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Debate on a modified Freedom of Information Bill is expected to begin when the Senate meets this morning.
Government Leader in the House of Assembly Tommy Turnquest said yesterday the anticipated legislation will be passed before the Free National Movement's term in office comes to an end.
The government withdrew the original Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill tabled in the House in 2011 and replaced it with a new version that was brought to the Senate last week.
Turnquest said the government made several changes to the legislation and decided to put forth a 'cleaner' version of the Bill rather than bring ammendments to the House.
"There were some changes to the Bill we tabled. Rather than going through ammendments in the House of Assembly we withdrew the Bill and tabled a new one in the Senate," Turnquest said.
"We're going to pass it before the election. We believe that all government business should be public."
Enacting Freedom of Information legislation is one of the pledges the Free National Movement made in its 2007 Manifesto. A FOI Bill was tabled in the House last October.
At the time, it was said that the legislation would not be enforced until July 1, 2012.
Although the government was commended for bringing the legislation forward there was some criticism about how far reaching the legislation would be.
Concerns were also expressed about the powers of the Information Commissioner, a position created by the legislation.
Obie Wilchcombe, leader of Opposition Business in the House, said yesterday he has worries about the amount of red tape that could prevent the public and media from accessing information made available through the new law.
"The question I've always had about freedom of information [is] what's the bureaucracy going to be like and how is that going to work," Wilchcombe said.
"Is it going to assist in the proliferation of democracy, because that's what it was intended to do, to ensure that the public has access to information at all times. What are the limitations and how far can you go and what impact does it have on (House) committees like the Public Accounts Committee?
"It's one of those things that we have to think very deeply about, we have to understand it very thoroughly, we have to ensure that it's workable, that it's going to serve the public, the media and all concerned."
It was unclear what specific changes were made to the FOI Bill.
Changes have been made to the process of becoming a money laundering reporting officer (MLRO) in The Bahamas, with the head of the local compliance organization saying it will filter out those who are not fully qualified for the job.
President of the Bahamas Association of Compliance Officers (BACO) Kesna Pinder told Guardian Business the revised guidelines for becoming a MLRO in the country will ensure that persons having the title will be well-suited for the position.
"Newly-appointed MLROs must go through an approval and those who are currently MLROs, each financial institution will do a reassessment of their MLROs based upon these guidelines," she said. "There hasn't been......
Bahamians must be educated on the correct process of purchasing land and securing its financing, as to avoid losing thousands of dollars in investments, according to Dwayne Gibson, partner at Gibson, Rigby & Co. law firm. Gibson told Guardian Business he has noticed over the years that many Bahamians are still "very clueless" when it comes to looking at capital purchases for homes.
He said the extensive process begins with buyers having to come up with a five to 10 percent deposit.
Though it has been tough, Gibson admitted that initiatives like the government implementing a stamp duty exemption has been a significant help to those purchasing real estate, in particular first-time owners.
"Apart from that, you would then have to look at what the commitment fee is going to be. That can vary between one to two percent depending on which institution you go to," according to Gibson.
"You will have to determine what the stamp duty is going to be, whether you are paying a particular percentage will depend on the property's value.
"For instance, if your purchase is worth $300,000, the stamp duty would be five percent. If it's your first home, you will be able to have that waived and that will reduce your overall cost," he explained.
From a banking perspective, Gibson noted that in addition to the commitment fees, interested buyers will also have to secure life insurance for the loan's face amount, along with mortgage indemnity insurance to bridge the financing between what one is qualified for and allowed to borrow.
Gibson believes a huge challenge is that Bahamians do not fully understand the process they are being exposed to, in terms of the overall cost.
"Since 2009, as a result of the economic conditions, we have seen persons wanting to purchase, having the deposit and portion of the fees but then when they get to the bank, the banks say to them well in addition to what you have, these are the additional requirements," he shared.
He pointed out that another barrier buyers are faced with is the requirements laid out by some banks that need them to still have the stamp duty's value on the account before an approval is given.
"In my judgment, that practice has to be modified because it wouldn't make sense for persons to come forward with all of those funds if they are not going to be applied towards the actual purchase. That's been taking place in more than one institution," Gibson added.
"Persons also come in with their five percent and the banks are now requesting up to 15 percent. You also have situations where a mother and a child perhaps want to purchase and because of that type of relationship, they ask for a larger injection than if it was a single person coming forward."
Gibson advised that buyers consult with and enlist the services of a lawyer that is recognized by the Bahamas Bar Association and Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA) before making any payments.
He revealed: "It's important to have a lawyer because what we have been seeing when you don't have an attorney and things go wrong, buyers are challenged in getting the monies they invested back."
Gibson further noted that a lawyer is paid based on the transaction and the time spent working on the case.
"Lawyers charge on an hourly basis or what they do up to the point of producing the conveyance and certifying title. There is a flat fee of 2.5 percent of the consideration that an attorney can charge. This is in addition to the disbursements, including government fees and independent fees to have a search performed by a company outside of the firm," he explained.
He advised Bahamians to save, maintain some stability and visit an attorney before purchasing real estate.
The government is confident that adopting value-added tax (VAT) will lead to a significant reduction in cases of tax fraud, a legal expert in the Ministry of Finance has stated.
"VAT will reduce fraud because it creates more transparency at every stage from production, to importation, to point of sale," attorney Renee Fisher told public servants at the Department of Housing during a recent seminar. "Businesses will be split into various sectors and each will be given a single TIN (tax identification number), so fraud will be easier to spot."
Experts have demonstrated that in many countries where VAT is the accepted form of taxation, it has served as a catalyst for the improvement and modernization of national fiscal regimes because it forces the standardization and computerization of collection and oversight systems.
Among the many benefits Fisher revealed to the public servants are a reduction in the fraudulent cases which undermine revenue collection.
"In the end, it will be better for the consumer, as it will lead to increased accountability," she said.
"Most systems already have a tax option embedded that can be reconfigured to show the VAT automatically. Businesses already submit customs forms, that will have to be modified to show the VAT percentage." Fisher added.
The attorney told public servants that the revenue improvements now sought became necessary after successive Bahamian governments operated at deficits for years. Now, remedial action must be taken before the country "goes off the cliff" of currency devaluation.
A devalued Bahamian dollar, Fisher said, would lead to a rapid rise in government debt, less capacity for The Bahamas to borrow money in an emergency, a credit downgrade and the eventual loss of access to credit markets.
For the average Bahamian, this would mean even more new taxes, large reductions in spending to curtail public services, and large job cuts in the public service, she said. Most importantly, a shrinking dollar would translate into higher prices for consumers.
The seminar was the latest in an ongoing series of public education presentations hosted by the government as it continues to prepare for the implementation of VAT.
Senators passed the landmark Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill after a marathon session in the Upper Chamber, which ended just before 1 a.m. yesterday.
However, the bill has yet to be debated and passed in the House of Assembly.
Two weeks ago, the original FOI Bill was withdrawn from the Senate and replaced with a new one.
Attorney General John Delaney, who led debate on the proposed legislation in the Senate, said the new bill takes into account suggestions from commentators.
The modified bill does not have a specified date of enforcement. It also reduced the fine an offender will face for contravening the legislation, from $100,000 to $10,000, and has restricted rights to access to public information to Bahamians or permanent residents.
The old FOI Bill had an enforcement date of July 1, however the new law leaves that decision up to the minister responsible.
This will give the public sector more time to adjust to the changes the new law brings, Delaney said.
"The public sector will need time to be prepared to be responsive to fulfill the requirements of this regime," he said.
Not all government information will be available, including records that would prejudice the country's security, confidential communication to the government by or on behalf of a foreign jurisdiction or international organization and information which could jeopardize the security of a prison and Cabinet papers.
In its 2007 Manifesto, the Free National Movement pledged to enact FOI legislation if elected to office.
The original bill was tabled in the House of Assembly last October.
Senators also cleared their agenda by passing amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act, and also passed a measure that would expand the National Drug Prescription Programme.
Saturday 17th December 2011 9:00 AM
Atlantis Crown Gymnastics Friday, December 16, 2011 at 9:00am until Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 9:00pm The first ever international gymnastics event of this magnitude held in the Bahamas which will also feature Bahamian Gymnast fron both Bahamas Star Gymnastics and NassauNastics. at Atlantis Resort Grand Ballroom December 16-17 The event will feature - Almost 400 athletes (men and women) at all levels - 27 clubs including 2 from the Bahamas (Bahamas Star Gymnastics and NassauNastics) - 3 countries and 16 states - Approximately 1800 visitors to our shores. - 17 clubs and 26 states from the USA will be represented You don't want to miss this spectacular historical event. Atlantis Crown Admissions One Day Pass Friday Saturday Adults ..................... $14.00 $18.00 Senior (65+) ........... $10.00 $12.00 Children (6-16) ....... $6.00 $10.00 Children (5 & Under) Free Free Two Day Pass Adults ..................... $26.00 Senior (65+) ........... $18.00 Children (6-16) ....... $12.00 Children (5 & Under) Free Ages 5 and Under Free! Programs $6.00 Meet Schedule GYM A – (GIRLS) Competition Venue – Grand Ballroom, Atlantis Resort SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17 SESSION 3: (GYM A) Level 7/8 (Modified Capital Cup Format) 7:45am Check-in/General Stretch 8:00am Coaches Meeting 8:30am Timed Warm-up – Flight A (only) 8:50am Line up/National Anthem 9:00am Competition Begins - (Flight B – W.U.) 12:50pm Awards SESSION 4: (GYM A) Level 9/10/Open (Modified Capital Cup Format) 1:00pm Check-in/General Stretch 1:10pm Coaches Meeting 1:30pm Timed Warm-up – Flight A (only) 1:44pm Line-up/National Anthem 2:00pm Competition Begins (Flight B – W.U.) 5:00pm Awards SESSION 5: (GYM A) Level 9/10/Open (Modified Capital Cup Format) 4:45pm Check-in/General Stretch 5:00pm Coaches Meeting 5:15pm Timed Warm-up – Flight A (only) 5:40pm Line-up/National Anthem 5:55pm Competition Begins (Flight B – W.U.) 9:30pm Awards Meet Schedule GYM B – (BOYS) Competition Venue – Grand Ballroom, Atlantis Resort SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17 SESSION 6: (GYM B) Level 4/5/6 - BOYS (Modified Traditional Format) 11:00am Check-in/General Stretch 11:10am Coaches Meeting 11:30am Timed Warm-up – Flight A (only) 11:42am Line up/National Anthem 11:55am Competition Begins - (Flight B – W.U.) 3:20pm Awards SESSION 7: (GYM B) Level 7/8/9/10 – BOYS (Modified Traditional) 4:00pm Check-in/General Stretch 4:10pm Coaches Meeting 4:30pm Timed Warm-up – Flight A (only) 4:45pm Line-up/National Anthem 4:55pm Competition Begins (Flight B – W.U.) 8:35pm Awards Click HERE to download Meet Schedules. Click HERE for Program Ad Order Form. Tickets go on sale soon and can be purchased at http://www.atlantiscrown.com/
The modified Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill tabled in the Senate last week includes changes to the law's date of enforcement and reduces the fine an offender will face for contravening the legislation.
The old FOI Bill, which was withdrawn, said the legislation would come into force on July 1 of this year. The new Bill does not have a date for enforcement, but instead leaves that decision up to the minister responsible.
The fine for breaking the law was amended from $100,000 to $10,000.
The government has also modified who can request information made public under the law.
Only a Bahamian citizen or permanent resident will have a right to access records that are not exempt.
The old bill noted that "every person shall have a right to obtain access to a record other than an exempt record".
Senators were expected to debate the new bill yesterday. However, they debated amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act.
The new Freedom of Information Bill has not yet been debated in the House of Assembly. The old Bill still has to be withdrawn from the floor of the Lower Chamber.
On Tuesday, Tommy Turnquest, leader of government business in the House, said the legislation would be passed by Parliament "before the next election".
"We believe that all government business should be public," Turnquest said.
However, several areas of government business will be exempt from the FOI legislation, including records that would prejudice the country's security; confidential communication to the government by or on behalf of a foreign jurisdiction or international organization, which could jeopardize the security of a prison, and Cabinet papers.
In its 2007 Manifesto, the Free National Movement pledged to enact FOI legislation if elected to office.
The original bill was tabled in the House of Assembly last October.
I cannot, with any degree of honesty, call myself a supporter of Robert Mugabe, but there is one quote attributed to him from a recent interview with BBC World News which resonates within me. And though I find his style of leadership questionable, I cannot deny that I am in full agreement with his thinking when he declared to his people that "...never, never again shall we make the mistake of allowing our resources - natural resources - to be owned by foreigners. Never."
I am of the opinion that foreign direct investment (FDI) should never include the giveaway or sale of natural resources, be it acres of land or miles of beaches and waterfront. A sovereign country should always be able to negotiate terms of investment from a position of strength, upholding its sovereignty, such that the very land it is presiding over remains in the ownership of the citizens, guarded on their behalf by their government.
The injection of capital in the form of FDI, in the way we have welcomed it, may serve well as a last resort to boost economic activity, but as a long-term growth model it is worrisome. We have come to think of FDI as the great deliverer, but this neglects to consider the necessity of direct domestic investment and moves the prospect of property ownership further beyond the reach of the common man. A modified approach to FDI where domestic investment is the lead part of FDI should be the norm, particularly in a small country.
This norm and modified approach to FDI should also limit the percentage of ownership of foreign investors in domestic investment partnerships to a capped amount of 49 percent with the remaining 51 percent held by the citizens of the host country as private shareholders, and not held in trust with a government where it does nothing to create new wealth and continuing prosperity for the people.
As is the case at present, a government could choose to have as much FDI as it likes with many capital injections and it will give the perception that the economy is robust, but the real story lies in the domestic sector and with domestic investment. If you want to know how well the economy is doing, ask first how large the domestic investment sector is.
How vibrant is it? How much is it growing? What is it comprised of? What percentage of small businesses in the domestic sector account for overall economic activity? What is the ratio of domestic investment opportunities to FDI opportunities? What percentage of the labor force is employed in the small business/domestic sector as opposed to being laborers in a byproduct of FDI?
And, finally, to get a better idea of long term growth potential, you should also ask how many businesses in the domestic sector really do innovate and are not merely international franchises, resellers or reproducers. You should then seek to bring partners who facilitate the development needs of the domestic sector, not the other way around.
Small business and real growth
The reason small business is the 'lifeblood of the economy' is because it relies on innovation, but a search through the local yellow pages and the news dailies is disheartening in this regard. A primarily copycat economy exists in our nation when there is great potential for invention. With the existing imitator blueprint, sustainable growth will be hard to come by. There cannot be sustainable growth until the people prepare themselves to have ownership of original ideas, instead of just employment in duplicates, and until they are creating and innovating as opposed to replicating.
Our country's net exports in services yield a surplus. Our net exports in goods yield a deficit. We have more services than products to offer the world. Certainly services are an important part of an economy. But what about the other part?
We go to work every day, but what are we producing? A tourist has a great vacation. An offshore investor makes more money. But in this environment how does our daily labor make our lives better? Really, how productive are we in these industries? And how do we quench our thirst for expensive imports when we do little to innovate?
At the end of the day, we still lack infrastructure; we have very little along the lines of finished manufacturing and agriculture, and FDIs leave the same way they came. If these business ventures were more than FDIs, if they were joint ventures with all the consumers in the national economy, we might have more to show for them.
Some argue that we can't be a producing economy in the traditional sense, that our services will always be greater than our goods, but we have many natural resources and we have them in abundance. If our people were trained throughout life to be innovative and not reliant we could have a stronger and burgeoning domestic business sector and a more resilient economy with more to trade than just 'heads in beds' and stock portfolios which consist of assets we can't even purchase.
As it stands, we are too heavily reliant on people wanting to visit us and on them spending more money here, constantly trying to find ways for them to empty their pockets when our productivity could be speaking for itself in a number of other ways.
There are very many local businesses that provide necessary products and services. Of course we will always need groceries and healthcare and other such necessities, but we have to think beyond the necessary. How do we make the necessary better, more effective and more efficient? That is innovation.
If you sell something already, perhaps you can learn how to make your own version of it or make it better. Keep your business idea as simple as possible and in this manner make it more achievable. Let it grow organically and tend carefully to it as it grows; don't sit and wait for handouts from visitors. Initiate. Innovate.
A laissez-faire society hinders progress
Inviting tourists to the country and then hoping they will buy something expensive or a lot of something not too expensive is like drawing straws for a prize. It sounds great in theory - a relatively easy win. But what happens when we all get bored with that game? What is our backup when tourists and investors don't come our way any longer, or when they don't spend any more, or when our people no longer want to be only servants in any industry?
We are a people who hasten to fall back on "God will provide". Perhaps for us the spirit of innovation is not instinctive, and maybe that's why we go nowhere faster. Our motivation to assert ourselves and produce great things like we've never done before is pre-disabled.
It's all well and good to dress up every day and prance around preaching prosperity to others, saying a higher power will provide, but what are we doing to help that power along?
If you were the highest level executive, would you provide to a well-dressed, able-bodied beggar who plainly does not help himself? Probably not, because that would be productive for neither one of you.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a measure of what we produce, how industrious we are, but the deceitful thing about GDP is that it includes output by foreign firms who repatriate their earnings to their own or other countries. So, when we calculate GDP per capita, what are we truly measuring?
Because of foreign investment and foreign banking, we've had the highest GDP per capita in the region for decades and, because of tourism, we've had adequate foreign currency reserves to support our fixed dollar value, yet our people are still poor. That GDP per capita and those foreign currency reserves suggest that we are either over-producing, which is clear we are not, or that this kind of great wealth is spread amongst everyone, which is clear it is not, or that it is held by a small few, which is most likely. And the few holding this wealth will use it to modernize their lifestyles and possessions, because who knows when they'll get to hold it again. Consequently, is economic growth through foreign direct investment, foreign banking and tourism really just an illusion in an otherwise non-producing society?
o Nicole Burrows is an academically trained economist and a self-trained writer. She writes primarily on the economy and society, and her interests include economic growth and development and contemporary women's issues: email@example.com.