Government officials, businesspersons and other civil society members are getting set to engage the public in discussions over the impending reform of the country’s tax system.
On Wednesday, a number of economic heavy hitters gathered at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to announce the plans to host the national symposium on tax reform.
Sunshine Holdings is the corporate initiator of the symposium.
Other sponsors include the government, IDB, CFAL, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation and the College of the Bahamas (COB) among others.
During its Speech from the Throne earlier this year, the Christie administration promised to launch an extensive review of the Bahamian tax system with a view to proposing alternative means of taxation that address the problems of the current system while proving the government with a stable, buoyant and adequate source of revenue to meet its governance obligations to the Bahamian people.
Chairman of Sunshine Holdings Franklyn Wilson lauded the government for making the discussion part of its agenda.
“It is important that we have the discussion and that much is obvious by the people who have gathered,” he said. “The risk of not doing something is sufficiently problematic…so let’s not just talk about it, t let’s talk about it very soon.”
“I do not know any other time where a matter of national importance has been addressed in such a matter and staged by such a clearly identified group of diverse civil society.”
Deloitte and Touche Managing Partner Raymond Winder, who has been engaged in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks for The Bahamas, said the symposium is particularly important because international financial centres are making a transition.
“While the impact and consequences of WTO membership are essentially going to depend on the final negotiated position, there are some fundamental requirements for change in our economy in terms of how we generate revenue and the kinds of incentives we offer business enterprises to invest in The Bahamas, both Bahamian and non-Bahamian,” he said.
“Currently, most of our tax revenue is derived from import tariffs which are not yielding sufficient sums to reduce our recurring deficit. In addition, our tariff rates are considerably higher than those of countries that recently acceded to membership in WTO.”
IDB Country Representative Astrid Winters said why she feels the bank’s role is important.
“What’s really important about this issue is that we need to simplify the tax structure. Whatever options there are that The Bahamas chooses to develop – the key is simplification. As everyone knows, the tax system is extremely complex because of tariffs and duties and there are many exemptions. Just managing such a large and complex system means enforcement is difficult, collection is difficult, accountability is difficult and transparency is difficult,” she said.
“So for this reason IDB is really pleased to play a small part in this very important event.”
President of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Federation Chester Cooper said the symposium looks to deepen the debate about tax reform beyond political lines.
“We see it as a chance to crystalise a subject that has been given much attention in the media and on various platforms through various governments over the years. It is indeed no question that we need a more efficient and progressive tax system for The Bahamas,” he said.
“There is also consensus that the new system must also achieve the obvious result of raising adequate revenues but also enhance our relevant agencies, including financial services.”
At the end of the day, officials are hoping to produce a blueprint for the government to develop a new tax system.
The symposium will be held on October 25-26 at the College of The Bahamas (COB). Interested participants can register through the Chamber of Commerce.
Officials have also launched a website to educate Bahamians on tax reform.
The website is www.nationalsymposiumtaxreform.com.