Netherlands.

Observers of the global landscape for financial services are aware that the second pillar of the Bahamian economy has been under assault for over two decades with the goal posts for compliance being moved constantly and continuously. The end goal of the implementation of new standards and placement of additional hurdles for International Financial Centres like The Bahamas seems apparent to industry professionals.

This could not have been more obvious than the Netherlands' recent inclusion of The Bahamas on a blacklist of tax havens with no corporate tax or corporate tax rates lower than 9%. This took place while the Government was working around the clock to implement sweeping changes to our tax system in order to meet an EU imposed deadline. The Netherlands Government in this instance, indicated that the list was subject to consultation from 25 September to 22 October 2018. It is concerning that adverse listings of this nature and other blacklisting initiatives often catch the Government by surprise. This raises questions about our level of engagement and the agility of relevant government ministries or agencies in keeping up with global trends and initiatives.

It is time for the Government to wake up to the reality that the pressures will not cease, and the goal posts will continue to shift. A reactive approach to new standards set by international bodies and other jurisdictions is myopic and demonstrates a lack of a long term plan or vision for the financial services industry and the Bahamian economy as a whole.

Long overdue reforms that are required to usher The Bahamas into the 21st century cannot be ignored or delayed until external pressures force the Government into these initiatives. The recent press release on financial sector reform is a prime example of this phenomenon. We have once again kicked the proverbial can of comprehensive tax reform down the road thereby ignoring the need to move from the current regressive tax system to a more progressive and equitable one. The current system places undue and unfair burden on the working and middle class as well as those who can least afford it.

While some clarity has been provided on the basis for the calculation of business license tax with a link to positively rated taxable supplies, it does not address the main concern of the business community that the tax is imposed on turnover rather than profits. This is especially relevant for high turnover and low margin businesses.

It is imperative that the actual details underlying the proposed changes to our tax regime are provided to stakeholders and the public for scrutiny and feedback. We urge the Government not to shove this down the throats of domestic entities in the same manner as the significant increase in the VAT rate. There must be transparency and disclosure in relation to the criteria for determining the proposed new taxes and/or fees.

We welcome any initiative aimed at reducing the cost of doing business and improving the ease of doing business in The Bahamas. It is our hope that the Government's agenda and priorities will someday not be dictated or determined by external factors but rather a coherent vision which has at its core the best interest of the Bahamian people.

Arinthia S. Komolafe

Deputy Leader, Democratic National Alliance