By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The private sector’s Tax Reform Committee was yesterday said by one of its co-chairs to have gained “critical mass”, its main concern being that the Government was “just too fast” in moving ahead with Value-Added Tax (VAT) implementation.
Robert Myers, speaking to Tribune Business after yesterday’s meeting of private sector associations, which sought to cement the Committee’s creation, said the initiative had received “buy-in” from four-five major industry bodies.
And he also confirmed to Tribune Business information reaching this newspaper, namely that the Government’s own VAT steering committee, which features private sector representatives, had yet to see the legislation and regulations presently being studied by the Christie Cabinet.
Sources informed about yesterday’s Tax Reform Committee meeting had told this newspaper that Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) chief executive, Edison Sumner, who sits on the Government-appointed VAT steering committee, confirmed it had not yet seen the legislative/regulatory framework for arguably the most important tax reform in this nation’s history.
Although Mr Sumner did not return Tribune Business calls seeking comment, Mr Myers - while adopting a cautious approach - said he had heard the same as this newspaper, although he could not confirm its accuracy.
But, if this was true, Mr Myers said it raised questions about the “worth” of the Government’s steering committee, and the purpose it was serving.
Emphasising that the BCCEC’s Tax Reform Committee wanted to work in partnership with the Government on tax reform, Mr Myers told Tribune Business: “I think we’ve got critical mass, and have definitely got some sign-off by some associations.
“We expect to get more in the coming weeks. We’re pushing for acceptance of the Committee by these organisations, and have got buy-in from four to five of the major ones. The others have to go back to their Boards.”
Naming the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce as one organisation “on board” with the Tax Reform Committee, Mr Myers said the organisations present at yesterday’s gathering had “a lot of the same questions and concerns”.
“Without receipt of the legislation, the regulations, the Tariff Schedule and the financial modelling, there are the overriding concerns and questions that won’t be much affected by what the details are,” Mr Myers added.
“Our primary concern is the timing: It’s just too fast.”
The Government appears determined to implement VAT by its July 1, 2014, target date despite the numerous concerns that have been raised, a move likely reflecting how desperate it is to increase tax revenues and the seriousness of the fiscal situation.
But, with less than nine months to its deadline, the Government has missed several deadlines it previously announced for releasing the draft VAT legislation and regulations.
John Rolle, the Ministry of Finance’s financial secretary, earlier this week told Tribune Business that his team had finished all their work, and the matter was now before Cabinet for a policy-level decision.
The delays suggest a lively debate on aspects of the proposed-VAT is taking place among Cabinet ministers, who will be sensitive to the social, economic and political implications of actions such as levying the 15 per cent tax on electricity/utility bills.
Meanwhile, although unable to confirm definitively whether it was true, Mr Myers confirmed yesterday’s meeting “heard from a member” of the Government’s VAT steering committee that it had yet to see the draft legislation and regulations.
“That is what I was told. The committee, the Government’s VAT committee, has not seen anything,” Mr Myers added.
“What is the purpose of the committee if they’re not using them? Isn’t that the purpose of the committee; to review it before it goes to Cabinet? If the views of the committee are not obtained, what’s the point of it?”
Mr Myers said the BCCEC’s Tax Reform Committee was “specifically interested” in seeing the VAT legislation, regulations, Tariff Schedule and related financial modelling.
The latter, he added, would detail the likely impact VAT would have on the Bahamian economy and variables taken into consideration.
Noting that any private sector business would have to do similar ‘modelling’ before it expanded into new markets, or obtained a business loan, Mr Myers said: “I’m only asking the same any bank would ask me in my business. Transparency, see what you’re doing.
“It’s our money. Let’s understand this thing.”
Mr Myers said the Tax Reform Committee would now write to the Government, outlining what it wanted to do, at the same time as bringing on new members.
Calling for “constructive dialogue” between itself and the Government, through co-operation and collaboration, he added: “We want to arrive at the answers with them. It’s our solution, our problem.
“They’re the gatekeepers, but it’s our problem. Hopefully, we can help them come to a reasonable solution. That’s the emphasis here.
“We’re onside, we’re not the opposition. We’re part of the solution. Let’s hope they see it that way. It can’t work if it’s an us and them scenario.”