Bahamas Blog International
The Bahamas Government’s initial 15 % Value-Added Tax (VAT) proposal could have resulted in potentially catastrophic consequences for the Bahamian society
Related to country: Bahamas
9,000 Jobs Lost Under 15% Vat -
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau, The Bahamas-
The initial 15 per cent Value-Added Tax (VAT) would have “eliminated” 9,000 Bahamian jobs and caused a $380 million drop in tourism sales in 2015, an industry study estimated.
The Ernst & Young accounting firm’s report on the likely economic impact from the Government’s first VAT proposal suggests that it could have resulted in potentially catastrophic consequences for Bahamian society, with the effects felt by almost everyone.
The study, conducted for the Bahamian hotel/tourism industry and obtained by Tribune Business, said the net tax burden on the sector would have increased by $320 million next year.
This was based on the combined ‘direct and indirect’ impact from a 15 per cent VAT and changes to the existing tax system. Ernst & Young based its findings on the lower 10 per cent rate that the hotel industry would have paid, plus the elimination of the 10 per cent hotel occupancy tax.
Parts of the accounting firm’s study, namely that a 15 per cent VAT would have increased tourism prices by 9 per cent and caused an 11 per cent drop in tourism consumption, have already been made public. What has not, until now, is the dollars and cents impact.
“As tourists respond to increased prices resulting from the VAT, they would reduce the number of visits and consume fewer goods and services in the Bahamas. The analysis estimates that this response would reduce tourism sales by $380 million in 2015 levels,” Ernst & Young said of a 15 per cent VAT.
“A $380 million reduction in tourism sales in 2015 would result in the elimination of 9,000 tourism and related jobs across the Bahamian economy.
“It would result in a loss of nearly 4,700 direct tourism sector jobs, relative to the baseline in 2015 (11 per cent reduction). The total domestic job loss would increase to 9,000 jobs when considering jobs supported by the tourism industry’s supply chain and employee spending (the ‘multiplier’ effect).
“By 2017, the economy-wide job loss would increase to nearly 13,200 jobs, of which 6,800 would be from within the tourism industry.”
Looking to the medium -term implications of a 15 per cent VAT, Ernst & Young added: “By 2017, the Government’s proposed VAT would reduce tourism’s contribution to GDP by more than $350 million (or 15 per cent).
“Under current law, tourism’s contribution to GDP (the most comprehensive measure of the industry’s current economic activity) would reach an estimated $2.3 billion in 2017. The imposition of the proposed VAT would reduce tourism sector GDP by $353 million by 2017.”
The accounting firm also projected: “The three-year cumulative loss in GDP (2015-2017) from the impact of the Government’s proposed VAT on the tourism industry is an estimated $890 million, relative to current [tax system].
“Over the three-year period, the tourism industry is estimated to contribute a total of $6.5 billion to GDP under current-law [tax system] growth projections.
“If the Government’s proposed VAT is enacted, the tourism industry would produce a total of nearly $5.7 billion of GDP in three years.”
The Ernst & Young report’s findings likely weighed heavily on the Government’s decision to drastically alter its VAT proposal at the last minute.
The study was presented to Prime Minister Perry Christie on May 21, just eight days before the Budget was unveiled in the House of Assembly. Its findings, together with those by the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, the New Zealand consultants and the Government’s own US advisers, Compass Lexecon, all recommending a lower rate VAT, appear to have been instrumental in persuading the Christie administration to accept a radically revised 7.5 per cent rate with few exemptions.
In their letter to the Prime Minister, the Tourism Industry Partners Group warned that a 15 per cent VAT would cause a $363 million drop in tourist spending, together with a $340 million drop in tourism’s GDP contribution by 2016.
The Group said the Bahamian hotel and tourism industry “faces unprecedented cost competitive challenges”, with the Ernst & Young study “validating” these fears.
Not that a 7.5 per cent VAT rate will exactly be benign for the sector. The Ernst & Young study modelled the impact of a 7.5 per cent rate on the industry, together with a 0.75 per cent employer payroll tax and 15 per cent VAT on the rest of the economy.
While not a direct like-for-like comparison with the Government’s revised 7.5 per cent VAT plan, the accounting firm projected that its model would result in a $117 million increase in net new taxes paid by the tourism industry.
Under the 7.5 per cent VAT model employed by Ernst & Young, tourism prices between 2015-2017 rose by 4.2 per cent, rather than 9.2 per cent, each year.
This still resulted in a decline in tourism sales, but only by $172 million compared to $380 million in 2015, and by $250 million as opposed to $554 million come 2017.
And, when it came to tourism’s GDP contribution, the 7.5 per cent VAT model employed by Ernst & Young said this would drop by $110 million in 2015, compared to $242 million at 15 per cent, and by $159 million compared to $353 million in 2017.
Jobs, though, would still be lost. Ernst & Young’s version estimated that 2,000 direct jobs could go under a 7.5 per cent VAT in 2015, as opposed to 4,700 at 15 per cent, with this figure increasing to 2,900 as opposed to 6,800 come 2017.
July 22, 2014
Living below the poverty line in The Bahamas
Related to country: Bahamas
Poverty, VAT and the PLP’s promises
The Nassau Guardian Editorial
Forty-three thousand people in The Bahamas were living below the poverty line around this time last year, according to data from the Department of Statistics. Nothing that has happened since suggests this number might be any lower today; in fact, it has probably continued to rise steadily.
This means that the ranks of the utterly destitute among us, those who must eke out whatever kind of existence they can on less than $12 a day, account for around 13 percent of the population of this country. And this is not taking into account the many more thousands, probably tens of thousands, who struggle to survive just a hairsbreadth above the poverty line, so close in misfortune to the “official poor” that there is no appreciable difference in their circumstances.
It is no secret that the places where such people live are the principal incubators of violent crime, domestic and child abuse, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy and many of the other social ills that increasingly threaten to tear this society apart at the seams. It is also common knowledge that the governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) represents the majority of these areas in Parliament, many since the time of majority rule. Over those many years, the promises upon promises meted out at election time – of employment, security, proper sanitation and all the other basics of civilized existence – have amounted to those areas remaining in poverty.
The revelation of a considerable rise in the level of poverty, around 3.5 percent over the last survey in 2001, comes against the backdrop of this legacy of unfulfilled promises and follows closely on the heels of several other important pledges broken by the PLP in its current term, among them that it would create 10,000 jobs upon coming to office.
Two years on, the vast majority of these jobs have yet to materialize, while the government’s failure to fulfill another campaign assurance, that of an effective mortgage relief scheme, is only adding to the ranks of the desperate all the time.
And now, at this moment, faced with such a troubling situation, the government has announced that it will impose value-added tax – the impact of which, it admits, will hit the poor the hardest – at a rate of 7.5 percent, without any corresponding reduction in import duties to ease the blow.
Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis has said the cost of living is expected to rise by four percent as a result.
There is no cause for worry, however, according to Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin. She said the government has plans to mitigate the impact on the poor and will be able to “handle whatever fallout” may result from the implementation of VAT.
The good minister must forgive Bahamians if her assurances do not ease our collective anxiety for the future. Our skepticism is nothing personal, being based solely on the fact that not all promises made by her party are fulfilled.
July 09, 2014
The role of the media in today’s Bahamian society
Related to country: Bahamas
The role of the media in today’s Bahamas
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” – Malcolm X
Recently there has been considerable commentary from many quarters of our society about the media and its role in today's Bahamas. Politicians in particular – and from both sides of the aisle – have taken to critical commentary about media coverage depending on the story and what the reporters say about them.
Therefore this week we would like Consider This... What is the role of the media in today's Bahamas, and are there deliberate attempts to quiet the fourth estate?
The fourth estate
The term “the fourth estate” is derived from the medieval “estates of the realm”, of which three were formally recognized: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. Each “estate” had a distinct social role and a certain level of power and influence.
By the middle of the 19th century, people began referring to the press as a fourth estate, referencing the fact that most parliaments and other houses of government had an area set aside specifically for use by the press, which highlighted that the press is a distinct group within the larger framework of the realm. Several historians credit the coinage of the term “fourth estate” to Edmund Burke, who is said to have used it when discussing the French Revolution, although the 19th century author, Thomas Carlyle, popularized the term.
In modern societies, the media is often called the fourth branch of government (or "fourth estate") in addition to the executive, legislative and judicial branches. It is generally accepted that the most important role of the fourth estate is to monitor the political process in order to ensure that those in the other three branches do not abuse the democratic process. Today, the fourth estate includes the public press, collectively encompassing journalists, photographers, television broadcasters and radio announcers, among others.
The role of the media
Few will argue against the idea that access to information is essential to a healthy democracy and that the press is important for at least three reasons. First, it reports the news without bias, as facts are presented as they are. Secondly, it ensures that citizens are able to make responsible, informed choices on matters of national importance rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Third, the media serves a "checking function" by disclosing whether elected representatives have upheld their oaths of office, fulfilled their campaign promises and carried out the wishes of those who elected them.
Some persons become very sensitive about media coverage because it plays such an important role in the fortunes of political candidates, elected officials, dignitaries and national issues. This is where the role of the media can become controversial. News reporting is supposed to be objective and balanced, but journalists are people with feelings, opinions and preconceived ideas. It is sometimes felt that journalists either allow their biases to creep into the reporting of the news or report only news that is negative to the side they are biased against, ignoring news that may be equally negative about the side they support.
In addition to its responsibility of “reporting the news”, the print media also produces an “op-ed” section, where opinions and editorial commentary are expressed by the editor, columnists or the general public, the latter often in the form of letters to the editor.
Protecting freedom of the press
The media has immense political and social power, because it can be used to shape societies while imparting news of note and commentary of interest. Because of its importance, many countries have embedded press freedom provisions in their national constitutions. Other nations have enacted laws to protect the rights of the press, ensuring that citizens have access to reports on matters of interest.
Because of the importance of the fourth estate in society, most members of the media abide by certain professional and personal codes of ethics. Many journalists attempt to cultivate an air of neutrality, focusing on reporting the issues as they are, so that people can judge the facts for themselves, while others focus on offering commentary and analysis from the perspective of a particular position. Journalists are careful, as a whole, to protect the integrity of the press, protecting sources, verifying information before publication and using a variety of other techniques to convey a trustworthy appearance to the public, encouraging people to put their faith in the media.
The fourth estate in The Bahamas
For many decades, there has historically been a tug of war between the media and politicians in The Bahamas. In the early days of party politics, dating back to the early 1950s, the two established daily newspapers were seen as biased in favor of the white oligarchy, which sought to continue the established conservative social and political order, often denigrating the fledgling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). This prompted some in the PLP to form the Bahamian Times newspaper, in order to ensure that the PLP’s position was clearly delineated to the people of The Bahamas.
It is fair to say that while the editorial slant of The Tribune has not radically changed, the same observation cannot be made of The Nassau Guardian. More recently, the editorial slant of The Nassau Guardian has been more balanced, equally criticizing the PLP, the Free National Movement and the Democratic National Alliance – taking each to task as the need arises. It is wrong for persons in public life to conclude that the newspapers are deliberately “out to get them” because the media reports factual information about the conduct of persons in public office. Facts and sometimes foolish statements emanating from politicians are stubborn things; they are what they are, and no amount of complaining about their reporting will change the facts or the foolish statements.
For politicians to believe that they are immune from public scrutiny for their actions and statements is a mistake. The media has a sacred responsibility and duty to inform the public about the conduct of all persons who hold public office, regardless of their party affiliation.
Imagine what would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein did not investigate and report on the Watergate break-in, which resulted in the resignations and convictions of numerous high level, powerful politicians, who abused their offices and broke the law, as well as the resignation of a corrupt U.S. President. Woodward and Bernstein did not deliberately set out on a course to destroy the lives of those who broke the laws. Their primary objective was to critically investigate, analyze, and report the facts, wherever they led. The same can be said for Daniel Ellsberg’s revelations relative to the Pentagon Papers, Julian Assange regarding WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden concerning the excessive NSA abuses and invasion of privacy of countless innocent citizens in many countries.
All of our politicians have to come to terms with the vitally important role of the fourth estate in the development of our country and should recognize that the media’s role is to expose incompetence, corruption, malfeasance and breach of the rule of law that governs us. Members of the fourth estate should conduct themselves without fear or favor, oblivious to who the persons are that they are investigating. Politicians should not be surprised when the media calls attention to their abuses of office or power, their arrogance and excessive sense of entitlement. Politicians are servants of the people and should conduct themselves accordingly; otherwise they should expect that the fourth estate will expose them.
Instead of vilifying the press, progressive politicians, distinguished persons and private citizens alike should willingly engage the media in order to present their account of events or their side of the story. It benefits no one to attack the media unless it engages in defamatory reporting, in which case the aggrieved parties can and should seek legal redress before the courts.
As we mature as a nation, we will find that it is far better to engage the press in meaningful dialogue, to have frank and open discussions with them and to explain one’s actions and decisions on their merits. Not only will it demonstrate the constructive power of communication, this kind of honest and straightforward interaction will also go a long way in building the strong democracy envisioned by our forefathers, a democracy that will be the backbone of the robust and advanced society we all wish to see.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.
June 23, 2014
Levy Value-Added Tax (VAT) on all forms of gaming in The Bahamas
Related to country: Bahamas
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau, The Bahamas:
The Bahamas should levy Value-Added Tax (VAT) on all forms of gaming, with consultants urging it to follow New Zealand’s lead by taxing players through the gross sum bet.
Dr Don Brash and John Shewan, in their May 6 report to the Government, called on the Christie administration to abandon plans to ‘exempt’ casino gambling and all other forms of gaming - including potentially web shops - from VAT.
They argued that it was “difficult to justify” exempting gambling from VAT when the likes of food and essential services would be taxable, even if casinos were already subject to their own specific taxation.
Messrs Brash and Shewan added that levying VAT on gaming would also simplify reporting requirements for Atlantis, Baha Mar and Resorts World Bimini, as their different services would not be subject to different tax treatments.
Under the initially proposed 15 per cent VAT model, casino hotels would have been unable to ‘net of’ VAT paid on their inputs in proportion to the percentage of their business accounted for by casino gaming.
In other words, if casino gaming was 30 per cent of annual turnover, a resort would be unable to reclaim or ‘net off’ 30 per cent of the VAT paid on its inputs.
“The draft Bill exempts games of chance, gambling and lotteries from VAT, presumably on the grounds that these activities are already subject to the gaming tax,” the New Zealand consultants said of the Bahamian legislation.
“New Zealand does not exempt gambling activities from VAT. Special provisions of the New Zealand Act deem supplies to be made for VAT purposes when amounts are paid to participate in gambling.
“The practical effect of these provisions is that VAT is imposed on the gross amount bet, less prizes paid out. VAT is payable in addition to casino duty and a problem gambling levy.”
It is unclear whether the Government will adopt these recommendations, and the reaction from those in the private sector is uncertain.
Neither the hotel casinos or web shops (if legalised) will take kindly to paying more tax, especially as they already have their own specific tax structures.
The hotel/casinos, though, will likely welcome the opportunity to recover all their VAT ‘input’ payments, with the burden shifting to players rather than ‘the house’.
Web shops will likely be more unhappy with this proposal, since they have already lobbied for the Government to tax their profits rather than their customers.
The Christie administration has projected that it will earn 0.14 per cent of GDP, or around $11-$12 million, from taxing the web shops this year.
That number is relatively small, likely because only a small number will be licensed, with the taxes probably including a Licence fee; performance bond and 15 per cent levied either on gross or net winnings.
Messrs Brash and Shewan, meanwhile, concluded: “The Mission suggests that the Bahamas give consideration to bringing gambling into the VAT.
“It is difficult to justify exempting gambling if food and essential services are taxable, (one justification may be that the industry is already subject to the gaming tax, but arguments can be made that a consumption tax is justified on top of that).
“A further advantage of subjecting gambling to VAT is substantial simplification of filing of returns by hotels and other businesses involved in the supply of gambling services.”
Elsewhere, the New Zealand consultants said they had been advised that the Central Revenue Agency’s design was “90 per cent complete”.
Some 15 guidance notes had been prepared to deal with how VAT would impact certain industries, and how the transition to the new tax will be handled.
“The guidance notes are of a reasonable standard,” Messrs Brash and Shewan said. “They are brief, however, and will most likely require expansion before being released to address questions that the draft legislation is likely to prompt.
“Further, based on the New Zealand experience, considerable kudos and buy- in is likely to be achieved by having these guidance notes reviewed and commented on by one or two key players in industry groups before they are finalised.”
June 05, 2014
Value-added tax (VAT) and the founding principle of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP)
Related to country: Bahamas
‘VAT violates PLP principles’
Moss says VAT will worsen poverty
By TRAVIS CARTWRIGHT-CARROLL
Guardian Staff Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
The implementation of value-added tax (VAT) will go against the founding principle of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) to protect the poor and vulnerable in the country, Marco City MP Greg Moss suggested last night.
“I fear sometimes that we are missing one very basic point that the average guy on the street is not missing; that it does not benefit the country to replace the Bay Street Boys with the Sunshine Boys,” said Moss during the 2014/2015 Budget Debate.
“It doesn’t benefit the country to take rich white people and replace them with rich black people.
“What benefits the country is to create opportunities, which is what the PLP has always been about — education, housing, lending, everything.
“That has always been the drive of the PLP.
“But to drive people further into poverty is not the role of our party, as I see it.”
The government intends to implement VAT on January 1, 2015 at a rate of 7.5 percent. The government had originally proposed to implement the tax on July 1, 2014 at a rate of 15 percent.
Moss previously said he does not support VAT as it will hurt the lower class unfairly.
He said if the PLP implements VAT it would lose the next election.
He also said previously the government should consider alternatives to VAT and voiced support for income tax.
During his contribution last night, Moss referenced former PLP Leader Sir Lynden Pindling and his famous ‘bend or break’ speech in Grand Bahama in 1969.
Quoting Sir Lynden, Moss read: “Bahamians are nevertheless still the victims of an unbending social order, which, if it now refuses to bend, must be broken.”
Moss continued, “The thought that comes to my mind is you can easily substitute in that, “economic” to “social”, and it speaks today.
“Bahamians are nonetheless the victims of an unbending economic order, which, if it now refuses to bend, must be broken because we cannot escape the fact that we are talking about putting the greater burden on the same people.”
Moss asked how the government can reform its fiscal house “and come to the conclusion that we do business as usual and tax the poor, the working class and the middle class”.
“That is my dilemma,” he said.
“That is what I keep saying is a PLP dilemma. Our answer should be different than that.”
Moss pointed out that VAT was originally proposed under the Ingraham administration and suggested that if the PLP held different values from the FNM it would not consider it.
“That is not an endorsement of it,” he said.
“That is something that should make us stop and wonder whether it is right.
“That is something that should make us stop in our tracks and say, ‘Hold on, how is it that we have different political philosophies and we are coming to the same conclusion?’
He added, “How is it that our bases are different and we keep coming to the same conclusions?”
Moss has said that Bahamians will suffer under VAT.
Out of touch
Moss also suggested that many politicians are out of touch with the experiences of ordinary Bahamians.
“We do not feel the same pain, and this is what I experience every day,” he said.
“I say to people, look at the guy coming to you to wash your car.
“Look at the guy who is saying, ‘I do not have a job to feed my family tonight.’ He does not crave respect from his wife or his woman or his children any less than we do.
“He wants as much as we want, to be able to take money home and take care of his needs.
“Look at the woman who is working all these jobs.
“I’ve had a constituent say to me, ‘I have had to do things I am ashamed of to feed my children.’ A woman. We know what that means.”
Moss said the government should think carefully before implementing VAT, as it will affect the lives of many Bahamians.
June 05, 2014
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