Nassau Guardian Stories
March 04, 2014
Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Bradley Roberts yesterday defended Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell after Bahamas Faith Ministries International President Dr. Myles Munroe called for the prime minister to replace him over recent comments he made in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.
"If Myles feels very strongly about it, he knows what he can do; he can go form a political party and he can try and win the government and he can try to attempt what he wants to change," said Roberts when called for comment. Munroe told The Guardian that he believes Mitchell does not
"represent the majority of the convictions of the Bahamian people".
In a recent speech he gave in Trinidad and Tobago, Mitchell said his political career suffers because of his position on LGBT issues.
He also urged tolerance and spoke of the general rights of all people.
Munroe said Mitchell should keep his personal convictions to himself.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Brent Symonette said yesterday that when someone becomes a minister of the government, that person loses his or her personal opinions.
"A minister of foreign affairs should be very careful when expressing those views," he said.
But Roberts said successive governments have endorsed the position taken by Mitchell.
"I don't understand what the discontent is," he said.
"We have signed on with all the accords and so forth with regard to that matter.
"It is quite clear. Some people may have different views on the matter but they are entitled to that opinion, as Myles is.
"You can't kill someone for having a different opinion.
"As far as I am concerned it is a non issue."
In 1998, then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham lamented public vehemence to a gay cruise ship that was to dock in Nassau.
Ingraham said it is a right for people in a democratic society to expect to be respected by their government.
In 2011, then Foreign Affairs Minister Brent Symonette said that the government supported the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that affirmed rights for LGBT people.
Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs Hubert Chipman said yesterday that he has nothing against LGBT people.
Chipman previously told The Guardian the he did not think Mitchell should have shared his views on LGBT issues while on the public dime.
Mitchell retorted in the House of Assembly that when he spoke in Trinidad, he did so as the minister.
He added that before he pronounces on any policy, he checks with the government.
Chipman said, "At the end of the day I said what I had to say.
"Now he did circulate what he said in Trinidad. I just thought the forum was wrong."
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March 04, 2014
Bahamas High Commissioner to CARICOM Picewell Forbes yesterday shied away from discussing recent comments he made in the House of Assembly, where he said he had "some different views" from his boss, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.
During his contribution last Thursday, Forbes said he looks up to Mitchell and described him as a friend and mentor.
Forbes, the MP for South Andros and Mangrove Cay, said despite any discrimination levied against Mitchell, he has done well.
During a recent speech in Trinidad and Tobago, Mitchell said his career continues to suffer because of his support of LGBT rights.
Forbes said while he respects Mitchell's strong views, he too has some strong "moral absolutes".
"And I wanted us to know that at the end of the day we all have those strong views and convictions," Forbes said.
"And therefore, as you put your strong views and those that you find to be discriminatory, I also let you know that I have these very strong views..."
He continued: "The Bahamas is going to be challenged as we continue to look at and assess our constitution and there are those who would like also to see some things done and change in our constitution, and I am challenged as we continue to monitor these developments in our world today, and in some areas me and the member for Fox Hill [are] like night and day and I love and appreciate his counsel, but I also have some very strong views about some things also.
"I still strongly, as he espoused and mentioned the LGBT, I believe in the other side.
"I have my very strong views about what I consider to be the traditional, the nuclear family. I have those strong, strong views and I believe that; I believe in those very, very strongly."
There is renewed focus on Forbes' comments in light of a recent statement from Bahamas Faith Ministries International President Dr. Myles Munroe that Prime Minister Perry Christie should consider replacing Mitchell because he does not "represent the majority of the convictions of the Bahamian people".
Forbes said as the world continues to change, the core values of The Bahamas are being challenged.
He highlighted recent developments with the legalization of marijuana in certain U.S. states and the issue of capital punishment.
Forbes said the country must stand for certain things and "we must stand for those values very strongly".
"Mr. Speaker, as we talk about discrimination, and I'm going to be direct about it; someone told me the other day, 'If you had been a Roman Catholic or an Anglican or a part of the lodge...you would have been further ahead', in no uncertain terms.
"This isn't the first time this has been told to me.
"But I've decided, through it all, that at the end of the day it is important to simply be a Christian.
"I'm a very fallible man. I make mistakes every day, imperfect as I am, but I have those core values that would have been instilled in me as a young man growing up in the Church of God, and I am not going to change those values.
"I am tolerant and open-minded, and I believe God loves all; God cares and sees all, but at the end of day, I still think that there should be some things that make The Bahamas a unique place and a place where God would always want to live."
In the House of Assembly recently, Mitchell defended his position and said when he spoke in Trinidad; he did so as the foreign affairs minister.
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March 04, 2014
Judith Blair, 67, said she stared down the barrel of a handgun held by her attacker who broke into her Blue Hill Estates home, and said, "I forgive you, but you need to get out of my house."
In that moment, she said, the man shot her. The bullet grazed her left temple and she was still able to stand.
Blair said yesterday she told the two gunmen, who had ordered her and her son to lie on the floor and demanded money, to "leave in the name of Jesus".
Blair was then shot in the abdomen. The two suspects fled the home.
She said as she realized she was bleeding from her stomach, she told her 14-year-old grandson to call an ambulance.
Marvin Blair, 34, Judith's son, was also shot in the abdomen during the home invasion last month.
Asked whether she feared death as she was bleeding on the floor, Blair said she did not because her life was and has always been in God's hands.
She recalled the events of February 11, which she said have not discouraged or defeated her, but will lead her to be a spokesperson for victims.
"I looked the gunman in the eye and told him, 'I forgive you, but you need to get out of my house and go because I am not getting down'," Blair told The Nassau Guardian.
"And I ushered them out of my house as he shot me. And I saw him run up the hill and I knew that God was going to take care of me.
"And if he would forgive himself there is hope for him."
Blair, a former College of The Bahamas lecturer for decades, attended a presentation at the college's Oakes Field campus yesterday.
Despite her recent brush with death, Blair said she does not feel distressed or fearful of a future attack.
"I would like to meet the people, who came into my home to violate me, and let them know I love them, I forgive them and it is okay," she said.
"If they would forgive themselves, there is hope for them."
Blair and her son, Peter Blair, a PhD candidate in Applied Economics at Wharton University of Pennsylvania, said good things have come out of the incident.
"I looked at the outpouring of love, heard that the entire Bahamas was praying for me, the flowers, the gifts, the support and my entire family around me -- all my children came home -- and I saw nothing but good coming out of the situation," she said.
"I am in no way afraid. People ask me would I go back to my house and I say that is my house, no one is going to run me out of my house."
Peter Blair said the support from the wider community as his family recovered from the incident has been amazing.
"Just as a family it has been a very unifying experience too," he said.
"And as my brother Tim said, we are not afraid. We are not afraid. This is where we live."
Judith Blair said no amount of police patrols can heal The Bahamas, but Bahamians must show compassion to criminals, who are in need of love, hope and employment.
She said she would like to meet with Prime Minister Perry Christie to discuss her thoughts on crime.
She urged other victims of violent crime to trust God and to learn the power of forgiveness, adding that it is the only way to move on.
"We must forgive," she said. "If we do not forgive those who have wronged us we cannot move forward.
"And we cannot see what is in store for us if we focus on the bad.
"When I look at what happened to me, some say it is a tragedy, but I say no. It is an opportunity for a turnaround in this nation, and for God to be glorified."
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March 04, 2014
Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday charged that some members of the Christie administration have not supported his call for public disclosure of the tax status of parliamentarians because they are afraid of what will be revealed.
"They probably have something to hide," Minnis said.
"They are employees of the people. The employers have a right to know what your tax status is. The people must demand it from them... We are their employees.
"You can't go in there, accept the people's job and not be prepared to disclose information."
Minnis called on Prime Minister Perry Christie to release the tax status of all members of Parliament and senators last week, after it was revealed that the government's value-added tax coordinator Ishmael Lightbourne owes more than $100,000 in real property taxes.
Minnis previously said government officials must demonstrate compliance before they ask the general public to comply.
"You chose a job of transparency," Minnis said. "If you don't want to be transparent, the people may fire you. We have to be accountable to the people."
However, several MPs insisted the matter should be a private one.
When asked if MPs should make their tax status public, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said last week, "People can call for it.
"There is an argument that okay, if you are a public figure then those things should be public. There is also an argument that people still have their private affairs."
Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller agreed that the information should be kept private.
Miller said such a move would violate the right to privacy.
He admitted that he owes the government taxes.
Halkitis assured that he is fully paid up on real property taxes.
Minnis said all FNM MPs are also paid up. However, he could not say whether FNM senators are up to date on their taxes.
He encouraged those who owe the government to pay.
There is approximately $500 million outstanding in real property taxes, according to government officials.
The Nassau Guardian revealed last Thursday that Lightbourne owes $110,083 in taxes on a commercial property he owns, through a company, at Mount Royal Avenue.
The Guardian previously revealed that Lightbourne owes $7,743 in back taxes on his waterfront residence.
Those stories have triggered intense interest in the real property tax issue. It is unclear yet however, whether the interest has prompted more people to pay their outstanding bills.
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March 04, 2014
Former College of The Bahamas President Dr. Rodney Smith, who left COB in 2005 amid a plagiarism controversy, said if successful he would implement policies to ensure students and faculty are held accountable for any breach of intellectual property rights.
Smith, who is one of four candidates shortlisted for the vacant presidency post, addressed the college's stakeholders at the Harry C. Moore Library yesterday.
He said he was disappointed to have left the college amid the plagiarism controversy, but has returned and offered himself again for consideration in the national interest.
"I left feeling disappointed that even though I had taken a drastic reduction in income and returned home to serve, I was being rejected, and did not feel the support I was promised," Smith said.
"My family and I have suffered for the past nine years emotionally and financially as a result.
"I am not a plagiarist, and I have never been accused of such before or since that incident.
"I am here today, offering myself once again to be of service to my country."
In 2005, Smith apologized for not properly using another academic's material with attribution before a group of students at a COB honor's convocation.
He alleged that the Council of The College of The Bahamas forced him to resign even though it had been proven that his use of material in the speech was not a violation of intellectual property rights.
Yesterday, Smith said he delivered the speech at the event, but did not vet the remarks, which were drafted by someone else.
He said he took full responsibility for the matter because of that mistake.
Smith, who is currently the vice president for Administrative Services, Operations Analysis and Research at Hampton University, said in the last nine years he has never stopped thinking about developing education in The Bahamas.
He listed numerous academic achievements and structural developments he has been an integral part of at Hampton University and other universities and colleges, including COB in the development of the Harry C. Moore Library.
As part of his plan to generate capital "creatively", Smith pledged to establish a fundraising committee that would create partnerships with local and international private foundations.
He said there are millions of dollars available to the college, but it has not done a good enough job of asking for the money.
Smith pledged to reduce the college's reliance on government subventions from 51 percent to 35 percent; tuition and fees from 44 percent to 33 percent, and increase auxiliary, sales and services from five percent to 15 percent.
He said private funding would make up 17 percent of the college's budget.
"You see, the more money we raise the less our students have to pay," said Smith, whose comments drew several rounds of applause.
Noting that 44 percent of the college's staff, including non-faculty staff, has terminal degrees, Smith said the research base of the college must be raised.
He said if successful he would donate a portion of his salary to assist in establishing an endowment fund for the professional development of faculty and staff that would be managed by a faculty/staff board.
"This endowment will be used for faculty members to complete their doctorate degrees," he said.
"It will be used for staff members to travel abroad and to participate in professional development workshops."
Smith is the last of four shortlisted candidates to make their bid for the presidency post.
Also shortlisted are Dr. Gregory Carey, Dr. Philip Carey and Dr. Olivia Saunders.
It is unclear when the Advisory Search Committee will submit its recommendation for a new president to the College Council.
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March 04, 2014
A 21-year-old man appeared in court yesterday charged with last month's murder of Charles Pandy.
Mitchelet August, 21, was not required to enter a plea to allegations that he is responsible for Pandy's shooting death on February 12.
He was not represented by a lawyer during his arraignment before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt.
According to police, Pandy was sitting in the back of his home at Winder's Terrace, off East Street South, when a man shot him multiple times.
August has been remanded to prison.
He makes his next court appearance on May 20. At that time, the matter is expected to be transferred to the Supreme Court by a voluntary bill of indictment.
Pandy was accused of the 2011 murders of Eamon Hepburn and Carol Jean Jacques and the attempted murder of Rosita Louices.
The murder case involving Hepburn was discontinued last September after police failed to locate the main witness, Valentino Bastian.
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March 04, 2014
The trial of a man accused of killing the mother of his two children has been delayed.
Douglas Pratt, of Yamacraw Estates, was set to go to trial yesterday in the stabbing death of Royal Bank of Canada employee Shande Cartwright.
However, Senior Justice Jon Isaacs had to adjourn the matter to April 7 as he is presiding over an armed robbery trial that began last week.
Pratt initially told police that he and Cartwright were attacked by unknown assailants while at Adelaide Beach on November 22, 2010.
Police charged Pratt with Cartwright's murder after he was released from hospital where he was treated for stab wounds to the forearms and abdomen.
Pratt is on bail.
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March 04, 2014
Last year's cocaine seizures eclipsed the total amount of cocaine seized in the previous three years combined, a possible indicator that there is a rise in drug trafficking through the country and the Caribbean, according to the U.S. Department of State International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
"In 2013, OPBAT (Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos) operations in The Bahamas led to the seizure of 1.01 metric tons (MT) of cocaine; 27.92 MT of marijuana; 20,461 marijuana plants; 154 arrests, and $4,607,522 in currency," the recently released report said.
"This represented a substantial increase in seized cocaine and currency over 2012, when 236 kg and $122,333 were seized, respectively, while arrests remained relatively stable (201 in 2012) and the volume of marijuana seizures dropped significantly (162.3 MT in 2012)."
The report notes that traffickers are re-establishing routes through Bahamian waters in order to get the narcotics to the United States.
"U.S. and local law enforcement statistics indicate that, as previously predicted, drug traffickers have established new and re-established historic drug smuggling routes from drug source countries through The Bahamas to the United States as a result of sustained law enforcement pressure in Central America."
The report also said Haitians and Bahamians are largely responsible for the movement of drugs.
"Haitian and Haitian-Bahamian drug trafficking organizations -- increasingly networked between Haiti and the significant Haitian diaspora in The Bahamas -- continue to play a major role in the movement of cocaine," the report said.
"Investigation of these organizations is hindered by a lack of appropriately vetted and assigned Creole speakers within the RBPF Drug Enforcement Unit."
The report further noted that Turks and Caicos is a "vulnerable" zone.
"Investigations reveal that Bahamian drug trafficking organizations use the Turks and Caicos Islands as a transshipment point," the report said.
"Strong familial connections between the Turks and Caicos Islands and The Bahamas, coupled with direct flights between Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands, compel many Bahamian smugglers to travel to Haiti via the Turks and Caicos Islands with large amounts of cash for future smuggling ventures."
According to the report, Bahamian government surveys suggest that demand for cocaine has diminished, though a domestic market continues to exist.
"Experimental and chronic use of marijuana, including among adolescents, remains an area of concern," said the report.
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March 04, 2014
A 39-year-old man is facing drug-related charges after a significant drug bust in South Beach last Thursday.
Officers from the Drug Enforcement Unit arrested Jeremy Stuart, 39, of South Beach Drive, and five other people after they found 512 pounds of the marijuana inside a Honda CRV.
However, only Stuart appeared before Magistrate Andrew Forbes yesterday to answer charges of conspiracy to import drugs; conspiracy to possess drugs with intent to supply; drug importation and drug possession with intent to supply.
Stuart denied the allegations.
Forbes remanded him to prison because he does not have the jurisdiction to consider bail.
Forbes advised Stuart of his right to apply to the Supreme Court for bail.
Stuart's trial is set for May 2. Attorney Michael Kemp represented Stuart.
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March 04, 2014
FREEPORT - Police were yesterday investigating the death of a man whose body was found at the foot of the Casa Bahama building.
His body was discovered at about 9 a.m. in the lawn area of the abandoned complex. He was dressed in a dark blue jacket and jeans.
Police said it was too early to determine how the man died, if he fell from the building or if foul play was suspected.
But officers were seen in a room on the fifth floor dusting for fingerprints and collecting evidence.
Onlookers flocked to the area as a hearse was on standby to collect the body.
Police press officer Inspector Terecita Pinder said at the scene that police are in the preliminary stages of their investigation, and would only confirm that the man was pronounced dead at the scene.
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March 03, 2014
Thank you. I didn't write about VAT before because I couldn't figure it out. I had to go back to the beginning to tell how we got where we are...
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March 03, 2014
The government this;
the government that;
the government looking bad on VAT;
but consider this: The government's full faith and credit remains intact.
The Bahamas government has never defaulted on any of its financial obligations to local or international agencies and institutions: Not to the Inter-American Development Bank; the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund; the United Nations, or CARICOM. No Bahamian government has compromised the full faith and credit of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. I dare anybody to show otherwise. On that score, the government of The Bahamas has not failed its people.
The government floated $200 million in bonds back in 2003 and just recently the government floated another $300 million of public debt on the international market and both times the securities were oversubscribed. This is tangible evidence of the level of confidence international investors have in the full faith and credit of The Bahamas. I know for a fact that on the 2003 issue, investors were paid their premiums of $7 million in May and November of each year; the government has not defaulted on those payments to this day.
I will go further: Prime Minister Perry G. Christie has said publicly on numerous occasions that upon coming to office in May 2002, he was faced with a $125 million bill that the government had to pay - and it did. Ten years later upon his return to office, as an encore the prime minister claimed that his government was faced with a $550 million obligation to various creditors that his government had to make good on - and his government did.
But can the Bahamian people say the same regarding our tax obligations to our government?
It was recently reported in the media that Bahamians owe the government over $550 million in real property taxes ($557 million to be exact). The government offered them an amnesty period laden with incentives, but collected only $20 million of the $550 million bill. Of that $550 million tax bill, commercial properties accounted for some $341 million. I sincerely hope that nobody associated with the Coalition for Responsible Taxation is in that delinquent grouping. They cannot be in arrears if they and their anti-VAT campaign are to have any credibility with the public.
Further, arguably one of the greatest collective acts of tax fraud against the government takes place in the customs clearance facility at LPIA where literally thousands of Bahamians routinely under-report the value of taxable goods and services purchased abroad, mostly in South Florida. Bahamians do this with impunity, without remorse and are cavalier about this irresponsible, harmful and unethical practice. The narrative on NIB payment compliance is eerily similar. Too many Bahamians do not believe that they should be held accountable and they have no intention of abandoning this practice.
These are precisely the practices that helped to get us into this fiscal quandary today, yet Bahamians bark and balk at the idea of VAT as a viable instrument of tax reform. This is beyond irony or hypocrisy; this is madness.
This is akin to stabbing somebody then blaming them for bleeding. This is akin to the patients at Sandilands lecturing the doctors and nurses on how to run the facility and on how to administer the medication protocol.
Bahamian thespian Ronnie Butler said it best when he sang: "I know them long time - them people is mine" and "we gat bad ways and we bad pay".
When it comes to paying taxes too many Bahamians have bad ways and are bad pay.
But in the end, the government of The Bahamas must do what it has to do because at the end of the day and despite the deafening din of dissent, the government must protect the full faith and credit of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas because only the government will be held accountable.
- Elcott Coleby
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March 03, 2014
"Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury."
- United States Supreme Court in Gregory v. Helvering, 1935
The Bahamas government has announced that it plans to become fully engaged in tax reform and the centerpiece of that reform is the implementation of value-added tax (VAT). It has been suggested that, based on our experience with taxes, VAT is the preferred form of taxation which is being sought to increase public finances by at least $200 million per annum. The government has also suggested that it would simultaneously reduce import tariffs in consideration of its accession to the World Trade Organization. The debate has heated up and the temperature will likely increase significantly before a final decision is taken.
The government's efforts to sell its preferred VAT proposition hit a significant snag recently when the newspapers disclosed that the government's chief advocate for VAT had not paid taxes for the past 10 years on his personal property and for nearly twice as long for commercial property in a company of which he was an owner and director. This has resulted in some persons, mainly those in the opposition parties, calling for his resignation or, in the absence of such resignation, that he should be terminated.
Therefore this week we would like to Consider this... are Bahamians naturally averse to paying taxes and, in the context of a country that has grown an entire industry that boasts of being a tax haven, do we even recognize the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion?
Tax avoidance is generally the legal exploitation of the tax regime to one's own advantage to attempt to reduce the amount of tax that is payable by means that are within the law whilst making a full disclosure of the material information to the tax authorities. Tax avoidance involves using tax deductions, changing one's business structure through incorporation or establishing an offshore company in a tax haven.
By contrast, tax evasion entails efforts by individuals, companies, trusts and other entities to evade the payment of taxes by illegal means. Tax evasion usually entails taxpayers deliberately misrepresenting or concealing the true state of their affairs to the tax authorities in order to reduce their tax liability including dishonest tax reporting, such as under-declaring income, profits or gains or overstating deductions.
The U.S. experience
Although the U.S. constitution specifically limited Congress' ability to impose direct taxation, deriving its funding primarily from taxation on goods, it was in 1861 during the Civil War that the first personal income tax was established. It levied a three percent tax on all incomes over $800.
In spite of some very substantial objections, in 1913 the 16th amendment to the constitution was ratified, providing Congress the "power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration". The maximum rate at that time was seven percent on incomes over $500,000. This rate would increase during World War I to 77 percent on incomes over $1 million and reached its highest marginal rate for individuals in 1952 and 1953 when it hit 92 percent.
It was certainly understandable, given those kinds of escalating taxation rates, that U.S. taxpayers would look for tax relief to be more formally defined. To that end, it was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that delineated the parameters of legal tax avoidance. In its decision, the court affirmed: "Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes. Repeatedly, the courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands."
The Bahamian experience
The Bahamas has long marketed this jurisdiction from its earliest days as a tax haven with many tax-free exemptions. Later it became known as the more politically correct "offshore financial center" which included no personal or corporate income tax, no sales or value-added tax, no death or inheritance tax, no capital gains tax; in short, none of the regular taxes that are extracted in other jurisdictions. It seems we always held the view that taxes should be paid by others.
We seem to have always believed that we had a right to cheat the taxman, partly because we did not make the connection between the payment of taxes and the delivery of public services.
In addition, many people believe that politicians are either dishonest or corrupt and do not pay their taxes. Inspired by this belief and determined not to contribute to such nefarious undertakings, many citizens therefore do not feel compelled to pay the taxes that are owed. A classic example of this is the non-payment of customs duties, which we believe to be our inalienable right to evade.
Additionally, with the exception of National Insurance, there has also been little to no legal requirement for personal or public accountability by our citizens. Therefore, we have developed a culture where there was no appreciation or compulsion for the need to be tax compliant.
We now find ourselves at a significant national crossroads where there is an urgent need for increased government revenue and the growing realization that if we do not change course the country will be downgraded, with the attendant negative effects that will result from such an action.
An historic first
For the very first time in the nation's history, the government has invited its citizens to provide input both on the tax that should be implemented in order to increase public finances and also on the rate of such tax. This is a first for our democracy. When was the last time you heard of the political directorate inviting its citizens to comment on the type and rate of taxes that should be imposed on them?
What to do about tax evaders?
As noted, there has been considerable outcry that one of our citizens has not paid his taxes, with some suggesting that he should either resign or should be fired. For a brief moment, however, let us consider the far-reaching implications of such a reactionary suggestion.
Given our deeply ingrained national reluctance for being tax compliant, it is reasonable to assume that this situation is not unique to the individual who is currently making headlines, but is pervasive throughout our entire national psyche. Therefore, we need to seriously consider that if we start terminating the services of every public official who has succumbed to this national inclination, there just might be very few left.
Instead, this recent incident should serve as a warning to us as we proceed with reforming our tax regime. Given our national nature, we should be careful to ensure that the taxes established by this reformed regime should not be so overly burdensome and punitive that they will result in a high incidence of tax evasion. Otherwise, we will create a recipe for a high rate of failure and the proposed tax regime reform will not attain its desired goal of refinancing our nation's public finances and ultimately putting us all on a firmer footing for a flourishing future.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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March 03, 2014
The national debate that is now reverberating in the wake of revelations about the government's chief tax messenger is good for the country.
Those revelations have forced serious and valuable discussions across the country on the whole question of taxation, how prudently the government has fulfilled its obligation to collect taxes and how it, in many respects, has permitted expenditures to get out of control.
If this were the private sector, the government of The Bahamas would have long been out of business.
The public is now demanding the government better fulfill its obligation to collect taxes before demanding more.
Of course, there are many guilty parties, including some who call for a more efficient tax collection system.
According to Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis, commercial properties account for roughly $314 million of the $500 million outstanding in real property taxes.
We have made very serious revelations about the failure of Coordinator of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) Unit Ishmael Lightbourne to pay taxes in the last two-plus decades -- over $100,000 outstanding.
While there have been admonishments from several government officials to avoid "killing the messenger", no one should deny that the messenger has to be in a position to deliver the message without bias, and without questions being raised about his legitimacy to explain the pros and cons of the measure he is shepherding.
This is the first time in the post-independent Bahamas that we are engaging in a radical change in our taxation system.
All of these factors ought to have required the government to ensure that it had a program of public information and education beyond criticism.
One expects there to be a discussion on the merits of VAT, which the government says it will implement on July 1.
But one does not expect that the person seeking to convince us to swallow VAT is himself a tax dodger and has been so for a very long time.
It is now for the prime minister to decide whether Lightbourne will play a future role in the formation and implementation of national tax policy given that we now know he has not been compliant in paying his taxes.
Of course, there are many others who fall in this category. But his unique position as the VAT spokesman has many wondering about the credibility of the message itself.
The wider issue is the whole question of taxation and our lack of discipline and control over the collection of taxes.
This has also placed the spotlight on our elected and appointed public officials and their level of accountability for money entrusted to them.
On another level, it has raised questions about whether they are living up to their own obligations as tax payers.
Some have admitted that they have not always done so.
MISSING THE POINT
In government circles, there have been conflicting statements about whether the public has the right to know about the tax status of parliamentarians.
Prime Minister Perry Christie has already said he does not know if members on his side are paying real property taxes and has committed to a review.
Just as easily as the government can now check to see who is compliant, it had a duty and an obligation to ensure that the man responsible for selling the VAT message to the public was himself paying existing taxes.
While Lightbourne has said he fell on hard times after he parted ways with PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2004, there is evidence that he has not paid taxes long before then.
He has not paid taxes at all on a company incorporated in 1993.
This speaks to a culture of non tax compliance that is reflected in the approximately $500 million in outstanding property taxes.
In the wake of our reporting Christie's comment that he is not sure if members are paying their taxes, the debate on tax reform turned to the tax status of public officials.
Minister of Labour and National Insurance Shane Gibson has committed to revealing the tax status of opposition MPs.
"They are hypocrites," said Gibson, referring to members of the opposition who called for Lightbourne's termination.
He said it would "shock" the public to learn the identities of prominent Bahamians who have never paid real property taxes.
"And when I finish disclosing the details of all of the persons -- I'm not going to limit it to persons who are serving now.
"I'm going to expand it to people who previously served, who while they served didn't pay their real property tax and who subsequently caught some of the amnesty periods that we would have offered and they paid their real property tax.
"I'm going to show you the hypocrisy in this.
"They can disclose ours. I'll disclose theirs. I'm not interested in ours."
Opposition members currently serving in the House of Assembly have said they are up to date on their real property taxes. Under law, several of them do not have to pay these taxes as they are Family Island residents.
While Gibson has pledged to name and shame, Halkitis, who provided a calmer response to the controversy, spoke of a right to privacy.
"People can call for it," said Halkitis when asked if MPs should make their tax status public.
"There is an argument that okay, if you are a public figure then those things should be public. There is also an argument that people still have their private affairs.
"I think the public has the right to expect that, for example, if I'm out there encouraging people to pay that I would have made steps to pay myself. But I'm not sure you want to go towards reporting where the individual objects [to it]."
We are not sure if Gibson is serious about revealing the tax status of the other side, but it will be interesting to see what ultimately comes out of this debate that has ensued in the wake of the Lightbourne controversy.
While there is a private aspect of the life of every public figure, the public indeed has the right to know whether its elected and appointed officials are compliant in the payment of taxes.
This becomes particularly important in light of the drive to VAT, a controversial measure that has fuelled a firestorm.
In a democracy, it is expected that those who make the laws of the country would be in full compliance with those laws.
Demanding to know the tax status of our public officials is not unlike demanding that they fulfill their obligations under the Public Disclosure Act, which mandates that people in public life disclose their assets, income and liabilities.
But there is also a tendency of many of them to ignore this law, as some do in ignoring the timely payment of their taxes.
ON HARD TIMES
Amid the debate on tax compliance, several government officials have come to Lightbourne's defense.
Gibson, for instance, suggested that Lightbourne's unpaid taxes are a reflection of the financial hardships that many in the country have experienced over the past few years.
"Look at BEC, some people can't afford to pay BEC," Gibson said.
"Their lights are off home, so we are acting as though the last 10 years were these great 10 years where everybody was able to take care of their obligations."
Again, Lightbourne's tax bill extends back over two decades.
Gibson has sought to provide a justification for people who have not paid their taxes.
While there might be truth in this, this argument could threaten the government's entire push for tax reform and its efforts to convince the public to support value-added tax.
If we begin to talk about hardships as the reason why taxes are not being paid, how then do we convince people to stomach the higher cost of living that VAT will undoubtedly bring?
The failure of many Bahamians to pay their taxes goes to a much deeper issue: Many just do not believe they should pay taxes.
That Lightbourne ignored taxes on his commercial property since incorporating the company in 1993, is strong evidence to support this.
If not, we should accept that he has been on hard times for more than 20 years and should be given a pass as we sit and listen to him lecture us on why we have gotten in the financial state we are in as a country, and why we should accept VAT.
There is plenty of guilt to pass around, of course. And culture shifts are never easy.
The view many people have on taxes was expressed candidly by Minister of Agriculture V. Alfred Gray last week.
"I know my taxes are up to date and I'm asking my colleagues to do the same thing," Gray said.
He added: "Bahamian people, including me, do not like to pay taxes. If I had a chance to avoid paying taxes, I would not pay any taxes, but I am a believer in obeying the law and so I pay my taxes and I will challenge anybody to find out that I don't and I am up to date as much as I am aware."
Amidst the debate on tax reform heightened by the Lightbourne controversy, Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis called on the prime minister to disclose the tax status of members of Parliament and senators.
When pressed by us on issues related to Ishmael Lightbourne and the uproar caused by our revelations, Christie insisted these are all matters he intends to address when he speaks this week during the marathon mid-year budget debate.
There is no doubt much for him to consider, and there is a lot we are hoping to hear.
Is he keeping Lightbourne in place as the chief advocate for value-added tax?
Will he insist that he settle his accounts?
Did he know that Lightbourne owed more than $100,000 in taxes when he hired him?
If not, when did he know?
Does he intend to make public the tax status of all parliamentarians after the review he has promised?
What exactly does he intend to do to get the derailed VAT public education campaign back on track?
And how does he intend to go about restoring public confidence in the whole process?
These are all legitimate questions that have yet to be addressed by the prime minister, who is also the minister of finance.
We hope that he is serious about providing a thorough response to this controversy.
We will be waiting, as will an uneasy and skeptical public.
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March 03, 2014
Firstly, dictionary.com defines 'Input' as "To contribute (ideas, information, or suggestions) to a project, discussion, etc." So we get to the message contained in today's title 'Always Get Input'. But D. Paul I still don't fully understand exactly what you're getting at here today 'Always Get Input' for what? Well My Friend, you need to 'Always Get Input' in a whole variety of situations, relative to both your personal and professional life.
Let's commence by talking about when you're in school and starting to think about what sort of career you'd like to pursue. At that point, you need to get 'Input', that is ideas, information and suggestions, from as many sources as possible, Parents, Teachers, Guardians, Counsellors, who will make a most valuable contribution to you ultimately being able to make the correct decision, relative to what type of career you wish to pursue. Then once you've decided on a career, you'll need some more 'Input' from advisors as to what course of study you need to pursue, in order to be able to obtain the necessary qualifications for our chosen career.
When you become a young adult, you will perhaps require a whole lot of 'Input' regarding your spiritual beliefs. Perhaps as you grow up and start to think for yourself, you begin to question some of the religious beliefs, the teachings which your Parents or Guardians passed on to you. So once again 'Always Get Input' from as many sources as possible before you finally arrive at a place where you feel completely comfortable, from a spiritual perspective.
Of course, in business as we progress up the managerial ladder, we need to 'Always Get Input' before making important decisions. One of the marks of a really good leader, is to be able to take 'Input' from others, from members of The Team. Perhaps our previously formulated plans need to be slightly modified, in order for success to be attained. We should never be rigid as leaders, but instead always be very flexible and thus open to suggestions, 'Input' if you will, from time to time.
Yes indeed, there's no doubt about it whatsoever; if we wish to be successful across the board, in all areas of our life, we need to at all times be open and receptive. In other words, as today's title puts it, we need to make it a regular habit to always and at all times 'Get Input' from others, who will assist us as we travel the road of life with it's inevitable ups and downs, it's so often complex problems which need to be solved before moving on to greater things, to greener pastures.
o THINK ABOUT IT!
Visit my Website at www.dpaulreilly.com
Listen to 'Time to Think' the radio program on STAR 106.5 FM at 8:55 a.m. & 6:20 p.m.
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March 03, 2014
For the first time ever, a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I men's basketball team has gone 31-0 in its regular season, and a Bahamian is squarely in the mix.
As a matter of fact, Kadeem Coleby was a part of the ESPN 'SportsCenter' show on Sunday, as he was featured in the highlights of the Wichita State Shockers' 68-45 demolition of the Missouri State Bears on Saturday. Coleby's monster two-handed dunk was one of the Shockers' plays of the game. The 6'9" 251-pound center got the start for the Shockers in their regular season finale at home, and finished with four points and five rebounds. He averaged 2.6 and 2.8 on the season, and shot at a .458 clip from the floor.
The visiting Bears ended the regular season at 19-11, 9-9 in the conference.
Meanwhile, the nationally ranked No. 2 Shockers will now go into the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament this week at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri, as the No. 1 seed, and will most likely be a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament as well. 'Selection Sunday' is now less than two weeks away.
As for the game itself, the Shockers made sure to give the more than 10,000 fans in attendance something to cheer about, as they got out of the gates early, jumping to an 8-1 lead, and they never looked back. They went on to completely dominate the hibernating Bears, leading by as much as 29 points in the wire-to-wire win. In addition, Coleby was one of four seniors to be recognized at center court after the game, signalling the end of their regular season careers at Wichita State.
There was never a doubt as to the outcome of the game. With the win, Wichita State (31-0, 18-0) became the first NCAA Division I team to finish a regular season undefeated since a Jameer Nelson Saint Joseph's squad in 2003-04, winning their games by an average of 15.45 points this year. Wichita State finished the regular season with a 17-0 home record at Charles Koch Arena, marking just the third time a Shockers men's basketball team finished with an undefeated home record since the arena opened in 1955-56.
Also, the Shockers became the first unbeaten MVC team since Bradley went 16-0 in 1985-86, and just the second MVC team to wrap up a conference slate 18-0. Oklahoma was the first in the 1927-28 season.
Speaking of the Sooners, they blasted No. 24 ranked Texas on Saturday, 77-65. Bahamian Buddy Hield hit four three-pointers and scored 17 points for the Oklahoma Sooners (21-8, 10-6), as they gained ground in the race for second place in the Big 12. Hield also pulled down eight rebounds for the Sooners.
Also this past weekend, Danrad Knowles and L.J. Rose were huge for the Houston Cougars in their 89-79 road win over the Temple Owls.
Knowles shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor, including one from behind the three-point arc, and was 4-for-4 from the charity stripe, to finish with 19 points for the Cougars in three rebounds in 30 minutes of play. Rose missed just one shot, going 3-for-4 with a three pointer as well. He finished with seven points, six assists and four rebounds in 25 minutes of play. Both Knowles and Rose started for the Cougars.
Also, Zane Knowles and the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders outmatched the Houston Baptist Huskies, 65-45, on Saturday night. Zane provided a huge physical presence in the paint for the Islanders.
He scored two points and pulled down a whopping 17 rebounds for the Islanders in 28 minutes of play.
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March 03, 2014
As expected, the New Providence Volleyball Association (NPVA) men's championship lived up to its billing.
With the series tied 2-2, both teams came into the D.W. Davis Gymnasium focused and ready to play on Friday night. In the end, the three-time defending champion Scotiabank Defenders proved to be too much for the Technicians. They won the match in four sets, to claim their fourth consecutive NPVA men's title.
After dropping the first set, 26-24, the Defenders were not going to be denied as they won the next three. They prevailed, 24-26, 25-22, 25-21 and 25-16, in the heated battle on Friday night.
In the first set, the Techs came out fired up. They made spectacular plays and defended every ball the Defenders would put over the net. Led by aggressive play from Renaldo Knowles, the Techs pulled off a close first set, and looked like they were going to stop Scotiabank from winning a fourth straight title.
However, the tide turned in the second set. The Defenders came out and showed why they are defending champs. They locked down on the Techs and started to put it together.
Shedrick Forbes and Jamaal Ferguson provided their team with a much-needed spark. With ferocious spikes and good blocking, the Defenders won the second set to even the match at a set apiece.
The third set would be critical, and both teams knew it. The lead would go back and forth without either team pulling away. At the end of the third set, the Defenders found a way to pull it out, and took a two-sets-to-one lead in the match, putting themselves just one set away from another title.
It was do-or-die for the Techs in the fourth set, and they came out playing like it. The Techs built up a small lead in the beginning of the fourth, but the Defenders remained within striking distance. Midway through the set, Scotiabank made a run, and the Techs didn't respond.
Play after play, the Defenders forced the Technicians to make mistakes and then capitalized on them, to seize the momentum. Scotiabank surged ahead, and then pulled away, winning the final set, 25-16.
Defenders' assistant coach Barry Nairn said he was impressed with the way the team rebounded from the previous game, a match they lost in four sets.
"Last game we were a bit flat. It's a veteran team but sometimes that happens," said Nairn. "I told the guys there is no tomorrow and we have to go out there and play hard because this is it right here."
The Defenders are certainly the class of the league, as they have now won four straight, and six NPVA men's titles in the past seven years. Ironically, the last team to win four straight NPVA men's titles was the Technicians, from 2001-04.
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March 03, 2014
The New Providence Basketball Association (NPBA) had an action packed Saturday night.
The Commonwealth Bank Giants, perennial champions in the league, matched up against the Y'Care Wreckers. It was a close contest in the beginning, but a big second half allowed the Giants to claim a 98-65 win over the Wreckers to remain perfect on the season. They improved to a 16-0 win/loss record on the season.
In the first quarter, the Wreckers came out hot. They found their stroke early as they converted on a number of mid-range jumpers. They moved the ball well, which set up a lot of open looks for the Wreckers. This allowed them to carry a 23-21 lead into the second quarter.
At the start of the second, the Giants began to find their rhythm. They started to exploit the size advantage they had over the Wreckers, scoring on short hooks and lay-ups. However, the Wreckers remained hot from mid-range throughout the second quarter and carried a 42-41 lead into the half.
In the third quarter, the Giants began to turn up the heat. They applied more defensive pressure. They defended the mid-range jumpers much better, forcing the Wreckers to try their hand from behind the three-point arc where they experienced little success. The Wreckers went just 4-for-30 from long distance on the evening.
The Giants forced them to commit turnovers and converted those turnovers into fast break points. Also, unlike the Wreckers, they found their stroke from beyond the three-point arc in the third quarter. The Giants' Ricardo Pierre connected on four three pointers in the third quarter, as they surged ahead and took a double-digit lead into the fourth.
The game was starting to slip away from the Wreckers. They looked defeated and came out in the fourth with very little energy. The Giants began getting into the lane without much resistance. They drove in and converted on just about everything they put up. The game turned into a blowout down the stretch as the Giants dominated the fourth quarter, 34-11.
The Giants were led by Pierre who had a game-high 22 points. Michael Bain added 19 points and four rebounds, and Jackson Jacobs dropped in 16 points. Daniel Bullard had a team-high 18 points for the Wreckers in their losing effort. Renaldo Baillou had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Kevin Armstrong contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Giants' Head Coach Perry Thompson said that they were a bit rusty in the beginning, but the team managed to find its rhythm at the end.
"Our first game after the all-star break we won by default, so this is our first real game back," said Thompson. "We came out flat, and seemed like we weren't playing with any energy. I just told the guys let's step it up and they responded."
The Giants are looking to reclaim their NPBA title after losing it to the MailBoat Cybots last year. Prior to that, the Giants had won three straight NPBA titles, and four of the past five.
In the other scheduled game on Saturday night, The Real Deal Shockers defeated the College of The Bahamas (COB) Caribs by default.
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March 03, 2014
The debate is raging. Since the announcement by Bahamas Basketball Federation (BBF) President Charlie 'Softly' Robins, in January, that the process had been started to select the '40 Greatest' players from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the topic has gotten hot.
In New Providence, the major plank for Bahamian basketball since its inception, many discussions are taking place. The '40 Greatest' idea has given much more significance to the federation which has been upstaged heavily in recent years by high school and independent tournaments.
Grand Bahama did not become a noted basketball island until during the 1970s. The interest there, nevertheless, is just as heavy as it is in the capital island. I was in West End recently, and saw James 'Goon' Culmer, one of the great Grand Bahamian players. He is excited.
Earlier, when the news of the '40 Greatest' project began to spread, Denzal 'Inch McGuire' Swain contacted me and emphasized the intent of Grand Bahama to not be left out" of the mix. Swain took the time to network with others from the Grand Bahamian basketball fraternity, and submitted a large list to the BBF for consideration.
His list included several players from Abaco. The resurfacing of the BBF because of the '40 Greatest' project has led to Swain expanding his effort. A former top basketball statistician, Swain, in conjunction with several of his fraternity colleagues who are feeling the spirit, has put together the '40 Greatest' of Grand Bahama.
Here's the list: 1. Dereck 'Bookie' Nesbitt, 2. Basil 'The Kid' Sands, 3. Charles 'Softly' Robins, 4. Stanley 'Wizard' Williams, 5. James 'Goon' Culmer, 6. David 'Stretch' Morley, 7. Bradley 'Shy' Evans, 8. Humphrey 'Cripples' Smith, 9. Philip Jones, 10. Mario 'Ice' Green, 11. Anthony 'Dunkin' Hines, 12. Ritchie 'Coupier' Adderley, 13. Kenneth 'Sir K' Smith, 14. Dereck 'Fire' Cummings, 15. Carter 'Sky Scraper' Lightbourne, 16. Ben 'Smooth' Russell, 17. Gary 'Ragon' McIntosh, 18. Keith '7 Footer' Mullings, 19. Jerry 'Super J' Johnson, 20. Julius 'Doc' Lewis, 21. Scott 'Scottie' Forbes, 22. Leon 'Lukie' Stuart, 23. Oral 'Big O' Jones, 24. Dirk 'DT' Tynes, 25. Steven 'Visine' Rolle, 26. Milton Russell, 27. Jeff 'Cheese' Pinder, 28. Hilton 'B-Bay' Davis, 29. Paul 'Pablo' Rose, 30. Simon 'Hondo' Lewis, 31. Austin 'AG' Grant, 32. Drexel 'Sexy' Porter, 33. Clifton
Martin, 34. Keithlyn 'Smooth' Russell, 35. Dion 'Redman' Pinder, 36. Gilbert 'Showboat' Rolle, 37. George Saunders, 38. Philip Williams, 39. Anton 'Backboard' McKenzie 40. Fletcher Lewis.
Those are the greats from Grand Bahama, according to Swain and company. Now, we await the BBF's process, the countdown to the '40 Greatest' in history.
The excitement grows!
(To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at email@example.com)
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