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Bahamas Development Bank Holds One-Day Leadership Forum To Assess Funding And Support For Small Businesses
As a part of the Bahamas Development Bank’s (BDB) and the Ministry of Finance’s on going efforts to assess the best options and models to effectively finance, promote, and sustain the development of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the country, the BDB recently hosted a one-day Leadership Forum on small business development at the British Colonial Hilton on February 3, 2011.
Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) Chairman Gowon Bowe said yesterday that the sale of the British Colonial Hilton illustrates the country's need for a national development plan (NDP). Such a plan, he said, would increase transparency and help the country better govern its concessions regime.
Although Bowe told Guardian Business that the announcement was a "positive" given the deal's lengthy gestation, he stressed that establishing an NDP would provide a "position of strength" in subsequent sales by minimizing concessions.
Guardian Business revealed last week that the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) purchased the British Colonial Hilton after 20 months of negotiations. Hilton will continue managing the hotel following the sale.
"Our overall view is that this needs to tie into a national development plan, which is in the works. We've had numerous situations where concessions and other elements to get the deal done [are] sometimes done in a vacuum.
"We need as quickly as possible to develop an NDP to determine what our investment profiles and criteria will be in terms of evaluating the quality of an investment, the quality of an investor coming in and what concessions we can reasonably give up," said Bowe.
He cited previous corporate tax concessions with some of the country's largest hotels as areas where an NDP would prove helpful.
The BCCEC has previously pledged support to Inter-American Development Bank consultants working with the government to formulate an NDP, and has contributed to its development.
Bowe stated that the country needs a more comprehensive and transparent negotiating strategy regarding foreign direct investment (FDI), adding that the NDP needs to be completed "as expeditiously as possible".
"The better information and plan that we have, the [more able] we are to negotiate from a position of strength as opposed to going into each negotiation on a piecemeal basis as and when they come along.
"So it's more important that we get an overall strategy, particularly considering that tourism is such a heavy component in our GDP. We need to be very clear that we are maximizing the revenues from that," said Bowe. Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle has suggested recently that the government is anxious to finalize a plan to create a firm foundation for future contracts.
The sale of the British Colonial Hilton included six acres of undeveloped land adjacent to the hotel, which CSCEC and Prime Minister Perry Christie confirmed would be used to develop another hotel.
CSCEC subsidiary China Construction America (CCA) is the Chinese state-owned company currently building the $3.5 billion Baha Mar. CCA additionally has a $150 million stake in the development.
Most people don't wait until they are stranded by the roadside to consider taking their car in for a tune-up.
Yet when it comes to information technology (IT) - the engine of any modern business - it seems common sense is far less common, according to a leading provider of hardware, software and IT services.
Though much neglected, maintenance is a vitally important aspect of any healthy IT system, said Managing Director of Armstrong Technology Consultants Sabrina Knowles.
Most businesses hesitate, she said, because of the long-established belief that investing in technology has to be expensive. Launched in 2007, Armstrong set out to overturn this perception, and over the past seven years has earned a reputation for offering top products and services at surprisingly affordable prices.
Using a creative yet structured model to craft IT solutions tailored to each client, the company offers everything from regular infrastructural support to advanced telephony systems and security and systems management.
"We consult with a business to find out what they are trying to accomplish and apply a formula designed to find the best option at the best possible price," said Knowles. "At the same time, every business is unique, so our approach must be formulated, but flexible."
One of the most common concerns is Disaster Recovery (DR), said Knowles.
"One of the DR services we provide is known as a Cloud Solution. It takes the data offsite, to another location, so even if the building burns to the ground, information is secure and protected," she said.
The company has recently branched out, adding a retail location at 48 Madeira Street. Just over a year on, business is booming - far exceeding expectations and driving the hiring of additional staff.
"By combining cutting-edge gadgets and hardware with our expertise in information technology, we are creating a business that truly is a benefit to our customers," said Knowles. "We cater to everyone from consumers looking for the latest tablet or television to businesses in need of networking and corporate support packages."
The 2,300-square-foot retail area is a hands-on space where customers can experience how various cutting-edge devices and services will make it easier for them to work and play.
"We're looking forward to continually bringing the latest technologies to consumers in a unique environment where they can explore how products and services fit together across business, entertainment, travel, music and more," Knowles said.
And while the retail business is thriving, the toughest challenge remains educating businesses about the importance of ongoing maintenance for IT equipment.
"What we find is the same business that maintains a fleet of trucks or its executive's cars with great care waits until a critical computer, server or other equipment fails to perform as expected and then they call for urgent service," said Knowles. "Routine maintenance for IT equipment results in smoother operations and far fewer interruptions."
Eligible businesses will be allowed to customize their benefits under the government’s Road Work Compensation Programme, according to Ministry of Finance executive Simon Wilson.
Eligible businesses will be allowed to customize their benefits under the government's Road Work Compensation Programme, according to Ministry of Finance executive Simon Wilson.
Studies commissioned by the government and the Coalition for Responsible Taxation have reached different conclusions about which tax would be most appropriate as the centerpiece of tax reform for The Bahamas, Guardian Business has learned, with U.S. economists pointing to value-added tax (VAT), while global forecasting and quantitative analysis firm Oxford Economics has highlighted payroll tax as the ideal way forward.
The government has been advised by its U.S.-based consultants, who were commissioned earlier this year to produce a report on VAT and possible alternatives, that value-added tax is the "best option" for The Bahamas when it comes to its ability to impact "growth and development" in the country.
"What their study says is, as have most of the vast majority of studies by economists and financial people, is that if you were to rank taxes based on what is most efficient and what leads to the growth and development of an economy, VAT ranks second only to property taxes," said Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis. "Things like payroll tax and corporate income taxes rank further down in terms of efficiency and fairness on any measure.
"And so that is what they have advised us, which reiterates the report of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and numerous other reports that we have received," said Halkitis.
Speaking to the outcome of that study yesterday at a press conference to announce efforts to modernize the Customs Department, Halkitis said it is now only "left for us to settle what the rate is, what the timing is, and as well to make sure that people are ready for it and that speaks to public education which you will see accelerated when we make those final decisions".
Halkitis said that a final decision on when VAT will be implemented will be publicized "very shortly". Another report provided to the government, that of the New Zealand consultants, pointed to a January or April 2015 implementation date, and Halkitis has previously stated that this is something the government is considering.
The results of the U.S. consultants' study have been received by the government recently, as has a draft summary of the results from the coalition's study conducted by U.K.-based consultants Oxford Economics. Halkitis would only say yesterday that he did not wish to pre-empt the study, as the government has committed to not releasing the details until the coalition has a chance to publish its final report.
"I want to respect their wishes and leave it up to them to bring it into the public domain," said Halkitis.
However, Guardian Business has learned from sources close to the matter that the coalition study has recommended that a payroll tax would be the most preferable form of tax for the country, with the least negative impact on growth and costs to business.
Speaking after the press conference, Halkitis suggested that the government believes it has compromised in its stance on VAT, as requested.
"If you look at the advertisement (the Coalition for Responsible Taxation's slogan) it says, 'demand a delay'; okay, well you got it. You got a delay. We think that is a concession. It said 'demand alternatives'; well we've studied the alternatives and the prime minister has, I wouldn't say allowed, but facilitated in terms of having the Ministry of Finance provide them with all the information they asked for, adjusting our timetable to accommodate their study to look at alternatives."
He said the government is now going to have its U.S. consultant review and make comment on the findings and assumptions in the coalition's study before their final study is released, in order to gain an independent review of the coalition's position.
Halkitis said that the multitude of meetings, discussions and the decision to wait for the coalition's report has been part of a process of "negotiation, conciliation, buy-in and harmony" pursued by the government with respect to tax reform.
"We think we can come to a position, we're confident we can come to a position where not everyone may be happy, but everyone recognizes that of the options available to the government when we talk about taking control of the finances of the government, this is the best one."
The mockery of our laws and of our cultural norms and traditions that fill the daily news has forced me to abandon my self-imposed halt on commentary in the media. I, like another of your writers, had thought it best to ask that someone waken me when our country was finally free of the cabal now masquerading as a government.
The budget presentation and the lame attempts to defend it have disturbed my sleep.
In the real world, businesses are continuing to downsize and lay off workers; unemployment is very high and rising, and the number of children living in poverty is increasing.
Violent crime and crime against property are out of control.
Police reservists and a number of other persons engaged in the public sector are being paid late or not at all.
Our city streets, parks and open green spaces are overgrown and dirty.
Garbage collection is spotty.
The Road Traffic Department ran out of supplies for the issuance of drivers' licenses, leaving drivers with only receipts as proof that renewals have been applied for and paid. Now the Passport Office has run out of supplies, creating a backlog in the issuance of passports.
Following an inexplicable delay in completing the new terminal at the Marsh Harbour International Airport, it has been opened with the minister of transport claiming supposed problems with its design.
Only recently, restroom facilities at Montagu Beach Park have been completed - two years since the general election, at which time they were only weeks away from completion.
Essential medications are frequently exhausted or in short supply at our public hospitals and clinics.
Bahamians are being lined-up on trolleys in corridors in the emergency room section of the Princess Margaret Hospital while the opening of the completed state of the art, new Critical Care Unit continues to be delayed. Claims are that the delay is the result of squabbling over who will benefit from the purchase of $35 million in medical equipment - equipment that has already been put out to bid and a winning bidder declared.
The winning supplier, the American conglomerate General Electric, may have already conveyed its concerns to the United States government over any pressure it is receiving to deliver the medical equipment through a Bahamian company.
And then we are told that the government will not give an account of the real projected cost for the introduction of its long promised National Health Insurance Plan until after it is in place. In other words, they have an open checkbook to spend as they see fit on consultants and the like, presumably at a rate to rival monies already spent by this government on advisors and consultants on gaming and on tax reform.
The government is not paying essential bills. Some vendors, due to late and non-payment by some government agencies, are reluctant to continue extending credit to government departments, like the police force, for parts and service of their vehicles.
Still, the government has refused to account for the expenditure of budgeted and borrowed millions of dollars: for $10 million budgeted but not used for the failed mortgage relief program, for $10 million budgeted but not accounted for in the implementation of the Charter for Governance, for the $10 million allocated to Urban Renewal 2.0 and for $50-plus million borrowed but not paid to Baha Mar in respect of the government's share of the cost for the construction of the diverted West Bay Street.
All of these millions were budgeted. Many of these millions were borrowed for specific purposes. All of these millions have presumably been spent, but government ministers tell us that they must borrow more to pay some of these same bills, which they failed to make provisions for in their budgeting process!
The government has also announced that it will ignore the public will expressed in an expensive "non-referendum" and regulate and hence legalize retroactively the illegal numbers business.
In the last budget the government introduced a new customs processing fee that increased the cost of living across the board. Now, it has confirmed the introduction of a new tax, VAT, at 7.5 percent - with what sounds like a promise of its increase (likely to the originally proposed 15 percent) in the next budget cycle.
In the fairy tale land in which this PLP government lives, Cabinet ministers, led by the prime minister and the roaming Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell, continue to travel internationally at any and every opportunity - always first class and always with a delegation of hangers-on but never accounting for monies being spent from the public purse.
And they continue their support for ridiculous recommendations to increase the salary and allowances paid to part-time members of Parliament and a gussiemae Cabinet of 14 portfolio ministers, five ministers of state, four parliamentary secretaries and two MPs appointed to serve as salaried public sector corporations.
In that same PLP dream land we are asked to find it acceptable for the government's tax advisor to be a tax cheat, for the MP chairman of The Bahamas Electricity Corporation to be $200,000 in debt to the corporation which he heads and for the foreign head of the much heralded BAMSI Agricultural Institute in Andros not to be as academically qualified as one might expect.
They would also have us believe that extensive marine dredging to create a turning basin and berth for a mega cruise ship in the heart of our most prized, pristine game fishing capital - Bimini - will not endanger the sustainability of eco-friendly tourism!
I fully understand the bafflement expressed by Appellant Court Justice Conteh and that of the Privy Council on the process or non-process involved in the grant of permits for the dredging.
But that is only par for the course. In that same delusional land in which this PLP government would have us live, we are supposed to believe that the return of Leon Williams as the CEO of BTC was not the result of government interference. Lord have mercy on The Bahamas!
- Kirkland Turner
The chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) has declared that Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis is "dead wrong" for implying that the contracting of KPMG (Bahamas) as consultants in the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) reform process represents genuine private sector involvement in the decision-making process.
Robert Myers, chairman of the BCCEC, also accused the government and its consultants of defending a status quo that has led the country to the point of seeing its major power provider "collapse under its own debt and inefficiencies".
"If our leadership and consultants at every level continue to dance around the matter while protecting those that have led us to this place then the consumer, public and economy will continue to suffer.
"We are not the first country to have arrived at this place and if we wish to reduce power costs, improve the quality of power and the consistency with which it is provided, then we need to rid ourselves of what has gotten us to this point," said Myers.
He made the comments after Davis revealed to Guardian Business this week that the government is considering a "Nassau Airport Development company-style" public-private partnership model for the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), similar to the Airport Authority.
The entity, which Davis suggested is under consideration by the government, would
allow the government to retain ownership while possibly involving representatives from a variety of the companies currently bidding in the BEC request for proposal (RFP). The deputy prime minister insisted that the proposed authority was only one of "several options" presented to the government "by persons who participated in the process".
KPMG Head of Advisory for The Bahamas Simon Townend last week claimed that "no decision had been reached on this matter".
Davis has stated that KPMG's involvement in the process is evidence of the government involving the private sector in the decision-making process, as has been requested by the BCCEC.
However, Myers has taken issue with claims from Davis that KPMG's involvement could substitute for that of the private sector, which the BCCEC has argued would bring greater transparency and benefits for the public to the BEC contract decision.
He stated: "KPMG is a hired gun... KPMG do not represent the thoughts and feelings of the private sector."
The government issued the BEC RFP in August 2013, seeking two companies that would sign separate contracts to handle BEC's generation, transmission and distribution (T&D) functions.
Davis again defended the government's continued delays in reaching a decision on the future of BEC this week, arguing that the government would continue taking its time to ensure that it received "the best results for the Bahamian people".
Despite this, Myers was adamant that the government should reach a decision in the near future, noting that the government already had several bidders before it.
"Several qualified providers have put forth well-founded and credible solutions to the BEC mess... Unfortunately, politics have gotten in the way of service in our monopolistic utilities," stated Myers.
"Within a third party agreement for generation and T&D the government and the Bahamian people could easily have the right to participation, and it would likely behoove the selected contractor/provider to be able to issue local bonds to raise some of the capital required.... Making this happen immediately is not an option; it's a national priority.
"We don't need further deliberation and delay, we need transparency, accountability and the right decisions to be made now. We urge the Government to collaborate with the private sector and citizens of our nation and to work together to make positive changes that will put our country back on the track to success."
The Small and Medium Size Enterprises Development Bill is currently being reviewed by the attorney general's office and is expected before Parliament early next year, Guardian Business can confirm.
Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle told Guardian Business that to date most of the consultation with key stakeholders has been completed.
"I'm looking to ensure that what we have analyzed and committed to with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (SMEDA) is consistent with the overall national economic development plan," he said.
In fact, he estimates the legislation could be going to Parliament "any day now".
"It is now before the attorney general's office and then from there, it's Parliament. We have finished most of the consultation, so the SMEDA legislation should be going to Parliament soon," according to Rolle.
Back in August, EPS Consultants, a local consultancy firm, began conducting a "needs analysis" survey on 800 small and medium-sized businesses throughout the country, as the government seeks to develop and introduce a SMEDA sometime next year. According to Donald Demeritte, the principal of EPS Consultants, the four-week process sought to "gather specific data from a representative sample of small and medium businesses."
"This information is crucial for the development of the foundational support for SMEDA, as it speaks to and seeks to encapsulate what businesses view as essential and practical for their viability and sustainability," Demeritte said.
The data gathering exercise was conducted on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Harbour Island, Exuma and Long Island.
Officials from the Bahamas Development Bank (BDB), the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) and the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund also conducted a six-week consultation process on SME development that ended in April.
Under the draft legislation, the initial amount of capital required in year one to launch SMEDA would be determined on a needs basis.
Of particular interest to investors will be the option to approve the issuance of shares in SMEDA to other institutions or individuals.
Business advisory support services needed for SMEs will also be provided under SMEDA.
The government is expected to inject $25 million of capital for the creation of SMEDA.
U.S. economists hired by the government to provide a final study on value-added tax (VAT) have advised that it should implement a "fiscal rule" legislating a maximum debt-to-GDP ratio as part of its fiscal reforms, but the prime minister has rejected this advice.
Providing the most detailed insight thus far into the findings of the study on VAT undertaken by Compass Lexecon, a group of U.S. fiscal experts, Christie suggested that while the government accepted the economists' position on VAT, it found the recommendations that the government introduce "a new, permanent so-called fiscal rule to enhance the sustainability of our fiscal plan and to strengthen the government's credibility" less appealing.
The prime minister said that he felt such a fiscal rule is not the best approach to addressing the government's debt levels.
The legislation of a fiscal rule has been recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in more recent times, as the best way forward in achieving successful fiscal consolidation in The Bahamas - that is, debt reduction. The Coalition for Responsible Taxation, representing the Bahamian private sector in the VAT debate, has also expressed its support for such a rule, given continuous slippage in the government's plans to reduce expenditure and debt.
Fiscal rules entail legislated and long-term numerical limits on budgetary aggregates pertaining to debts, deficits, expenditures and revenues.
Referring to the consultants' recommendation, Christie said: "Under such a fiscal rule, we would set two targets: one, a maximum target for the debt-to-GDP ratio and two, a target for the minimum annual reduction in that ratio, which would be waivable under emergency circumstances such as economic downturns and natural disasters.
"The key point in this recommendation is that, should we fail to meet our fiscal debt target, the VAT rate would automatically be increased by law.
Christie said that while a rule of this kind, legislating fiscal consolidation, can be seen to have "theoretical appeal", it is "lacking from a practical policymaking point of view".
He said the government needs an approach to reducing the debt that can be adjusted based on circumstances that may arise.
"I firmly believe that both success on the fiscal front and solid credibility rest on the transparency of our plans and the concrete results of our actions. Over the last two years, we have committed ourselves to a detailed medium-term fiscal plan and we have stayed the course on this plan. The virtue that we see in this plan is that it is balanced and adaptable to circumstances, allowing for adjustments not only on the revenue side of the ledger, but also in respect of government spending, whether recurrent or capital. As such, legislating automatic increases in the VAT rate, as the sole avenue for staying on track would not be appropriate nor desirable," said the prime minister.
While the Coalition for Responsible Taxation may be disappointed by Christie's decision to take this view on fiscal rules, one area which the group could feel more positive about is his comments with respect to another element of fiscal consolidation that is critical in their view: improvements in the budgeting process.
Christie said that the government recognizes the benefits of adopting internationally-recognized and accepted accounting principles for the public finances and is "making efforts to implement the IMF Government Finance Statistics (or GFS) framework, including accrual rather than cash accounting and the proper accounting for government assets".
Gowon Bowe, co-chair of the coalition, has repeatedly called for the government to move toward an accrual-based accounting system, in order to ensure a better representation of the government's fiscal position (at any given time) than the current cash-based system, and therefore, a better handle on spending and revenue.
New budgeting approach
Noting the focus that has been placed by the private sector on more "transparent and comprehensive budgeting", Christie said the government is making strides toward the introduction of program-based budgeting in government, with the assistance of the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC).
"This will allow us to have a much better idea of the resources dedicated to specific areas and the results that are being achieved. This, in turn, will permit government to better determine how and where resources should be allocated," said the prime minister.
The study found VAT "by far the superior new tax policy instrument for The Bahamas".
During the 2014/2015 Budget Communication in parliament, Christie revealed that the government intends to implement VAT at a flat rate of 7.5 percent on January 1, 2015. No "wide scale reductions" in duty will accompany the implementation, but they may be considered at a later date; tax exemptions will be "much fewer" than initially proposed, he added.
VAT findings 'consistent' with other studies
Compass Lexecon consultants, among whom is a former key member of U.S. President Bill Clinton's National Economic Council, noted Christie, told the government that its study on the matter showed that VAT "provides the best combination of revenue generation, enforceability, efficiency, fairness and compatibility with economic growth".
The prime minister added: "On the latter point this study is consistent with the vast international literature that ranks various instruments in respect to their so-called 'friendliness' to growth, with VAT being a much better choice than personal and corporate income taxes and payroll taxes.
"The study also suggests that a VAT is efficient at taxing wealth as it is consumed while a payroll tax does not even tax wealth. As well, it argues that a payroll tax is more susceptible to avoidance and evasion than a VAT, especially by those with higher levels of income. Business owners, for example, can characterize their own wages as business profits and therefore avoid the payroll tax altogether.
"However, in light of the current state of the economy, the study recommends a VAT rate below 15 percent, in the range of 5 to 10 percent in combination with other fiscal reforms to meet the government's fiscal targets," said Christie.