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Fiscal reform and revisions to our taxation system are arguably the hottest topics in The Bahamas at the moment. The commentators on this very important issue have been diverse based on their expertise, professional background, political affiliations and objectives. While the variety of inputs has enriched the general discourse and invigorated the national debate among the populace, it has also contributed to the level of misinformation and frenzy on an issue that is so critical to the future of our country.
In the aftermath of the release of the government's white paper and draft legislation on tax reform, the discussion on the proposed value-added tax (VAT) has intensified with various stakeholders and groups expressing their views on the actions that should be taken to correct our financial imbalance. The suggestions have been generally constructive and have included proposals on the revenue and expenditure side. In this piece of the series, we briefly consider the role of consumption in the tax debate.
Decisions on government expenditure
There appears to be a general consensus that we arrived in this critical financial state due to practices by successive governments that were not always prudent over the years. In simple terms, we perpetuated the habit of spending more than we were earning. The imbalance created by this pattern has not been confined to The Bahamas and continues to impact countries across the globe as political leaders grapple with making the tough, albeit right, decisions for fear of backlash from the electorate at election time.
While it seems quite easy to suggest drastic cuts in government spending, it is not as straightforward when considered against the backdrop of the role of public expenditure in spurring economic growth. In the Bahamian context, the revelation that about 70 percent of salaries of public servants are deducted to pay for various goods and services - that is, to service consumer loans - adds to the complexity of this matter. This also highlights the impact that an irrational and/or ill-timed reduction of staff within the public service would have on our economy. The importance of caution in this instance does not eliminate the need for more efficiency and productivity within the public service.
The link to private consumption
Over the years, a number of local economists and financial analysts have decried the lack of a culture of savings and investment by Bahamians. It has been reported that about 95 percent of Bahamian dollar personal savings accounts have a balance of less than $10,000. Of particular note is the fact that statistics suggest that the average balance is less than $1,000. When considered in conjunction with the percentage of salaries earmarked for financing consumer loans as highlighted above, the overall picture raises serious concerns.
While we do not have the corresponding figure for the entire Bahamian workforce to include the private sector, the government remains the number one employer in The Bahamas and it is apparent that a debt crisis spurred by consuming more than we earn may not be farfetched.
The importance of consumption within any economy cannot be emphasized enough primarily due to the correlation between consumer spending, economic activity, business turnover, employment and economic growth. However, when consumer spending takes place on a large scale by individuals without the requisite financial wherewithal and is financed by loans obtained by persons who do not have the capacity to pay, the consequences can be devastating in the long run. The establishment of a credit bureau and prudent lending practices should assist in addressing this issue. However, the culture of spending more than we earn or can afford is not sustainable and will require a paradigm shift.
Taxes and discretionary income
One of the main points that have been raised in the tax reform debate has been the regressive nature of our existing tax system and the proposed VAT. There has been considerable debate on the need for a tax system that takes into consideration the earnings and purchasing power of persons in the allocation of the tax burden. The discourse has featured consistent reference to disposable and discretionary income of the populace. It is noteworthy to state that while disposable income generally refers to income after taxes, discretionary income is the amount of the disposable income left after deduction of other expenses such as utility bills and further expenses necessary to maintain a certain standard of living.
The opponents of VAT have cited income tax and payroll tax as viable alternatives while rightly stating that there is hardly any country with a consumption or sales tax system that does not also have a form of progressive tax such as income tax. Payroll taxes are levied on the payroll of employers and are paid either from employees' wages or employers' funds based on the wages paid. It has been stated that the existing infrastructure for the remittance of national insurance payments and business license fees provide for the easy implementation of an income or payroll tax system.
The counterargument on the inappropriate nature of income tax focuses on the fact that it discourages hard work, investments and individual progression. It has also been postulated that income tax in the current environment of sluggish economic growth and high unemployment will not broaden the tax base enough to generate the amount of revenue required to address our financial situation. This is not unconnected to the inability of income tax to capture some residents of The Bahamas as well as individuals outside of the organized formal economy who consume both goods and services within this nation.
Few questions to consider
There is no doubt that VAT in its strict sense is a regressive form of taxation, albeit as proposed it is expected to be more progressive than some of the existing taxes we have. Vital questions abound in this tax debate. In light of the demands on government, how much more can we tax our people? How much mandatory non-discretionary tax can Bahamians afford to pay since we have to raise additional revenue? VAT is a consumption tax which is paid by the final consumer; hence, the discretionary element of the VAT gives the taxpayer some control as to when (in terms of goods and services procured) and how much tax they pay (based on their level of consumption). Could this be useful in addressing our macro- and micro-debt crisis without hurting the economy? With the current rate of unemployment and underemployment, can the average worker afford more compulsory deductions from their wages? If businesses are taxed some more in the form of corporate tax, how do we expect them to create more jobs? Would we rather tax natural and corporate entities rather than consumption?
Politics and the tax debate
As can be expected in all debates with consequences for the country, politics continues to play a major role in the fiscal and tax reform discourse. Politicians must remember, however, that good politics is about serving the public in the national interest. It is no doubt convenient to postpone tough decisions and it is fair to say that we are in this predicament because successive administrations have been guilty of deferring the issue of tax reform arguably due to the potential backlash at the polls as well as appeasing foreign investors and the wealthy.
The Bahamas is bigger than any one individual, interest group or political party. There is too much at stake for us to base decisions of national importance on the potential outcome of the next general election; our focus should be on the next generation and the preservation of our commonwealth. The government has an obligation to make what it deems to be the right decisions based on the facts available considering feedback received from various stakeholders. Subsequently, it will be left to future generations to judge this administration for positions taken and/or decisions deferred.
We must continue to hold successive administrations to a high standard and level of accountability as it relates to the prudent management of our economy and the exercise of fiscal discipline from year to year. However, we must not forget the fact that a major overhaul of our tax system is inevitable and required for the sustenance of our freedom and national development.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With high school basketball taking center stage, the New Providence Basketball Association (NPBA) is currently on a break, but the playoffs are rapidly approaching.This year, there is stiff competition between the teams, and not much separation in terms of talent. With new faces making names for themselves, the league has taken off.There have been upsets in both divisions. Led by swingman Michael Bain, the Commonwealth Bank Giants are undefeated, and are poised to reclaim their title. Even though they are undefeated, they were in a lot of closely contested games that could have easily gone either way.NPBA President Keith 'Belsie' Smith said he likes the level of competition so far."Some of the younger players are beginning to step up. They are beginning to get their feet wet and are now having huge impacts on the games."Smith also spoke about how there is not too much distance between the teams."Sometimes records may be deceptive of how good a team is. There have been a lot of tough losses this season, and some records could have easily looked a lot different, so it is going to make for an interesting playoffs. An upset can happen at any time," he added.The league has also expanded and improved off the court with a new look website that features live statistics, player tracking and schedule updates. What's most impressive is that now you can watch a live stream of the action. These are the things that Smith is most proud of."Every year the league has made improvements, and we are continuing to grow. The level of competition has always been good, and now it will get its proper exposure."Play is set to resume February 26 with a double-header. The first game will feature the Defence Force Marines going against the Double R. Services Ltd. Cleaners, and the second game of the night will be the Pyramid Food Rockets taking on The College of The Bahamas Caribs.
Shannon Butler, who was arguably one of the brightest minds to graduate high school in 2013, has completed his one-year university foundation program in the British pre-med system and is now eager to commence his medical school studies in September.
"I'm really excited to start medical school so that I can finally begin what I love," said Shannon, the 2013 All-Bahamas Merit Scholar, who aspires to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Shannon, who is at home for summer break, finished his first year at St. Andrew's University in Scotland with grades that he said were satisfactory. Shannon took organic and biological chemistry, human biology, introduction to medicine, statistics, academic English and medical ethics in his second semester and finished the year with a lot of distinctions in individual classes, and the program in its entirety with honors. In the British system, everything is graded on a 20-point scale -- grades of 17 and above are classified as distinction, grades from 14-16.9 are upper second-class honors, 11 to 13 lower second and anything below an 11 a failure.
In September he will enter the six-year medical program that he says is perfect for people who know that they only want to study medicine.
"It avoids all of the extraneous requirements of other systems where you have to get a bachelor's degree and do lots of hours of research and community service, and you always try to have the top grade point average (GPA) and all of that stuff," said Shannon.
Even though the study habits he had adopted held up through his first year at university, he's anticipating that things will now have to change for him as he enters the rigorous program.
"With medical school you don't really have much coursework and many assessments -- it's really all about studying. I was actually reading the student handbook a few days ago and for my first year, in both semesters, I only have two assessments -- a mid-term that is 25 percent and my final exams which are 75 percent -- so basically this upcoming year it's going to be studying every single day."
After his first semester at university he had described the experience and adjustment as tough. He was homesick. His second semester was a different experience. He returned to the campus adjusted and with a solid group of friends. He experienced less homesickness and felt more at home in Scotland that he said resulted in an experience that was more enjoyable for him.
"I knew the ropes so things got a bit easier for me. I started out not liking the place that much, but now I'm actually excited to return to Scotland," said Shannon.
He's not only eager to return to his studies, but to the town he's grown to love which he said has a "charm" that he did not realize it had when he first went there.
"I always wanted to be in a big city, but now I basically realize that I like the small town. I get to see a lot of people -- almost everyone that I know...professors, students, all around the town and it [town] has a lot of history and a lot of beauty to it with the pier and the beach, and even the wilderness and farms outside of it."
During his first year he extended his education beyond the classroom. He made the first of what he expects to be many sojourns over the next six years into Europe by visiting The Netherlands. In the period between the end of his exams and his first-year graduation, he and his friends visited Amsterdam. They took the train to the countryside to look at small towns and to view the famous Dutch windmills.
At home, Shannon is relaxing in preparation for his return to Scotland. After his first week at home, he lent his services to his former high school teacher for two weeks for a chemistry course work preparation class. Shannon helped the tenth grade students with course work, writing lab reports and conducting experiments.
For the remainder of the summer break he plans to relax to prepare himself for the upcoming medical program.
"I just want to hopefully relax and leave the work experience, the research and the internships all for next summer and all the summers after that," he said.
"Actually, the school does not encourage trying to prepare yourself for medical school, because it says all that studying will come in time, and actually as soon as you arrive. I spoke with a teacher of mine who actively encourages taking breaks when breaks are given."
Shannon said his reading this summer will be for his enjoyment. He is currently engrossed in a fantasy book.
Shannon amassed a total of $146,000 in scholarships to help fund his education -- the All-Bahamas Merit Scholar, a four-year $140,000 scholarship. He was also named the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity's 2013 valedictorian and awarded a $6,000 scholarship.
He's also known for his focus. The former Queen's College student in high school distinguished himself with an impressive academic record, having achieved 10 Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) awards with nine A grades and one B grade. The results earned him the award for the best BGCSE results in the country; the best results from an independent school student and the highest award in mathematics.
Shannon's advice to graduates who are preparing to transition into university life is to ensure that they attend a school that they really like, and to ensure that they pick a course of study that they like.
"Just make sure that you're in a healthy environment and be prepared to buckle down and do your work, pull all-nighters and study as much as necessary to get the grades that you need. But also try to genuinely enjoy yourself and have a great time," said the former Q.C. head boy and valedictorian.
Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell yesterday defended Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade in the wake of controversy surrounding the discrepancies between hospital records and police statistics. Bell, who was speaking at a crime forum at The College of The Bahamas' Harry C. Moore Library, said the concerns are unwarranted. Dr. Duane Sands recently released records from Princess Margaret Hospital which indicates that the number of people treated for gunshot injuries and rape related injuries in 2013 is greater than the number of incidents police reported. Bell said he has no reason to question the police's crime statistics, adding that Greenslade's character is being unfairly attacked."Over the last two years there has been a direct attack on the personal character of the commissioner of police which I believe is poor," Bell said."This debate about the police statistics being different than the hospital is another attack on the commissioner of police and I hold the commissioner to be an honest and God fearing man of the highest integrity."Sands previously suggested that the disparity between the hospital records and the crime statistics is a result of political interference. Although he added that he has a great deal of respect for Greenslade. Bell said he was "completely bewildered that a professional would go out there and deliberately deceive the Bahamian people".Greenslade, who was also a panelist in yesterday's forum, said he has a "problem" with people questioning his integrity. He maintains that the crime statistics accurately reflect the level of "serious" crime in the country. Greenslade added that the root of the crime problem won't be fixed by adding more patrol cars, more police men or even by removing him as commissioner."So I'm not going anywhere," he said. "Where do you want me to go?"Bell said the hospital and the police use different methods to collect their data and both entities use their data for different purposes. According to data provided by police, 197 people were shot last year. However, PMH Emergency Room statistics show that 278 people were treated for gunshot related injuries in 2013. Additionally, according to hospital statistics, 147 people were treated after reportedly being raped and the police reported that there were 104 rape reports in 2013. As it relates to the disparity in the number of shootings, Bell said based on the severity of the injury, the police place those incidents in various categories."The reality is when... the hospital calls and indicates that a persons is there suffering from gunshot wounds, the police would respond and the police would send a form called the hospital form which is completed by the hospital physician," Bell said. "Depending on what the physician says is the nature of the injuries would determine how police categorizes the matter in their crime statistics."Bell said the categories range from simple assaults to causing harm, and causing grievous harm to murder.
The Free National Movement (FNM) and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) are in a statistical dead heat ahead of the 2012 general election, according to the results of a poll conducted for The Nassau Guardian by market research and public opinion polling company Public Domain.
Asked who they would vote for if an election was held today, 30.5 percent said they would vote for the FNM; 23.7 percent said PLP; 16.5 percent said Democratic National Alliance (DNA); 1.6 percent said they would vote for other parties or candidates and 12.2 percent said they were undecided.
Another 3.7 percent were classified as FNM leaners; another 6.6 percent as PLP leaners and another 5.2 percent as DNA leaners.
The FNM therefore got 34.2 percent of the total support; the PLP got 30.3 percent of total support and the DNA got 21.7 percent of total support.
"Leaners in The Bahamas don't mean they would vote for that party," Public Domain President M'wale Rahming explained.
"If all the undecided swing to one of the two leading parties they would win by a large majority."
Public Domain contacted 501 respondents in a telephone survey between March 5 and March 12, 2012. Such a sample size has a maximal margin of error of 4.4 percent, researchers said.
Rahming explained that the margin of error places the FNM and PLP in the statistical dead heat.
The data was weighted by region, age and gender in order to represent the Bahamian adult population.
"The two main parties are very close," researchers concluded. "The margin during the poll period between the PLP and FNM was similar to the margin between the parties at the 2007 general election."
Public Domain also asked respondents who they thought would be the "presumed winner" in the upcoming general election.
The question was specifically worded: "According to you, which party will win the next election?"
Thirty-two percent of the respondents said the FNM; another 32 percent said the PLP; eight percent said the DNA and 28 percent of the respondents were undecided.
"What we've seen over the last month or so has been the FNM holding strong and PLP rise as the DNA's vote goes down," Rahming told The Nassau Guardian.
"What this would say to me is there is a significant anti-government vote that is being split by the PLP and the DNA. The idea is I think Bahamians do not believe that the DNA can win and believe that one of the two other parties will win the next election, but aren't sure which one."
Rahming said Public Domain was not surprised by the results of the survey because it has been internally tracking the political mood of the country for months.
"I think people in the country realize this is the mood of the country and I also expect things to become tighter over the next few weeks," he said.
The methodology used by Public Domain was scientific, noted Rahming.
He also pointed out that when United States pollsters conduct polls to get the mood of a population of 300 million, they only conduct 1,000 or 1,500 interviews using the principle of random sampling.
"One of the fundamental principles of data collection is that when we start interviewing, each and every single Bahamian has the exact same chance of being dialed," he said, adding that no cell phone numbers are dialed.
"This is more for the mood of the country than a per constituency poll."
Rahming further explained, "We have three levels of making sure that we're representative of the population.
"We have the random sampling. Then we use what's called quotas; we set how many men and women we speak to based on how many men and women the Department of Statistics says are in the country.
"If we dial 100 people, and the Department of Statistics says females are 52 percent, we're going to speak to 52 females.
"We then weight the data based on the demographics provided by the Department of Statistics. This means that every Bahamian profile is equally and proportionately represented in the survey."
Making their case
On the campaign trail, political party leaders continue to make their case for why voters should choose their parties.
At a rally in Nassau Village Saturday night, PLP Leader Perry Christie said his party will be "entrusted with the awesome challenge of taking our country in a new direction; a new direction towards a safer, a more prosperous future".
Christie told supporters, "Believe me when I say that I am supremely confident that with God's good grace and your support, we will form the next government of The Bahamas. Believe me on that."
And Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham told supporters in Eleuthera on Saturday night that the FNM has the better record on health care and education.
"We have the better team to deliver clean and transparent government," said Ingraham, drumming away at a theme that was also prominent in the 2007 election campaign.
"We have the better vision for jobs and economic recovery. We have the better programs and policies for youth development. We most definitely have the better leadership to fight crime and renew our national spirit."
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The Bahamas has been listed as a "priority" by the United States government for assistance in the local crime fight, partly because of the local crime rate over the past several years, Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) official Shanna O'Reilly said yesterday.
The U.S. Embassy is funding the anti-violence and crime prevention initiative Resistance and Prevention Program (RAPP), which is being facilitated by the PADF.
The PADF has partnered with the Royal Bahamas Police Force to introduce the multi-year program to Bahamian officials. The initiative was launched at the Police Training College yesterday.
Crime statistics have fluctuated over the last few years. Despite a drop in crime for the first half of this year compared to 2013, crime numbers remain high.
O'Reilly said the program was uniquely designed for The Bahamas based on an extensive needs assessment.
"The Bahamas was one of the major priorities for the U.S. Embassy," she said following the opening ceremony for the program. "So that also went into the calculation."
Asked if the crime rate also factored in on the decision, O'Reilly said,"It was a part of the picture."
"The Bahamas is actually one of the countries that the U.S. government was very interested in prioritizing as well. So that was a big factor in that."
Twenty individuals from various Urban Renewal centers will go through the program. Following their completion of the program they will be accredited and will be able to teach others.
O'Reilly said the RAPP will build on what Urban Renewal is already doing.
"This 40-hour accreditation workshop is intended to prepare leaders to mentor, educate and encourage others and work with young people to take concrete actions that improve the future of the next generation," according to a statement detailing how the program will work.
"The workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to exchange experiences and discuss theoretical frameworks on social crime prevention, the root causes of youth crime and violence, gangs, organized crime, domestic violence, communication and action plans to address these issues.
"Ultimately, it will prepare participants to lead up to five day-long courses in crime prevention on a variety of topics covered in the instructor's manual and participant handbook, and serve as agents of change in the promotion of concrete crime prevention techniques through the use of action plans in targeted 'hot spots'-- areas with 5,000 or more residents -- that include the communities of Fox Hill, Kemp Road, Saint Cecilia, Pinewood Gardens, Farm Road, Bain and Grants Town, Nassau Village and Fort Charlotte."
Police said they have noted a "marked increase" in crime statistics involving youth. Police also said a large number of the murders in the country are carried out by young men.
The program will continue until Friday. Once completed, its organizers will draft and launch an action plan to ensure that participants make use of the tools they learn during the course.
NASSAU, Bahamas -- RBC Royal Bank recently announced its sponsorship of an Anti-Bullying Campaign initiated in partnership with Bully-Busters. Bully-Busters is an international outreach organization dedicated to the cause of eliminating bullying and Cyber-Bullying in schools and among young people. As "Bully Busters", students and schools throughout The Bahamas will be encouraged to promote cooperation and prevent bullying in its schools.
Local statistics indicate that fighting and bullying in schools in The Bahamas are common and trending upwards. In 2013 The Bahamas National Anti-Drug Secretariat, under the Ministry of National Security, conducted a survey on violence and bullying among secondary school students. Of the 2,634 students polled, representing 44 private and public schools, 26% of males and 17.2% of females reported being physically attacked in the form of being hit, kicked or shoved. Bullying is a worldwide epidemic which must be addressed at the earliest possible stage in order to combat the many negative implications for both victims and bullies.
RBC is dedicated to increasing the physical and mental well-being of children, 'the whole child', throughout our society. This dedication is evident in RBC's global Children's Mental Health Project. Although only 6 years old, the RBC Children's Mental Health Project has committed more than $20 million to support early intervention and public education programs. Recent research shows that bullies and their victims are more likely to experience psychotic experiences by the age of 18. It strengthens the evidence base that reducing bullying in childhood could substantially reduce mental health problems.
Our financial services sector is believed to be the number two industry in The Bahamas after tourism, accounting officially for 15 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP).
In recent times the sector has come under significant pressure due in part to the global financial meltdown, the high debt-to-GDP ratio in many countries and the need for resources to fund social safety nets promised many years ago as populations age.
Just recently the Department of Statistics released its newest survey of the economy. While it was a commendable effort, it fell short in analysis as it relates to the various sectors of the economy - i.e., tourism, financial, construction, etc. Having said that, and based on our internal analysis, we are of the opinion that our financial sector has contracted by as much as seven percent over the last three years.
This is of great concern to us because it has broader social implications for policymakers, regulators and the economy at large. Overall, the department's statistics confirm our internal forecast and in some instances understate what we believe to be the true unemployment rate in many quarters.
The Bahamas cannot afford to sit back and wait for the international markets to turn around and hope that we continue to be the beneficiary of global economic advancement. Even if we are the beneficiary of a global economic turn around, which we coincidently don't expect for another three years, our economy is different today and will be different in three years and as such we must chart our own course in this new global environment. We should anticipate and plan accordingly.
There have been attempts to promote the financial services sector with a number of pieces of financial legislation enacted in the last few years. In our opinion it is not enough. The rules of engagement have changed and now require participants other than the government to act. We need the private sector to lead the charge with the support and blessing of the government. If this does not happen we are afraid we will continue to see a deterioration of the financial sector in the foreseeable future.
We believe the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) in recent times appears to have a real handle on what's going on in the financial services sector with the list of new initiatives and committees enacted with new faces, which we may add bring a new sense of commitment and focus. From the outset, the BFSB was structured with term limits to ensure that new faces are brought to the forefront and given a chance to contribute. The BFSB by itself, however, cannot move the industry forward.
We opined many years ago that the financial services sector can contribute much more (in terms of its contribution to GDP) and we still maintain this position notwithstanding the recent attack on our jurisdiction and the enactment of many new pieces of financial legislation.
What is required is a road map designed and developed with the government, private sector and the regulatory regime which speaks to what 'Financial Services Sector', subsidiary of Bahamas Inc., will look like in 10 years. What resources will be required to facilitate this? What macro-economic and fiscal policies, if any, would have to be realigned to support the plan? We believe that once a non-partisan long-term flexible business plan is created for the sector and the necessary funding allocated, with buy-in by regulators and the private sector, we can re-position our financial services sector for long-term growth into the 21st century.
One of the sad commentaries on our system we believe is that we only seem to have confidence in a few individuals. You see the same people on all the advisory boards. This makes it questionable whether there is a natural flow of new ideas and vision. It is imperative that we tap in to the best talent we can find irrespective of their social, political or economic standing in our community.
There are too many examples where advisory boards consist of fine Bahamian citizens, but who unfortunately lack the ability to add value to the specific area of the board's mandate. We need a good cross section of both local and international persons on our most critical advisory boards that have the requisite skills and experience to add value. It is time for us to make the bold decisions which will enable us to position The Bahamas' financial services sector as a credible and growing part of our economy.
As we approach an election perhaps the leaders will take note and design the necessary team of skill sets from among the brightest Bahamians.
o CFAL is a sister company of The Nassau Guardian under the AF Holdings Ltd. umbrella. CFAL provides investment management, research, brokerage and pension services. For comments, please contact CFAL at: email@example.com.
With the noise for the Bahamas to do something about its national debt reaching a crescendo, none of the three major political parties set to contest the 2012 general election inspire much confidence that they will be able to address the situation
Wall Street set the ball rolling. It gathered pace with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And by the time the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had finished, the momentum pushing the Bahamas to immediately deal with its growing national debt pile had become a runaway train.
None of this is surprising to astute observers. A look at the headline statistics shows reason for their concern: A $4.25 billion national debt that contin ...