By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PETER Turnquest, FNM Shadow Minister for Finance, expressed concern yesterday over the “rushed” passing of Value Added Tax legislation in Parliament on Wednesday.
Mr Turnquest said the government may have tried to distract Bahamians from VAT by sandwiching debate on the Bill between debates on the constitutional referendum and the revised Gaming Bill, which is expected to be tabled after debate on the referendum Bills have been completed.
VAT was passed in the House on Wednesday night after two days of debate. But Mr Turnquest said parliamentarians should have been given more than 30 minutes to make their contributions on the Bill.
“We are still in the middle of finishing the debate on the constitutional amendment Bills, a significant moment in our democracy and right in the middle you inject something as significant as tax reform?” Mr Turnquest told the House during the debate. “You’re bringing in this new way of taxing people despite the fact that it has not been properly explained in terms of the technical nature of how it will be applied and requirements of it as well as explaining how it will affect the day-to-day lives of people and the safeguards put in to ensure this new tax does not push people down to the poverty line?
“I don’t think they’ve done sufficient work to bring this tax in and I think they rushed this debate. They have heard from the business community, but I don’t believe those consultations have reached the point that we could say with all honesty and transparency that this is the best we have to offer.”
Mr Turnquest said Bahamians have not been properly consulted on VAT, adding that a referendum/opinion poll should have taken place before the government decided to implement the tax.
“I recommended that just like the gaming referendum, they ought to have done the same thing because this is a significant change,” he said. “I believe Bahamians ought to have a voice to decide whether this is something we want or want another alternative. I believe this process was significantly rushed.”
As far as debating important bills in a short period of time, Mr Turnquest said debate on VAT should have been given priority over debate on the constitutional referendum.
“To put constitutional Bills ahead of VAT could have been a distraction against VAT,” he said. “Even the Gaming Bill that will come up, this is all significant legislation and they’re not giving us proper time to air all our concerns. They wanted people to be confused and to take their eye off the ball and they have unfortunately been successful to some extent.”
Mr Turnquest said in order to fully flesh out their views on fiscal reform, parliamentarians should have been given an hour to make their contributions as they are during the annual budget debate.