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His name is Keith Gray, but to the people who heard him perform at the Extraordinary People concert in Paris, France, the gospel artist is known as "Halle", short for "Hallelujah".
The 21-year-old busboy, who works at the Bahamian Club restaurant at Atlantis, began using his singing talent to praise God shortly after he attained his 17th birthday, when he said he realized that doing anything unless it was for and to God was selfish. Since then, he has grown from singer to a Christian youth activist. In October 2013, he won the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture's Pacesetter Award in creative arts.
The award was given to the most outstanding Bahamian under 25 who had contributed significantly to arts and culture. Gray did it not only with his singing but by helping other young people find and express their talents.
As the founder of OCD (Obsessively Christ Driven), Gray uses the platform to bring together various Christian artists to stage concerts that include music, dance and poetry. OCD also regularly does community service, which Gray said is critical to its mission "to display God's glorious grace that will stir a passion in the hearts of people for him through love service and ministry".
The success of OCD led to Gray's latest initiative, Four-Walls Down, which encourages church members to go out into the community, providing love and service beyond the church's four walls. Gray hopes that more young men will be inspired to live better lives through the work of his team.
"We don't have a gang problem or a drug problem, but an identity problem," said the activist. We need to go back to what gives us identity and purpose and that comes from the creator. Go back to the creator and find true identity in him, and that's where you find real purpose. Be everything God wants you to be, instead of others. Don't live your life for other people who won't be into you anyway. Live your life for God."
Gray, who maintains a full-time job while working on obtaining a degree, performing and engaging in community organizing, said he is able to do it all because of a combination of balance, God and an intense desire to learn and give.
"Take everything one day at a time" is his advice.
The shift has started -- and it's a celebration of two of life's greatest pleasures -- food and champagne.
Indulge in new gourmet delights of an invigorated Hope Town Lodge culinary team and sip on bubbly libations of Nassau-based distributor, Young's Champagne, during an amazing weekend, September 14-16 that is being billed as the "Great Love Affairs Start with Champagne" weekend. It will definitely be a food lover's paradise kind of event wrapped up into a romantic weekend.
To introduce Bahamians to the new Hope Town Harbour Lodge, a special package that includes roundtrip airfare, two nights and three days accommodation at the lodge, taxi and ferry to the lodge on Elbow Cay, along with the fabulous eating events -- the Bubbles and Bites, the Wine and Dine, the Trunk Show and the Mimosa Brunch - is being offered at $395 per person.
"We're trying to target locals from Nassau to come in and experience Hope Town, so I think it's a great opportunity for us to showcase our menu and start showcasing the shift," said Leesa Fountain, a representative at the lodge, "Because the menu items at this event will slowly be integrated into the menu at the lodge over time."
The menu items will be integrated into the two food and beverage restaurants at the lodge -- The Reef Bar and Grill, which is the poolside and ocean side bar and grill where they serve breakfast and lunch, and where cocktails are offered in the afternoon, and The Great Room and Ray's Place, their fine dining room where dinner is served.
The new menu will showcase small bites and tapas-style dining.
At Friday's Bubbles & Bites event, Henriot Brut Souverain (superb balance and finesse) will be served with avocado gazpacho spoons. Laherte Freres Brut Nature (superbly light, delicate and with a slight oak note to finish) will be served with seafood samosas and lobster spring rolls. Fernand Thill Millesime 2006 - Grand Cru Champagne (buttery, soft, delicate tour de force) will be served with smoked guava BBQ riblets and Caribbean spice chicken wings and Ellner Brut Rose (great fruit and subtlety) will be served with grilled fruit bruschetta and hand-wrapped dark chocolate.
Saturday night's Wine and Dine event will feature a glass of French Chardonnay or French Pinot Noir with a choice of roasted corn chowder or HTL house salad, lionfish ceviche, catch of the day or sage and olive stuffed lamb loin, warm coconut and cranberry bread pudding with coconut vanilla sauce and a glass of Ellner Brut Rose and tea or coffee.
The mimosa brunch event will feature Bertrand Devavry Brut Extra Quality Grand Reserve with a medley of orange, mango and passion fruit juices. A roasted vegetable quiche will be served with the savory first course. With a sweet stuffed island French toast served for the second course, followed by tea or coffee.
Fountain encourages people who want to experience the weekend to book early, as the lodge only has 25 rooms.
"Don't wait, especially if you're coming from Nassau, because we only have 25 rooms and it's a really good deal," she said of the $395 package they're offering.
Patrons will also get to experience the resort that is seeking to increase sustainability by focusing on local buying power.
"Sustainability is by no means a new term at Hope Town Lodge as a number of best practices are already in place, but thanks to its new owners, the Bahamas Boutique Hotel Group and its partner UpSouth Resorts and Hotels, Hope Town Lodge will expand its sustainability efforts by developing stronger relationships with local business owners by supporting locally owned Abaconian and Bahamian businesses.
"Buying local is simply better business," said Mike Hartman, founder of UpSouth and former developer and operator of the award-winning Tiamo on South Andros.
"Not only does it reduce the environmental impact associated with the transportation of imported goods, but buying local promotes food security, ensures freshness and quality product," he said.
"With Abaco's network of fishermen and farmers, creating a farm to table or sea to table dining experience that reflects and supports Abaco is better for our pockets and for our guests," said Hartman. "With 90 percent of the entire food supply for The Bahamas being imported, creating relationships with local suppliers is critical in reducing time and costs. Furthermore, guests can learn the who, how and where of the food they enjoy, creating a direct connection to place and in turn leading to a deeper, more authentic experience," he said.
"It's going to be different from anything The Bahamas has ever seen because we're going to be sourcing locally, and drawing inspiration from all the different Caribbean islands and maybe even Latin America, so I'm excited for that," he said.
Great Love Affairs Start with Champagne
Bubbles & Bites
Henriot Brut Souverain (superb balance and finesse) with avocado gazpacho spoons
Laherte Freres Brut Nature (superbly light, delicate and with a slight oak note to finish) with seafood samosas and lobster spring rolls
Fernand Thill Millesime 2006 - Grand Cru Champagne (buttery, soft, delicate tour de force) with smoked guava BBQ riblets and Caribbean spice chicken wings
Ellner Brut Rose (great fruit and subtlety) with grilled fruit bruschetta and hand-wrapped dark chocolate
700 Experience Trunk Show -- A sneak peak of the lodge's new 700 Experience Boutique which is scheduled to open mid-November. The show will feature a small collection of Bahamian sourced resort wear, jewelry and home décor. Tea and light bites will also be served.
Wine and Dine
A glass of French Chardonnay or French Pinot Noir
Choice of roasted corn chowder or HTL house salad
Catch of the day or sage and olive stuffed lamb loin
Warm coconut and cranberry bread pudding with coconut vanilla sauce and a glass of Ellner Brut Rose
Tea or coffee
Bertrand Devavry Brut Extra Quality Grand Reserve with a medley of orange, mango and passion fruit juices
First course (savory) roasted vegetable quiche
Second course (sweet) stuffed island French toast
Tea or coffee
150 Students Preparing For Opportunities At Baha Mar. Today, students in the inaugural class of the Leadership Development Institute (LDI), a non-profit training institute supported by Baha Mar, celebrated an important milestone – completing half of the journey to graduation. Approximately 150 students, chosen from 3,500 applicants, were selected to enter the challenging program to receive training...
An estimated $105 million has been awarded in construction contracts to Bahamian firms involved in the Lynden Pindling International Airport's (LPIA) redevelopment to date, as the final phase of the project nears completion, Guardian Business can confirm.
The Nassau Airport Development Company's (NAD) Chief Executive Officer and President Vernice Walkine noted that just last month there were 303 workers on-site, with 74 percent of the labor being Bahamian to date.
At the peak of the project's construction, Walkine said there were more than 350 workers on-site.
On Friday morning, Prime Minister Perry Christie, along with members of his Cabinet including Minster of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin and Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe toured LPIA's final phase.
Earlier this year, NAD officials told Guardian Business that millions of dollars have been injected into the local economy as a result of LPIA's third and final phase.
Since construction began in 2009 on LPIA's $409.5 million expansion, hundreds of construction workers have reportedly put in more than 107,000 man-hours on the site.
In June, Walkine confirmed to reporters that LPIA's final phase is expected to be completed ahead of schedule for November and on budget at $83.5 million.
At the time, she said there have been no work interruptions, and the terminal is really starting to "take shape".
"We believe that we will beat that date. I can't say by how much, but we will definitely beat that date. We're very happy that we have built in enough slack if you will, allowing weather delays if any, hurricanes and tropical storms and we believe that at the end of the day, we will beat that schedule. It's been going very well," she explained.
"We are really excited about it because I do believe that this particular terminal is going to be the best, the best in terms of not only its functionality, but its design and layout and the art which is going to be unique and representative of the country."
"We will be able in the next few months to present to the Bahamian public a terminal they can be proud of, and also travelers to non-U.S. destinations will have a seamless experience as well," she said.
Work began on the new domestic and international departures and domestic arrivals in October 2012.
The 112,000-square-foot facility will include four restaurants, nine shops, two bars and a lounge, which will greatly enhance the country's domestic tourism product.
In addition to focusing on maintaining the state-of-the-art facility, Walkine stressed NAD's focus on ensuring that all travelers have a great experience when passing in and out of the airport.
LPIA facilitates 32 airlines that service 29 international and 16 domestic destinations.
I make the following comments as a concerned Exumian who is tired of non-Exumians trying to stop the growth and progress of the Island.
It appears that some PLP politicians in their quest for power are prepared to jeopardize the future of the people of Exuma by frustrating the largest single private employer on the island. They are treating Sandals, which is responsible for the livelihood of hundreds of Exumians and their families, as though it is not appreciated in our country.
The truth is that Sandals Emerald Bay has provided a safety net for many people on the island whose hopes were dashed when the Four Seasons hotel closed.
When Sandals came on the scene most of the commercial airlines had terminated their services even before the departure of Four Seasons, the previous operator.
Today, after just 12 months of operations, Sandals has been able to attract carriers such as Air Canada, Continental Connections, American Eagle, US Air, Delta and the domestic carriers Bahamasair, SkyBahamas and Western Airlines.
Sandals has also honored the existing agreements with Exuma Transit for the transportation of guests.
The charge of poor treatment of its employees by the hotel is totally false as is the complaint about the presence of Jamaicans on the property.
Sandals is a Jamaican investor with core expertise provided by Jamaicans who are hardworking people with good work attitudes worthy of emulation.
The fact is that as a major Caribbean and International hotel chain, Sandals employs Bahamians in a number of its hotels in its host countries including the Turks & Caicos, St. Lucia, Antigua and Jamaica.
Interestingly, no mention has been made of the many foreign nationals who worked with the former Four Seasons hotel and who treated Bahamian workers so badly. I don't recall any complaint being made about them.
As far as the charge of under-payment of staff is concerned, the government of The Bahamas has established a minimum wage. Any employer who pays workers below the minimum is in breach of the law. Anyone with proof that this is the case at Emerald Bay, should report the matter to the Department of Labour.
Indeed, the staff of the hotel should be made to understand that the property can only pay what it can afford and that higher wages could mean less staff and not so stable employment.
In any given interaction of people there will be problems; even in churches. However, I am satisfied that the resort is doing much more than its predecessor in trying to better relations with all its public.
In recent times, the hotel has been managed by some of the finest professionals of Sandals: Jeremy Mutton and Patrick Drake.
Significant efforts have been made in introducing a wide range of programs to train and upgrade staff, foster professionalism, enhance staff morale and reach out to the community and business sectors.
The hotel has introduced a wide range of programs to address training and personal development at every level, as well as entry level certification for school leavers in hospitality training and the introduction of an apprenticeship program.
In addition, there are numerous programs to enrich and enhance the everyday life of workers including luncheons, breakfasts, bingos and other recreational activities as well as access to a barber shop which provides concessionary rates to employees.
Through the Sandals Foundation, several projects are helping to transform schools and civic amenities on the island in an unprecedented manner.
For the first time in the history of Exuma, the island is blessed with a hotel choir which is a big hit whenever it appears at local churches and civic functions.
Since the acquisition of the hotel, millions of dollars have been spent on renovation and upgrading facilities, including the addition of 62 rooms, thereby increasing the capacity of the resort from 183 rooms to 245 rooms. Also, some 60 additional persons have received employment as a result of this project.
In addition, three more restaurants are to be built, providing employment for many more people.
In the current climate of unemployment in Exuma, anyone responsible for providing jobs for over 500 permanent and 100 construction workers ought to be welcomed and respected by everyone.
I believe Exumians need to examine the situation very carefully and not be fooled. They should never forget the trauma and loss of hope that came with the announcement of the closure of Four Seasons Hotel. Indeed, Exumians should be very wary of persons, who for selfish political reasons, are trying to destroy their future and the growth and stability that Sandals has brought to this Island.
I can testify that the chairman of Sandals and his entire staff have always extended a hand of friendship to the Member of Parliament for Exuma, Anthony Moss.
It is an indictment on Moss that he has failed to accept invitations he has received from a major investor in his constituency whose operations have impacted the lives, livelihood and future of so many of his constituents.
Former island administrator
Freeport, Grand Bahama Island - Truly Bahamian breakfast awaits you daily at Led Med, Mediterranean Restaurant located on the marina at Port Lucaya.
Delicious Stew Fish, Boiled Fish, Chicken Souse, Stew Conch, Corned Beef and Grits are all available every morning at Le Med.
So when you're craving a tasty Bahamian breakfast made homemade style, head to Le Med.
Ten core businesses are set to open their doors as early as this month in the Old Fort Bay Town Centre, bringing western New Providence's new commercial heart into reality.
Bahamas Design Centre, HIS Fashion, The Gallery at Old Fort Bay, Sat Sound and Benetton are among the first stores now outfitting retail spaces.
A pharmacy, liquor store and travel agency are also poised for business, although the names have yet to be formally announced. In addition, two "bistro-style restaurants" have signed leases with the New Providence Development Company (NPDC) and should start business either this month or in July.
In the end, this summer should see Old Fort become the corporate hub of western New Providence, and indeed provide dozens of employment opportunities for Bahamians.
The first two blocks of retail space at the shopping center also feature office space above, and Jane-Michele-Bethel, sales and marketing manager, believes these will attract more interest once the businesses move in.
"What needs to happen is getting the first phase open and up and running. That will give people the confidence to invest further," she explained.
The 10 core businesses set to open have already invested ahead of the grand opening, however.
Bahamas Design Centre, for example, will feature indoor/outdoor furniture and home accessories, and carry Ralph Lauren Home products. HIS Fashion plans to stock brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Nautica and Kenneth Cole of New York.
Sat Sound, Bethel added, will include sound systems, home theaters and lighting systems, among other products.
"We also have two fantastic restaurants on-site," Bethel told Guardian Business. "We have signed letters of intent, and one is about to do the interior build. These are bistro-style restaurants."
While she couldn't reveal too many specifics, the NPDC executive said the restaurants are unique in nature and locally owned, similar in size and style to Olives on Cable Beach. The fact the restaurants are relatively small, comprising no more than 1,500 square feet, means employment at the restaurants will likely not exceed a dozen. But with so many retail outlets coming online, a number of other jobs should be on the table.
Meanwhile, phase two of the development is approaching completion, including putting the roofs on and starting the landscaping. Phase two will see the rise of two more sister buildings and finish off a strip of commerce, with "Main Street" running between them.
"We are high into phase two, with landscaping around the retail buildings. We're also getting ready to put up the monument signs that will say 'Old Fort Bay Town Centre'," said Marcus Grammatico, vice president of finance at NPDC.
"The stores are looking beautiful. By the look of it, the vendors are taking great pride in it, as we are positioning the town centre as on the whole upscale."
The retail outlets join the already successful Solomon's Fresh Market, which opened last year. AML Foods, the parent company, has reported robust sales in their recent financial statements, as residents in the west have responded to commercial options in this area of the island.
In tough economic times, when many businesses are tightening their belts, investing $80,000 in a pizza oven might not be top of the agenda for local restaurants.
Enrico Garzaroli, however, thinks differently.
Perched on a high stool, he gazes from the bar into an open kitchen on the other side of the room. Amid tables adorned with colorful tablecloths, the head of Graycliff admires what he calls "the latest invention from Italy".
An Italian chef lords over Garzaroli's pride and joy, which is the new centerpiece of Humidor Piazza, the culinary hub of West Hill Street.
"The economy is what it is," he said, requesting a can of tomatoes, also imported from Italy.
"When you speak with people in this industry, everyone is getting laid off. Everyone is closing. I want to give the people something they will enjoy."
Garzaroli dips a finger into the can of imported tomatoes, admiring the deep red color. He releases a tomato and licks his fingers.
"I want to give them something fun," he adds.
The concept behind the new Humidor Piazza, now open, is part of a much greater expansion to this West Hill Street development. Out back, the sound of construction is clearly audible as crews prepare the location's next attraction - a beer garden.
Nestled amid stone, greenery and running water, the Graycliff chief said he has recently signed an agreement to bring in beers from Belgium and Germany to stock the garden. A similar agreement has been made with Commonwealth Brewery Limited, the makers of Heineken and Kalik.
He further revealed that "we have been in discussions" to add a possible microbrewery to the street to make the destination even more unique.
The philosophy, according to Garzaroli, is to never stop moving and innovating during a difficult economy. Indeed, there is plenty now cooking at Graycliff as it prepares to unleash the much-anticipated Heritage Village.
As first revealed by Guardian Business, the $25 million Heritage Village project is slated to include a number of unique, interactive elements.
Just off the Humidor Piazza, work on the upcoming Chocolate Factory is in full swing, with a projected opening date of sometime in August or September. Back in July, Guardian Business also described plans to bring an Androsia factory to the development.
Located in the building across from the restaurant, in the old convent, the traditional batik fabric, produced on Andros for decades, will be given a modern twist.
"We're going to set up an auxiliary factory in Heritage Village. We'll renovate the building," said Paolo Garzaroli, the president of Graycliff. "You'll be able to come in and make your own piece of clothing, and take it with you later that day."
The chocolate factory, he said, works in a similar fashion, whereby families receive an education on the production process, take part, and receive the fruits of their labors at the end of the tour.
It's a concept that has the major cruise lines licking their lips, according to executives at Graycliff. Negotiations with the cruise lines, and in particular family-friendly Disney, are ongoing, although they are expected to truly come to fruition once the attractions are functional.
The Graycliff president noted that Heritage Village will hire up to 50 Bahamians between the two factories. Heritage Village is designed to function independently of the downtown straw market and provide an authentic cultural experience for Nassau's tourists.
BARBADOS - Claiming he has seen "declining enthusiasm" for the tax over the years in his own country, the governor of the Central Bank of Barbados has called value-added tax (VAT) an "anti-tourism" tax which has hurt its local industry and which he is lobbying to see removed there.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Business on VAT and its effects, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr. Delisle Worrell, who has held the post since 2009, said that VAT is "horribly complicated" to administer and called Barbados's own VAT system "a mess". Worrell said that in his view a "simple sales tax" would be a far preferable means of revenue generation for the Barbadian government.
Admitting that his position on the tax is considered "very radical" among his colleagues and does not necessarily represent that of the bank as an institution, Worrell said that he has been opposed to the tax in Barbados since its inception.
The government of Barbados introduced VAT at a rate of 15 percent in 2010; it was later increased to 17.5 percent in 2010 for what the government at the time said would be a period of 18 months and has remained at that level since.
The economist, who has recently concluded a study on VAT for the Central Bank, said: "I take a very radical stance on VAT. I think VAT is an inappropriate tax for a tourism-based economy. The rationale for VAT is that it is an export promoting tax, because if you are exporting physical goods (VAT is not charged on) those goods, but the producers are able to claim refunds/rebates on their inputs.
"They are 'vattable' goods but because their sales are external you're not going to charge VAT on the exports, only on the domestic sales. So if they are a sugar producer they will pay VAT on local sales but anything they export they won't pay any vat on, but they will claim a rebate on all of their inputs. So there's a bias in the VAT in favor of export industries; that is if you are exporting physical things that are consumed outside, but not if you are exporting tourism, because the tourists come to you to consume.
"So VAT is an anti-tourism tax if you are a tourism producer because it makes your tourism more expensive than the people who don't charge VAT, and that's why all tourism countries who apply VAT have to apply it at a lower rate. A simple sales tax would be much better."
Barbados applied a 7.5 percent rate of VAT to its tourism sector when it implemented VAT in 1997. This was later increased to 8.75 percent when the general rate rose to 17.5 percent, but as is proposed in The Bahamas, the lower rate was only applied to room-related transactions, and other tourism services such as restaurants on the hotel property, tours, activities, car and boat rentals, for example, remained subject to the full rate of VAT.
Worrell suggested that a sales tax, something a number of Bahamian business owners and operators, most prominently Rupert Roberts, President of Super Value, have proposed, "a more efficient way to raise the same level of revenue" for the government of Barbados, or The Bahamas.
Confirming the fears expressed by a number of Bahamians regarding the administration of VAT, Worrell said it "puts a tremendous burden on government administrations" and businesses.
"It's a very complicated tax, especially if you are selling services - what are your inputs? If I am making a cell phone I know I need silicon, I know I need different materials and so on so I can inventory the materials I've brought in and say for each cell phone I need X amount of these materials, it's clear. But if I am an engineer and I am supplying engineering services, what are my inputs? And so it becomes horribly complicated," he told Guardian Business.
With reference to the refunding of excess VAT paid to the government, the Governor confirmed that the government has not managed to pay these sums back to businesses in a timely fashion, despite interest being owed by the government to the business if it takes more than six months to pay the refund after it is owed.
"They are in arrears on refunds and they are also a known quantity of refund claims that are outstanding, and there are cases where the companies have claimed the refund and the VAT office has not necessarily accepted those," he added.
On the plus side, Worrell said that VAT has been successful at raising revenue for the government. In a recent study, titled "A Review of the VAT system in Barbados" Worrell and his three co-authors at the Central Bank said there was "some gain" in revenue yield relative to the tax rate with the establishment of VAT in Barbados, but the administrative costs of collecting the VAT were higher relative to the revenue received than for the taxes they replaced.
Finding that VAT has been "less elastic and less buoyant" in response to changes in income than its predecessor taxes, the authors said that this indicated the need for "greater compliance" with the tax in Barbados, noting that the VAT division of the government could benefit from employing additional staff.
Asked yesterday if the Central Bank of Barbados is therefore recommending that the government of Barbados do away with VAT as a source of revenue, Worrell said: "Not the Central Bank - me." He added that the government is not officially considering removing VAT.
"Lies, damned lies and statistics" is how Mark Twain popularized a refrain sometimes attributed to a variety of British pundits and politicians when forced to address opponents using statistics to bolster their position.
Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Statistics released the annual unemployment report reflecting a dramatic increase of two percent in unemployment. Immediately, government ministers became "spin doctors" issuing silver lining statements as rings around the ominous dark cloud portrayed by the latest labor force survey. The increase in unemployment should not be of concern, we are being told because it does not truly reflect a loss in jobs in the economy; rather, it is claimed, it reflects an increase in the number of previously discouraged workers who have rejoined the labor market because they are now hopeful of finding employment, and they have swelled the numbers of the unemployed.
But this is "spin". It does not reflect the facts. There has been a loss of jobs in the economy. Between May 2012 and May 2013 the number of persons employed decreased by 1,260. Furthermore, there was an increase in the rate of unemployment as 3,455 new entrants came to the job market while the number of employed persons was falling by 1260.
Trying to find a silver lining
Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Michael Halkitis was first out of the gate with that fanciful story. He was soon followed by Minister for Grand Bahama Michael Darville, who advised that employment had increased at the Freeport Container Port since May of this year. And he claimed to be hopeful that the employment numbers would be up in Grand Bahama before the next survey, as a number of new small businesses had opened on that island.
Then, the prime minister joined the chorus expressing hope that by next year the "economy will begin to shift in our favor..." This was followed with the live radio coverage of the signing of a heads of agreement that would see the construction of a number of condo-hotel units in collaboration with Club Med in San Salvador.
These PLP ministers remind me of the propaganda spun by a Jamaican prime minister in the 1970s when he told his party faithful to ignore criticisms about the "devaluation" of the Jamaican dollar against the U.S. dollar. He told them what had happened was that the Jamaican dollar had not been "devalued"; it had been "revalued". And the people cheered. Just like Bahamians cheered when then Minister of Finance Carlton Francis announced at a PLP convention that following years of a balanced budget under a socially deficient UBP government, The Bahamas under the PLP would have a deficit budget for the first time. Today of course, Jamaicans no longer cheer at the thought of their severely devalued currency, and Bahamians shudder with the thought of the long-term consequences of a growing national debt.
The reality of the Bahamian economy
We have come through a terrible economic period; an economic and financial crisis which sent the entire global economy into collapse and recession, even if the PLP in opposition refused to acknowledge it. The fallout from the Great Global Recession caused the Bahamian economy to lose more than 17,000 jobs between 2008 and 2009; the number of employed persons fell from 174,920 in 2008 to 157,805 in 2009. Those 17,000-plus jobs lost in the Great Recession have not returned.
In times of international and national economic and financial crisis, it is left to the government to seek to adopt policies and programs to stimulate economic activity in the private sector so as to sustain as many jobs as possible and to maintain to the extent possible employment in the public sector.
Thousands of jobs were created in the private sector between 2009 and 2012 through infrastructural projects undertaken by the FNM government. These were supplemented by additional real jobs created through the jump start and self-starter programs and through the national jobs and skills training 52-week program, which put qualified and capable young Bahamians into positions to begin to earn honest incomes to support their families.
Such infrastructural and skills training policies are exactly the kinds of policies that the international financial organizations and the international ratings agencies recommend governments adopt during difficult economic times. One wonders whether the PLP government understands the value of the millions of dollars spent by contractors and their workers in the Bahamian economy with Bahamian construction suppliers, food stores, utility corporations, restaurants, lenders, motor vehicle dealerships, etc.
These various and legitimate programs undertaken by the last FNM government helped to sustain and create jobs in our all-important construction and services sectors during tough economic times.
The Department of Statistics reports for the years 2008-2012 indicate that the economy had begun a slow recovery by 2009. By May 2011, some 2,380 new jobs had been added to the economy. In the last year of the FNM government from May 2011 to May 2012, an additional 5,070 new jobs were created. This gradual recovery came as a direct result of government policies.
Tourism is the engine of the Bahamian economy; and tourism is in serious trouble. Small wonder then that the economy is performing poorly and the number of the unemployed is increasing.
A senior tourism executive was recently quoted in the media commenting on declining air service to The Bahamas. The official admitted to "a loss of over 50,000 seats" for 2013. We know that the loss is nearer to 70,000 seats, which is more than any other destination in our region in terms of both absolute and percentage loss of air seats. This significant loss of air seats also explains why The Bahamas is performing poorly in terms of the lucrative stopover visitor segment.
We have experienced more than a seven percent year-over-year decline in stopover visitors as compared with competing destinations in our region. Unlike The Bahamas, most countries are recovering from the effects of the Great Recession and recording positive stopover growth.
With tourism, our most important economic sector performing so abysmally, it is not surprising that we are now experiencing the highest level of unemployment in 35 years. According to the Ministry of Tourism, each air arrival represents more than $1,300 per person in expenditure in the Bahamian economy. The loss of 70,000 seats represents a loss of more than $100 million in visitor expenditure.
When the FNM administration left office in May 2012, air arrivals were growing at more than 11 percent, which was equal to the best performing start of any year for foreign air arrivals in recorded tourism history. Tourism, which accounts for more than 60 percent of our GDP, is such an important driver of our economy that a fall-off in air arrivals and stopover visitors of that magnitude easily explains the current state of our economy. The treasury of The Bahamas will lose millions of dollars in departure taxes, room taxes and import duties alone. Under these circumstances, businesses will continue to close, no businesses will hire additional staff and existing workers will suffer through prolonged periods of two- and three-day work weeks throughout the industry.
While the overall performance of The Bahamas is the worst in the region, Grand Bahama in particular has recorded a jaw dropping 17.4 percent decline in air arrivals so far this year, according to the latest information from the Ministry of Tourism. To make matters worse, even the cruise business is down in Grand Bahama.
It has been stated publicly on several occasions that we will need an additional 300,000 air seats annually in order to satisfy the needs of Baha Mar. With the loss of 70,000 air seats so far this year, that required number has now increased by 23 percent to 370,000 or an average of roughly 1,000 additional air seats needed per day.
Nassau, Bahamas - May21st was the annual Hands for Hunger event, Paradise Plates on
Paradise Island. Various restaurants, caterers and vendors all came out
in support donating their time, resources and creative efforts to the
annual charity event. While I was officially there in a work capacity,
I was also there as an avid Culinarian. The event was any food lover's
dream. You get to walk around a room all night full of delicious and
creative bites, sample wines and beer, be entertained by amazing bands,
schmooze with friends and all for a good cause. It was a who's who of
the culinary elite.
Aqua and Mesa were both represented for the Atlantis and One and Only
hotel chain. Mesa offered the bold flavors of a Bahamian jerk chicken
skewer, while Aqua offered up a delicious and fresh grouper plate.
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Fort Charlotte has been closed indefinitely to parties, while the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC) determines how best to move forward with using the national monument as a revenue earner, Tribune Business can reveal.
This comes on the heels of a movement coordinated by a Bahamian Club Owners Association to have "outdoor parties" operating as weekly nightclubs shut down, and restaurants that operate dances without the necessary music and dance licenses to cease and desist.
An online brokerage launched early last year is reporting more than 100,000 equity transactions each day, a figure that far exceeds all other Bahamian firms combined.
SureTrader.com, listed with the Securities Exchange of The Bahamas since January 2012, has increased its staff to eight Bahamians and filled out its 4,000-square-foot office at Elizabeth on Bay. The firm plans to hire up to 20 more people by the end of this year and currently seeks professional Bahamians amid expansion, according to its founder Guy Gentile.
The parent company, Swiss American Securities Limited, is also the founder of SpeedTrader.com, a U.S. online trading broker with around $20 million in annual revenue.
Gentile told Guardian Business that SureTrader.com is poised to earn $25 million in annual revenue in 2013.
"What gives us our edge is superior trading technology and a New York business approach," he said. "I operate a lean aggressive staff that has a strong desire to be the best. Not only the best in The Bahamas, but the best in the world."
Gentile added that SureTrader.com hopes to open 5,000 new accounts in 2013 after opening 2,000 in 2012. The firm wants to become the largest brokerage in The Bahamas by revenue in 2014.
"We have given ourselves an advantage by offering extended margin leverage of 6-1 compared to 3-1 in Canada and 4-1 in the U.S. We have the largest short list in the industry, we allow shorting in penny stocks, and you can fund an account easily with a credit card. There are no restrictions on day trading," he added.
Later this year, Swiss American plans to widen its project offerings through Canadian stock and options, Gentile said, and by connecting VISA debit cards to the accounts.
Following a staffing boost, the firm also wants to offer a customer service line and eventually go to 24 hours after adding European trading. The company has recently aligned itself with RBC Royal Bank, Interactive Brokers, ETC Clearing and DAS Trader.
Gentile, a U.S. investor, remains the largest tenant in the Elizabeth on Bay plaza, located on East Bay Street. He has invested approximately $400,000 into the new SureTrader.com office, with an additional $1.5 million or so in Sur Sushi.
The latter is expected to open in the coming weeks.
Back in December, Gentile reported that the restaurant has received more than 500 applications. Only 45 Bahamians will be hired for the trendy, new restaurant. Blu, formerly located across from the up-and-coming Sur Sushi, closed its doors late last year and put dozens of Bahamians out of work. Investors hope Gentile and his business ventures will help re-energize the plaza and East Bay Street.
A new development overlooking Governor's Harbour is "full bore" into construction and expects to open its doors around this time next year.
French Leave Resort on Eleuthera, which broke ground several months ago, is targeting 16 hotel cottages and a "commercial area" within the next 12 to 16 months. At least 30 Bahamians will find full-time employment once this first phase opens.
Eddie Lauth, partner in Governor's Harbour Resort & Marina and the CEO of Shaner Capital, said the underground utilities are "well advanced" and crews have moved on to the third hotel cottage.
"In the next 12 months we hope to have 16 of these cottages on the seafront with the commercial area completed. We are definitely on schedule," he said. "The other 23 cottages will come online over the course of another 24 months or so following that."
Shaner Bahamas, a company founded by Lance T. Shaner, entered into a partnership with Governor's Harbour Resort & Marina to build and finance the property. Shaner Bahamas is an off-shoot of the Shaner Hotel Group, a corporation with more than 24 owned or managed properties and thousands of employees.
French Leave has already created dozens of construction jobs as local crews work to complete the resort.
Lauth told Guardian Business that the commercial area includes a bar and grill, pool, events lawn, fitness center, reception, gift shop, fire pit area and wedding pavilion. Developers have a beach pub lined up as well. Between the commercial zone and the 16 cottages, he said 30 full-time jobs is likely a "conservative" number".
The cottages, he explained, are built in a traditional Bahamian style with cedar roofs and hurricane resistant glass.
"Shaner has been really committed to doing the project the right way. He is interested in finding materials that will make the test of time," according to Lauth.
The French Leave executive revealed that the business model is continuously evolving. He said that developers are interested in putting some of the cottages up sale, effectively turning the development into a hotel and second-home hybrid.
He pointed out that Shaner Bahamas has access to some 270 acres. Investors have considered French Leave as potentially just the beginning of a much larger community, not unlike Schooner Bay on Abaco.
Second-home owners at French Leave would give rise to further expansion to the commercial area.
That said, Lauth was quick to note that developers are keen to get through the first six acres before making any decisions.
Formerly the site of Club Med, the property was purchased in 2004, with further land acquired from the Frank Lloyd Trust.
With a soft opening in its sights, Lauth insisted that airlift is not a concern for the new destination. The reason Eleuthera is special, he said, is the island represents the road less travelled.
For those that want to get to French Leave, there are plenty of flights available.
"It's real not that hard to get here. You can easily fly into Nassau and there are several daily flights to Eleuthera. We are wary of the mass market," he told Guardian Business. "Be careful what you wish for."
Lauth added that the small boutique hotel concept is the clear winning concept on the Family Islands, a formula more and more developers are looking to mimic.
French Leave is the second resort on Eleuthera injecting new life into the island in recent times.
Earlier this month, the $30 million Cove Eleuthera officially opened its doors and became one of the largest employers in the Family Islands.
It opened with 60 rooms and took on a monthly payroll of $100,000. Another 60 rooms are on the way.
The Cove also includes two restaurants and an impressive list of amenities.
From the presentation to the creativity and the incorporation of tastes that Bahamians love, ensures that Munasan is a different Japanese experience than what people have become accustomed to.
The newest Japanese fusion restaurant at Superclubs Breezes on Cable Beach will make a sushi lover out of everyone that crosses its doorstep according to Superclubs Breezes executive chef Nigel Clarke. He believes people won't be able to get enough of what they are doing.
"What we're trying to do is make [the food at Munasan] a little more local," said Chef Clarke of the restaurant that officially opened its doors two weeks ago. The restaurant offers the standard Japanese restaurant sushi fare -- shumai, seaweed salad, miso soup, sashimi and sushi. But they have upped the ante with signature rolls -- spicy coconut shrimp roll, BBQ conch and pineapple roll, corn flake encrusted smoked salmon roll and their soft shell crab California roll -- that Chef Clarke said will entice people who aren't already sushi connoisseurs, but who are interested to try sushi, but are afraid, or hesitant, to try it.
"These rolls will draw them in to love sushi. When we did tasting, some of my staff had never tried a sushi roll until then. The perception was that it was raw, so they weren't going to try it. And now a lot of our guys have fallen in love with sushi rolls. Now they know that some rolls are actually cooked," he said.
An added feature that will make Munasan stand out from other Japanese restaurants around town is that Munasan has a create your own stir fry station. You choose your protein -- beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or tofu; choose your vegetables -- the server advises on the vegetable choices of the day; then you choose your sauce -- chili garlic, black bean, sweet and sour, Mongolian spicy ginger, Asian barbecue or Thai coconut curry.
It's a feature that Chef Clarke says makes for a lot of work and is risky, but he said they want to give a different experience because they realize people don't want to be limited.
And on the scope of different, where most folks would anticipate tempura (fried) ice cream for dessert, at Munasan they do a brownie roll (rolled with ice cream to look like a sushi roll), and they offer a mango-misu as opposed to a tiramisu.
"We wanted to be a little different ... a little unique. When people come in we want them to be able to say this is not what we'd get down the road. When people talk about coming to the Munasan, it's different and the taste has to be there," said Chef Clarke. He also said that presentation is important to them, but they want people to be able to see the plate, taste the food and want to come back.
"This is one of the smaller Japanese menus on the island in terms of what we offer. So for the create you own stir fry station, we have quite a number of sauces, and of course it can be a bit tedious, [especially if] you have a big table and everyone's having the same meat but different sauce. But people love options and we want to give them those options," he said.
Paramount to their decision on the menu he said was for them to understand the Bahamian taste buds and incorporate those tastes into what they would offer.
While the menu is indeed different from other Japanese offerings around town, Chef Clarke said it did not take long for Japanese chef Takeshi Tanabe to conceptualize their specialty rolls.
Edamame, shrimp and vegetable tempura, soft shell crab, agedashi tofu (deep-fried tofu with agedashi sauce) and yaki hotate (sauted scallop with clear garlic-soy butter) are on the appetizer menu.
Green salad, seaweed salad, tofu salad and miso soup round out the soup and salad menu.
The Nigiri sushi is comprised of maguro (tuna), ebi (shrimp), unagi (eel), hamachi (yellow tail), shake (salmon) and kani (crab).
Hamachi, tuna and salmon comprise the sashimi offerings.
California roll (crab, cucumber and avocado), kappa maki (vegetable roll), spicy tuna roll (tuna, tobiko and spicy mayonnaise) and tempura roll (shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber) are the maki sushi offerings.
Beef negimaki (grilled rolls of sliced beef with scallions), lobster tempura (lobster deep fried in batter) and ebi chili (sauteed black tiger shrimp with Japanese chili sauce) are served with white or brown rice.
Meal finishers offered with the brownie roll and mango-misu are the layered chocolate mousse and profiteroles.
Munasan is the brainchild of Mona Issa, daughter of John Issa, chairman of Superclubs Breezes Bahamas.
"Japanese is something she loves," said Chef Clarke. The Superclubs Breezes properties in Jamaica all have Japanese restaurants.
Presently, Munasan opens two days per week, Fridays and Saturdays, 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Despite ongoing construction on the $400 million redevelopment of Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), the airport's revenue has steadily increased for the fifth consecutive year, according to the 2012 Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) report.
During the 2012 fiscal year ended June 30, LPIA generated $55.9 million. That was $9.2 million over revenue generated in 2011.
LPIA generated $41.4 million in 2010; $37 million in 2009 and $34.5 million in 2008.
NAD Vice President of Marketing and Commercial Development Vernice Walkine said those figures are up because management has been prudent with spending and increasing revenue.
"Never forget that we are privately financed and as such we have to answer to our lenders," she said. "They look very closely at our performance in terms of how we manage our expenditure, but also how we maximize our revenue.
"Clearly, the more revenue the better able we are to pay down the debt. As we get closer and closer to [completion of] construction that becomes even more important because we need to have cash accumulated in order to begin to pay down the debt as soon as construction is over."
Last year, passenger arrivals also increased to 3.2 million people from the 3.1 million recorded in 2011.
But the report indicated there have been fewer take-offs and landings, which Walkine explained is the result of airlines upgrading their fleet to larger aircraft to service the steadily growing airport.
There were 4,600 fewer take-offs and landings over the 86,700 reported in 2011.
"A lot of the airlines that serve LPIA have actually upgraded their equipment, so because a route is proving to be successful and the airlines are recognizing that they are earning good yields off those routes they tend to upgrade," she said.
"We have had a number [of upgrades] actually, where an aircraft has gone from an E190, which is 100 seats, to a 737, which is 148 or 158 seats. That's kind of what they call realignment."
As airlines recognize increased revenue, passengers could very well benefit with more savings on airfare and associated costs, she added.
LPIA facilitates 32 airlines that service 29 international and 16 domestic destinations.
Walkine, NAD's incoming president and CEO, was interviewed by The Nassau Guardian on the sidelines of a last beam topping-off ceremony at the airport's stage three construction site.
Work began on the new International and Domestic Arrivals Terminal in October 2012.
Walkine said the third terminal is on budget and on target for completion in November.
In the coming months, the perimeter walls and roof will be completed and the structure is expected to be fully enclosed by the end of July.
Transport and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin said the third and final stage of the airport expansion project is significant because it signals completion of a world class facility.
"The new terminal is 112,000 square feet," Hanna-Martin said.
"It will include four restaurants, nine shops, two bars and a lounge, and when the airport is finally concluded at the end of the final stage we would have delivered a 21 percent increase in terminal size from 482,700 to 585,300 square feet.
"This is a 50 percent increase in capacity."
Since January of this year, 208 workers, including 142 Bahamians, have put in a total of 107,000 man hours on the site.
A 15-minute video on the impact Value Added Tax (VAT) has had on the twin-island state of St. Kitts & Nevis has been making the social media rounds in recent weeks, posted and re-posted by many Bahamians linked in the online community.
The video, moderated by Rev. Conrad Howell of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), was created ahead of what had been the planned April 1, 2013 implementation of VAT in TCI.
The video features a number of prominent citizens of St. Kitts & Nevis, including business leaders, former Minister of Finance Richard Caines, and also everyday citizens outlining the "negative" impacts VAT has had on their economy since its implementation three years ago.
Business leaders speak of having to close their businesses, of the sharp and sudden rise in the cost of living. Other citizens speak of the stunning decline in their quality of life.
Such reports have increased fears among an already worried Bahamian population preparing for the introduction of VAT at a rate of 15 percent on July 1, 2014.
In the absence of information on the likely impact of VAT on their way of life, and on their economy, many Bahamians view this video as a model of things to come, notwithstanding recent reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that St. Kitts & Nevis is seeing signs of an economic recovery.
Calvin Cable, executive director of the St. Kitts & Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, told National Review that VAT had a "multiplier effect in terms of hardships on the populace".
Cable said a consumption tax was removed and the VAT of 17 percent was introduced.
Two other taxes, the customs duty and the customs service charge, were retained in addition to the 17 percent VAT, he explained.
"It was tremendous on the cost of living," Cable said. "You could have felt it in the number of packages being taken out by householders out of the supermarkets because the prices of goods went up pretty high, maybe about 25 percent overnight."
As a result of VAT, many people in St. Kitts & Nevis cut back significantly, he said; many of them eliminated all luxuries.
"People stopped going out to restaurants to eat and that sort of thing because it was proving to be too much to carry," he said.
VAT is viewed by governments as an attractive option as it taxes both goods and services.
The current narrow based tax system in The Bahamas has long been in need of an overhaul, according to government officials and various international agencies examining The Bahamas' tax structure.
Cable also noted that prior to the implementation of VAT, there were very few charges or taxes on services in St. Kitts & Nevis.
"And so, what the population had to deal with now was that services were being charged VAT, which was not the custom before," he said.
"For instance, doctors fees, lawyers fees, services in the tourism sector -- and I know The Bahamas is big on tourism. For instance, rented cars had to pay the 17 percent."
Cable said VAT provided a "windfall" for the government in taking from the services sector, "but most of that was coming out of the local population".
"So the amount of disposable income that they had on their side was drastically reduced and the buying power was drastically diminished," he said.
In St. Kitts & Nevis, VAT is credited with bolstering the government's fiscal position, but Cable said it happened "on the backs of the local people".
Prior to the implementation of VAT, the country experienced debt levels above 200 percent, which made it one of the world's most indebted countries.
The debt to GDP ratio is now inching closer to the 100 percent mark.
St. Kitts and Nevis' Minister of Information Nigel Carty previously pointed to the "herculean effort that has been exerted to bring great relief to the country's fiscal position at such an economically challenging time".
While The Bahamas' debt situation has not been as dire as that of St. Kitts & Nevis, it has reached a position where it is now unsustainable.
The Bahamas government has outlined its own efforts to bring relief to this country's fiscal position.
As we noted in this space last week, government debt as at June 30, 2014 is projected to be $4.9 billion, compared to $2.4 billion as at July 2007.
Over the last two fiscal years, the government has seen a total deficit in excess of $500 million.
Almost one out of every four dollars in revenue collected by the government must be allocated to pay the interest charges on the public debt and cover the debt repayment.
With a significant change in the country's tax system on the horizon, The Bahamas government has not yet produced any studies to show the likely impact VAT will have on the cost of living.
In every sector, there are understandably questions about how this new regime will affect business.
The man and woman on the street are equally concerned, as they already exist in a climate of high unemployment, where many are finding it hard to meet their obligations and disposable spending has been stretched to the limit.
The government is now asking citizens to shoulder the burden of reversing a burdensome debt situation.
Again, there is no doubting that it is time for action. The chosen route is of course value added tax, which the government says is a central element of its tax reform strategy.
A new IMF report "Tax Reforms for Increased Buoyancy", which was prepared for the government, notes that The Bahamas has low taxes compared to the rest of the world, excluding Central American countries.
It points out that many countries in the region have already introduced VAT, thus providing "a stable source of tax revenues".
The report notes further that almost all the countries in the region have taxes on income and profits. Furthermore, they have high excises on petroleum products.
While The Bahamas is only now moving in the direction of VAT, several of its Caribbean neighbors -- among them, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago -- implemented VAT more than a decade ago.
Speaking of the Barbados experience, Lalu Vaswani, president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, described VAT as a "very efficient means of collecting tax as it increases the base on which the taxes can be collected".
"I think it has been a positive impact, although it was not without its challenges," Vaswani said in an interview with National Review.
Vaswani said that prior to the implementation of VAT in Barbados in 1997, the country had as many as 11 different types of duties or imposts that could be charged on imports.
"The increased effectiveness of collecting revenue gave the government more scope to do their development projects," Vaswani said.
"From a business perspective, there are always anxieties associated with changes, and it is always desirable that there is a maximum amount of consultations even when the final positions are not known.
"So there is an understanding from ground level what are the goals, specific objectives and how you propose to do it because very often what you theoretically are trying to do may have a unique challenge, which may be identified before it is implemented and resolved and prevented."
Former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur noted in a 2010 interview with Erasmus Williams, press secretary to the prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, that high debt levels are inevitable in the absence of a tax base to generate the revenue needed to run a country.
"I supported the VAT when I was in opposition in Barbados because I thought it stood the test of reasonableness, but it was absolutely necessary," said Arthur, whose administration introduced VAT.
"You're living in a set of countries where year by year, period by period, governments will have to remove import duties. What are you going to replace them with? And that is the basic question."
Arthur said VAT created the basis for sustained growth "without fiscal difficulties".
"It allowed us to be able to introduce programs to aggressively mount and sustain policies to eradicate poverty and we did that by creating the base for sustainable growth in the country," he said.
The most recent Caribbean country to implement VAT was St. Lucia, which did so just over a year ago at a rate of 15 percent.
Gerard Bergasse, president of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture, noted that VAT pulls more people into the tax net.
"When you are relying on other forms of taxation, they are not as broad based, so you have a much narrower tax base, which means that the tax on those people has to be higher to achieve your revenue targets," Bergasse told National Review.
"But when you have a broad based tax like VAT, it means that everybody is contributing, so it makes it fairer. And it does not take the fiscal tool out of government's hands because they can still zero rate items, or zero rate a basket of goods that they feel would help less advantaged people."
The Bahamas government's White Paper on Tax Reform notes that zero-rating a supply implies applying a zero VAT rate and allowing credits for VAT paid on inputs.
It says that zero-rating should definitely be applied to exports as a VAT is designed to tax only domestic consumption. Other than that, zero-rating should be strictly limited, if utilized at all, the document says.
Bergasse said that based on anecdotal evidence, many people would say that VAT was a necessary evil in St. Lucia.
"I still believe that VAT was the right thing for the government to have done and it's moving in the right direction," Bergasse said.
He said while the government is not now experiencing a huge windfall, as far as he is aware its revenue targets have been met.
Bergasse said the Chamber of Commerce supported the implementation of VAT from the beginning and was a part of the government's pre-implementation VAT team.
Bergasse pointed to the need for proper consultations ahead of the implementation of VAT.
But he recognized that making VAT understandable to a cross-section of people is "very difficult".
"I will warrant that there are still business people in St. Lucia who still do not understand VAT," Bergasse said.
"...It is a bit of a complicated tax, so it does take people a while to wrap their heads around it and it does make a difference the way your legislation is structured. We didn't get the legislation until very late in the day and even after we got the legislation there are the regulations that go along with it that are very important, because the legislation is the 'what'; the regulations are the 'how'."
He noted that the fundamental change created by VAT is that the business community is changed from being solely taxpayers to being tax collectors.
When properly structured, VAT is a tax on consumption, not business.
In The Bahamas, the proposed VAT legislation and regulations have not yet been released to the public, so the specifics are still unknown.
The government, meanwhile, is planning on increasing public education and awareness in a series of meetings set to begin this week.
Prime Minister Perry Christie has said the July 1 implementation date is not set in stone and he, as minister of finance, needs to be satisfied that businesses and the country at large are ready for the implementation of VAT.
As the government prepares to intensify public education on VAT, it is hoping to quiet what appears to be growing public sentiment against VAT.
By ALISON LOWE
The Opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has hit out at the "damaging revisions" to the National Investment Policy, and promised to reverse the changes announced by the Prime Minister that will allow more foreign competition in the restaurant and entertainment sector.
The party said it "questions the logic" of the changes to the policy as it relates to restaurants and entertainment facilities, "especially in this time when the economy has been damaged by mismanagement, and Bahamians continue to lose jobs in all areas".
It said the change, which will allow foreigners to set up restaurant and entertainmen ...
Last week we noted that although the Ingraham administration steered us through a treacherous period in world economic history it has not completely come up smelling like roses. There have been some unpleasant consequences to the administration's choices and there were, in my view, many missed opportunities.
CULTURE AND INDUSTRY
The FNM's investments in tourism infrastructure (the harbor dredging, the port move and the new airport terminal), are largely making way for anticipated tourism growth in the medium to long-term. That's not necessarily a foolish or irresponsible choice to make.
The problem is such investments won't yield the desired results unless you seriously address some of the reasons The Bahamas is no longer a hot ticket.
We are facing ever diminishing returns in tourism. Despite the millions who come here on cruise ships, what we really need are stopover visitors and this is where we've been dead in the water. We have had more cruise ship visitors than stopover visitors since the mid 80s.
We are a far more expensive destination than many competitors south of us and that's not about to change. But where we are also losing is that we are culturally far less interesting. Not enough of an investment has been made to actually make The Bahamas a more distinct and attractive destination. Beaches, casinos and sunshine can be found all over the globe and for a lot less than in Nassau. Are we going to be offering "1 flies-1 flies free" deals and cruise ship tax rebates for the rest of the decade?
Many of us believe that the answer lies in the marriage of tourism and cultural and artistic expression. Yet the government of The Bahamas refuses or is unable to act in a manner that encourages wider cultural entrepreneurship - entrepreneurship that can maximize local and tourist markets. And to be fair, the private sector is even less interested in investing than the government.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, Junkanoo is a Christmas festival not a spring festival like Mardi Gras or Trinidad or Rio Carnival. The western world is just not going to travel heavily to be in another country on Christmas night or New Year's Day. So what does that leave here in the capital?
The Fry (Arawak Cay) is the best attraction in Nassau, outside of Atlantis' casino, restaurants, clubs and water attractions. It features local food, live music and atmosphere (at affordable prices, prices which no hotel can match).
How can we expand or duplicate what's best about the Fry? What would it cost to do so?
Let's look at the FNM's track record. They rejected Carifesta twice. They show contempt (like the PLP before them) for the run-down shell of a National Performing Arts Centre (which could be the year round home of the National Dance Company, Children's Choir, Youth Choir, Youth Orchestra, Police and Defence Force bands and a National Theatre Company).
They have made a ghost out of the Junkanoo Museum. They don't seem to know what to do with Shakespeare in Paradise. And they generally refuse to facilitate cultural workers in a sustained and comprehensive way in the tourist zones.
As a result, Nassau remains a dull, run-down, expensive place to visit. We absorb all sorts of tax breaks for resort development.
In this period why couldn't we have been bold and taken some risks in an effort to improve The Bahamas as a cultural destination? Hotels aren't destinations. Cities, towns and countries are, but we settle for a country where the only thing people come for is to walk around in Atlantis. And soon Baha Mar, I suppose.
But outside of the jobs these enclaves create, aren't we losing out on opportunities to truly maximize the tourist dollars spent on the island?
Ingraham also flirted with legalizing numbers and then backed off, promising a referendum if he is re-elected. This is leading from behind, which is not his style.
The Bahamian government is broke and the numbers business is a quarter to half a billion dollar enterprise that goes untaxed and unregulated.
The government has a right and a responsibility to tax the daylights out of this business, to bring it into the light of public scrutiny and to use the money it gains to help build the country and strengthen the social fabric.
Ingraham should have used this recession to regulate numbers.
Instead, a magistrate has confiscated nearly $1 million and fined businessman Craig Flowers $10,000.
By now Ingraham could have collected as much in taxes for numbers as he got in the BTC sale. He should also have taxed alcohol more heavily as well.
I said earlier that if you are going to risk being voted out over something unpopular, you better make sure that the change you're introducing is worth it all.
I'm sorry but Ingraham could have left the roads bumpy, focused exclusively on fixing the eastern district water problem, and tackled a real problem instead of going through all this madness with the roads all at once.
What he should have done, again under the cover of the economic crisis, is address our regressive and unethical system of taxation that burdens the poor and middle class and lets the rich and their companies get away with all their cash.
Ingraham should have been the man to introduce income tax. It's the perfect time to do so. The pressure from the U.S. is leading us in that direction anyway. Would he lose this election if he did so? He may lose it over unfinished roads.
What I guarantee you though, is that the PLP would not have repealed it afterward. The government needs revenue. We have thousands of people on pension in the civil service who have contributed nothing to it but feel entitled.
The bubble will burst eventually. NIB is already automatically removing a percentage of my salary before it hits my bank account.
I may never make a claim at NIB but I accept that my contribution helps those who need support more than I do. Income tax is doable.
And thereby we can reduce these ridiculous customs duties that hamper the growth of Bahamian businesses because you are being taxed before you sell anything. I reject the argument that the government can't handle income tax. It can and so can our people.
I could talk about the fact that after downsizing ZNS, it is still operating at the same quality level as before, or about the FNM's refusal to touch Bahamasair despite the fact there are homegrown airlines who can pick up the slack.
But instead I wish to raise the question of right sizing the civil service. I don't think this has to mean sending hundreds of people home and creating a social and economic crisis. I mean actually moving people from posts where they are under-performing or are really redundant and re-training them to help plug holes elsewhere in the system. I'll give just a few examples.
I once interviewed Loretta Butler-Turner, Minister of State for Social Development, and she told me that the nation could use another 150 social workers. As you might imagine the social worker does crucial work that is essential to public health, public safety, crime prevention and the overall wellbeing of the society. Why not re-deploy and re-train some of your civil servants to fill this need?
Our schools are overcrowded. Every classroom could use a teacher's aid. And what about the problem of truancy? Or the need for environmental health inspectors to check homes and businesses, particularly given the occurrences of dengue.
There were creative options available to the government that would allow it to shift the public service work force to meet the greatest needs. We need park wardens and after school mentors for our teenagers; we need these in every community.
The FNM just lacked a holistic, creative social vision and they failed to see how their economic choices and challenges could actually work for them not against them in the effort to build a stronger, better country.
They took the unemployed and had them cleaning the streets. And sure, that met a need, because New Providence is filthy. But in the same way, there were other serious needs that could have been met, not just with new hires but by properly utilizing the people you already have employed.
So overall, I'll describe Ingranomics as an orthodox approach, lacking in innovation or experimentation. Ingraham played it safe, which can be a comfort in these unstable times. But sometimes you can play it so safe that you get fired by the people anyway, because the times demand more daring. We'll see what happens.
Fund Administrator for the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund Jerome Gomez expressed his thoughts on the elimination of restrictions on foreign investment in the Bahamian restaurant and entertainment industry during a luncheon held yesterday.
“I am personally calling for the immediate reversal of this new policy because it wil impact the little or small man negatively in the long run, and represents giving away a key sector of the Bahamian economy previously reserved for Bahamians to foreigners in an industry that does not require special, scarce or unique skills and resources.
“I see no good coming out of this policy change.
“From this enunciation to now, I, as have m ...
A projected $235.5 million was pumped directly into the local economy in 2010 from cruise visitor spending, according to a senior tourism official. Though stopover spending is a much more larger number, the Ministry of Tourism's Director of Cruise Development Carla Stuart told Guardian Business yesterday that Bahamians tend to benefit directly from every dollar cruise passengers spend.
"With cruise passengers, that money goes directly into the local economy, be it through restaurants, tours, merchants, braiders, taxis, or in the straw market."
Stuart's estimate shows a 17.9 percent increase over 2009's spend of $199.67 million, when cruise passengers spent an average of $63.30 each throughout The Bahamas. Comparatively, stopover passengers spent $1,230 on average that year, not including gambling. In 2009, Nassau/Paradise Island saw total cruise passenger spend of $160.73 million, and Stuart estimated the number climbed to $185.4 million in 2010.
The foreign investors seeking to acquire the Nassau Palm Hotel are planning a refurbishment to upgrade the downtown property.
According to Valentine Grimes, the Bahamian attorney representing the owners, the prospective buyers have put up considerable funds to secure the hotel located across from Junkanoo Beach. While he would not reveal the buyer, he said the group is known to the government and has done business in The Bahamas before, although not necessarily in the hotel industry.
"These people have put up initial money, and now they have put up additional money, so I don't think one could be more serious than that," he said yesterday. "They have put up more money that is non-refundable. I do know they plan to refurbish it and upgrade the facility. The hotel could use some improvement."
Just down the street from the British Colonial Hilton, the Nassau Palm Hotel inhabits a prime piece of real estate that's a stone's throw from Bay Street's commercial heart.
The area has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in recent months, as property owners have invested in new office buildings, restaurants and hotels.
The new Sparta Restaurant, located just down the street, is a culinary extension of the El Greco Beach Hotel. This destination was completely renovated in recent years and owned by Philip Davis, the son of Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis.
David Johnson, the director general at the Ministry of Tourism, called the Nassau Palm deal relatively small in the grand scheme of things.
However, he felt that the sale marks a continued revitalization of the Junkanoo Beach area.
"Clearly we can see a lot of changes in the area. The beach has been upgraded significantly," Johnson said yesterday. "It is becoming a destination within a destination. It could be another zone that contrasts with the commercial shopping area, giving people a more informal venue with lots of activity."
The Nassau Palm has been on the market since 2010. This latest bid is the third time investors have tried to strike a deal for the property.
EXUMA, The Bahamas - The Ministry of Tourism proved that its sports tourism initiatives are not limited to New Providence, as the island of Exuma hosted the inaugural Sandals Celebrity Getaway and Golf Weekend at the Sandals Emerald Bay Resort in Great Exuma this past weekend.
A number of celebrities made appearances at the event, including the husband and wife team of Rodney and Holly Robinson-Peete, Alan Thicke, Kelly Killoren Bensimon, Steven Bauer and Garcelle Beauvais, just to name a few.
Golf legend Greg 'The Shark' Norman flew in from China on Friday evening and was the featured attraction. He conducted a clinic for about 50 Bahamian youngsters at the driving range on the golf course and led a team of five celebrities trying to sink a historic "hole-in-one" for a $1 million donation to charity.
Pet Hanna from the Ministry of Tourism's office in Exuma said that when you have this caliber of visitor coming to Exuma, the benefits are going to be endless.
"Exuma on the whole was very excited about this tournament," said Hanna. "This is going to bring benefits for years to come. Just the idea of celebrities coming here for golf brings a lot of excitement to these shores. They will go back to their respective shows, or areas of work, talking about how they spent the weekend at Sandals in Exuma," she added.
There were a number of activities planned for the celebrities this past weekend, and some of them even ventured out of the regular confines of Sandals Emerald Bay to tour the island. Some of the guests even swam with the pigs at Staniel Cay. For most, the many amenities of Sandals Emerald Bay were quite sufficient though.
"People are going to want to come down and see where Sandals is, see the beauty of the water and the island itself," said Hanna. "The Ministry of Tourism is very excited about projects like these because they are high end and they will pay dividends for Exuma and the entire Bahamas for a number of years.
"When you look at the taxi drivers, the restaurants, the on-shore activities, the water sports, all of these entities are going to benefit. This is just the beginning. Next year, the tournament is going to be bigger and better."
As the event grows from year to year, Hanna expects the number of participants to increase as well. It is the first high end celebrity golf event to be held in Exuma, and just the second in The Bahamas, following in the footsteps of the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational which was held at the One&Only Ocean Club Golf Course, for 10 straight years, from 2000 to 2010.
"The more we could get the word out about Exuma - the beauty of the waters and the hospitality of the people, the better for the tourism product in Exuma," said Hanna. "I'm very excited, and on behalf of the entire Exuma community, this is the kind of events that we are hoping that the government continues to support," she added.
Proceeds from the event went in support of the Sandals Foundation, which funds projects in the Caribbean in three key areas - education, environment and community.
New Providence welcomes a new fast food eatery to the Bahamian market on Saturday, February 26. About ten jobs will be created.
The name - "Muddoes, Wings 'N' Tings" is a play on a popular Bahamian expression of surprise and amazement.
The restaurant is on the corner of Jerome and Edward Avenues, just north of Scotiabank. The location is planned as the first of several for the island.
"We plan to make "Muddoes" a household name, known for our commitment to a consistently delicious product with quality service at reasonable prices." says one of the company's executives.
Muddoes' signature dishes include cooked-to-order chicken wings with specialty sauc ...
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Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday 6:00pm-10:00pm
Salt -- it makes all foods taste really good, including a little sprinkle on slices of cantaloupe melon to bring out the sweetness -- and most people use it quite liberally. Actually most Bahamians intake more sodium [salt] than is recommended for a healthy diet, and that could lead to serious health problems, according to a family medical practitioner. Dr. Patrick Whitfield says too much sodium increases a person's risk for high blood pressure and that he said often leads to heart disease and stroke.
Dr. Whitfield, who practices out of the Oxford Medical Center, says heart attacks, heart failure, strokes and kidney failure are outcomes of high blood pressure and that collectively it has an enormous impact on premature death and disability in Bahamians.
"Most people eat on average about 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day. The United States dietary guidelines recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) per day and recommends that about six in 10 adults -- people who are 51 years or older, people with high blood pressure in all age groups, people with diabetes and people with chronic kidney disease -- should further limit their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day [about two-thirds of a teaspoon]," said Dr. Whitfield.
According to the doctor, the amounts listed are upper limits and less is usually best, even though the body does need some sodium to help it to function properly. Sodium helps to maintain the right balance of fluids in the body, helps transmit nerve impulses and influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles.
He said most Bahamians can benefit from reducing their sodium intake, and they can do so by eating more fresh foods, opting for low-sodium products, removing salt from recipes whenever possible, limiting the use of sodium-laden condiments, using herbs, spices and other flavorings to season foods and using salt substitutes wisely.
According to Dr. Whitfield, most of the sodium people eat comes from processed foods and foods prepared in restaurants, and that as salt is already part of the processed foods it cannot be removed.
He encourages people who want to control their sodium intake to be savvy shoppers, and know which foods to limit or avoid such as fast food cheeseburgers, barbecued ribs and chicken, dairy products such as cottage cheese, canned soups, and sauces (soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, mustard, pickles and olives which he said can add a lot of salt to food), nuts and vegetables. Snacks such as pretzels and chips he said should also be limited or avoided. Flour-based products such as bread, bagels, bakery items like pies and cookies he said should be consumed in moderation. Pizza and deli meats, frozen dinners and vegetable juices he also said should be limited.
The doctor encouraged people to enjoy more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. And he encouraged the consumption of more whole grain products like fish, poultry and nuts. An alternative to salt he said is to add spices, herbs and pepper as an alternative to perk up the flavor of foods.
"When shopping, people should look to purchase fresh, frozen or canned vegetables without added salt most often."
He also encourages people to read nutrition labels and compare the amount of sodium in the processed food like frozen dinners, packaged mixes, cereals, breads, soups, salad dressing and sauces, as the amount in different types and brands vary widely. He said people should look for labels that read low sodium or no sodium.
A rundown on common sodium claims, according to the mayoclinic.com shows that sodium-free or salt free means that each serving of a product contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium. Very low sodium means each serving contains 35 milligrams of sodium or less. Reduced or less sodium means the product contains at least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version. Lite or light in sodium means the sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent from the regular version, and unsalted or no salt added means that no salt is added during the processing of a food that normally contains salt.
When eating out, Dr. Whitfield encourages people to choose plain foods like grilled or roasted entrees, baked potatoes and salad with oil and vinegar. He said batter-fried foods and combination dishes like stews or pasta with sauce tend to be high in salt.
As salt is an acquired taste, the doctor said people can learn to enjoy less. And that their taste buds will adjust as they decrease their use of salt gradually. After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, he says you probably won't miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty.
It's pageant season and the Contestant Debut & All-White Party fundraiser of Miss Teen Bahamas International (MTBI) is just one of many events lined up on the extensive calendar for the twelve incredible young ladies in this year's pageant. Scheduled for April 11, the contestants will take to the stage in their first and official presentation to the Bahamian public at The Courtyard at J-line Fitness, Shirley Street.
Miss Teen Bahamas International organization has partnered with one of the largest and most reputable modeling agencies in the world, Major Model Management. Anthony Smith, the national director of MTBI, closed the deal a week ago with great optimism and excitement.
"It was one of the most difficult tasks in terms of negotiation we have had to do in years, simply because this is not something that is orthodox in the modeling and pageant world. Model agencies are not fond of pageant ladies and beauty queens and although the pageant community has been more welcoming with young ladies who are of the model type becoming beauty queens, it is rare that the two roads meet."
Considering there are so many teen pageants now coming up, what does Miss Teen Bahamas International offer that attracts young ladies to your pageant?
We have a comprehensive "Enrichment Program" that includes modeling classes, make-up application, self-defense, film production, communication and public speaking, health and nutrition and so much more in between. We want each lady to leave feeling empowered and self-sufficient. Our program offers training that will be useful to the young ladies long term.
Why did you include a modeling competition segment in your beauty pageant? And what are the requirements?
The same as the pageant requirement. Young ladies must be between 15 and 19 years. No children and free from criminal charges. There's not a height requirement. MTBI included the supermodel competition because I've seen lots of girls who have successfully made the transition from beauty queen to cover girl, spokesperson or runway model. It seems to me to be a matter of teaching them the right way to do it. Some of them find out later that the pageant world is sometimes a light step towards introducing them to the world of endless excitement that comprises modeling. After their introductions, many of them care very little about the answering of questions, judges interviews, etc and would much prefer to walk the runway, showcasing fine designer pieces.
What are the prizes for the winner for the Teen Super Model?
A one year contract with Major Model Management agency with locations in New York, Miami, Milan and Paris, and $10,000 in prizes including round trip travel to New York for a model portfolio shoot, cosmetic products, wardrobes and cash. There is also an opportunity of a lifetime for the winner to model on the international stage for some of the major designers. The opportunities and possibilities that come with all of this are endless. This is major for any young lady who is wishing to get a jump start in the modeling industry. She does not have to compete at another competition after ours for the Super Model spot. If she wins, she is automatically contracted.
Do you feel that there is a big enough market for models in The Bahamas to find work?
Certainly not, but that doesn't mean it does not exist and the push towards developing and acquiring work for local talents is not unattainable. I see many local talents modeling for local beverage companies, clothing stores, restaurants and jewelry shops. We have to simply be able to show merchants, designers and brands that we are serious about what we are and how we do it! With our training and guidance the vast array of local talent can receive the same value, if not more, with the beautiful resources we have here.
What is the next step for Miss Teen Bahamas International?
Along with our relentless and foremost pursuit to finalizing a four-year scholarship for our queens, we are always in pursuit of putting The Bahamas on the map by winning an international title, even if it does not come in the form of the young lady winning. It might happen by virtue of one of our former delegates winning Miss Bahamas and then winning the Miss Universe. But either way, pushing for our country to take pride in enlightening our young ladies and getting the best of what we have to offer here getting only the most excellent out of them in the pageant and modeling community.
What makes MTBI different or unique from other local teen pageants?
We are risk takers. There is nothing in the form of personal development, community service and pageant program building that I will not consider as long as it stays within the context of a teen and a wholesome lifestyle. There are not sufficient programs out there that are offering modeling, make-up, self-defense, film production, life coaching, social etiquette, personal communication and public speaking. We seem to have lost it. So, there's a challenge among young good men to find great wives because some times they might be smart, career oriented but not refined. No grooming or poor grooming can determine a young ladies' fate in the world, much like the story of Queen Esther in the Old Testament.
What advice would you give to young ladies who are shy and really don't like people staring at them?
Welcome to the real world! They will regardless. So make sure when they do the staring and the talking, make it worth it. Remember, you are a child of the universe and have a right to be here, and it is up to you to ensure that your value is not diminished by other people's opinion or perception of you, or actions against you. It has been my personal experience that the things that intimidated me most, or that I feared, were the ones that were leading me to my calling and my opportunities.
How would you rate your reigning queen?
Angel is a 10 all the way. We love her! What can I say, she's a teen and a growing young lady with lots of ambition and drive, and desires to know, learn and become. She has come a long way since the evening of her crowning, and she has her own philosophy and her own way of how to make things work. It's exciting to see that. MTBI encourages that. She is a true leader, highly and strongly opinionated, so we are proud of her accomplishments and her as a representative for our MTBI title."
When is the date of your pageant?
June 1, at the Rainforest Theatre, Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace.
oFor more information contact Miss Teen Bahamas International at 676-5156 or email@example.com. Check us out on Facebook at missteenbahamasinternational
As other Caribbean countries continue to grapple with how to treat tourism-related goods and services under their value-added tax (VAT) regimes, one major local tourism operator has indicated that he believes VAT will "destroy tourism" in The Bahamas.
The businessman, who declined to speak on the record out of fear of victimization, called on the government to consider applying a tax that does not increase costs in the tourism sector given its importance to economic activity.
"I don't think it should go on tourism. Look at the bigger picture and let's tax Bahamians. Don't make tourists pay for it because it will kill us. It will have a diabolical effect on tourism," he said.
The government has indicated that it will charge VAT at 10 percent on hotel accommodations and food and beverages purchases within hotels, while a 15 percent rate will apply to tourism-related products and services sold outside of the hotel boundaries.
VAT would be charged on the total value of the supply, which the recently publicly released VAT regulations indicate includes any gratuities.
This means that in the case of a meal purchased from a non-hotel restaurant, a $50 bill for a meal outside of a hotel would cost $66.12 once gratuities and VAT are included, while within the hotel, where the 10 percent rate would apply, it would cost $60.50.
In an earlier interview with Guardian Business, Atlantis President and Managing Director George Markantonis said that Atlantis was seeking clarification on whether the 10 percent rate would also apply to products sold at its Marina Village restaurants, suggesting that it would be simply too complicated for Atlantis to charge visitors different rates of VAT throughout its campus.
The recently publicly released VAT legislation and regulations revealed another nuance in the treatment of the tourism sector under VAT, as it suggested that the full 15 percent rate would apply to any accommodations purchased for "commercial" purposes at hotels, including accommodations provided predominantly for commercial use including for "business meetings, merchandise displays or trade exhibitions, banquets or similar events".
This suggests that conference bookings, a key driver of occupancy for major hotels, could be subject to a higher rate of VAT.
With respect to tours, the tourism stakeholder, who spoke with this newspaper on condition of anonymity, suggested that a particular competitive disadvantage may arise for local operators in comparison to the tours sold to tourists via cruise ships, as the cruise lines would not be required to charge VAT to their customers when selling Bahamas tour packages.
"The government hasn't taken all of this into consideration. Why would they buy any tours locally if they can get it from the cruise ship without the tax added?"
Indicating that he expects the cost of tourism services provided to consumers to increase not just by the 15 percent VAT, but also in light of additional costs to tourism providers of accounting for VAT and paying VAT on inputs, his fear is that VAT will make an already expensive tourism product uncompetitive in comparison to similar but cheaper destinations.
"It will push the costs into the sky. Why would they come here when they can go to Jamaica, which is cheaper, or anywhere else and have a good time?" asked the tourism stakeholder.
Hotel executives and the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association declined to comment on the newly released legislation and regulations despite its public release last Friday, telling Guardian Business that the tax's implications for the sector were still being considered by the Tourism Tax Reform Task Force and a statement would be forthcoming.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, some governments have indicated that they have seen an impact on the sector's competitiveness and offered rate reductions on VAT charged on tourism products and services.
In the 2013 budget for Barbados, announced in August, the government determined it would reduce VAT on hotels and direct tourism services to 7.5 per cent from 17.5 per cent in order to address competitiveness concerns raised by the sector, a concession that the government indicated would cost it around $9 million (US$4.5 million) in revenue annually.
Barbados implemented VAT in 1997.
The rate reduction was scheduled to come into effect in early October 1, however, days before that date the Barbadian government determined the rate reduction would apply to hotels and not to direct tourism services, such as car rental businesses, restaurants and other services.
Elsewhere in the world, such as the UK and Thailand, governments have elected to permit tourists to claim VAT refunds on purchases valued at over a certain amount made in their vacation destination. In the UK this applies to purchases made in "tax free" retail outlets.
Like many sector representatives, Darren Woods, vice president of the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union, which represents line staff in hotels throughout The Bahamas, said that the union has requested a meeting with Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis to discuss VAT and its implications for the tourism sector.
"We understand our sector would be taxed and that is a concern for us, so we want to see how that would effect employees and to what degree.
"He (Halkitis) committed to having a meeting with us this week. We can't really speak to it (VAT) intelligently until we know all the parameters in which it may or may not affect our people."