By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government is being urged by the private sector to amend General Orders to make it easier to fire non-performing civil servants who fail to collect due taxes.
Well-known businessman, Dionisio D’Aguilar, said this was just one of the measures being sought by the Coalition for Responsible Taxation as part of its campaign to ensure the Christie administration embraces full fiscal reform.
Mr D’Aguilar, in a presentation to the Rotary Club of east Nassau, said greater accountability and transparency, plus enforcement of the rule of law, were central to the Coalition’s push.
With the civil service wage bill accounting for just over one-third of the Government’s $1.7 billion annual spending, he said it was vital that inefficient, poorly-performing staff be weeded out.
“We are demanding accountability,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “If the Government doesn’t collect its taxes, civil servants don’t collect taxes, there are no consequences. If they don’t collect the taxes, nothing happens to them.
“More than 34.4 per cent of all government spending is on its wage bill, and the termination of civil servants is made impossible by General Orders.” This, he added, was why the Coalition was pushing for General Orders, which govern the civil service, to be changed.
“In 20 years, government expenditures have tripled,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “Have services improved three times? No, its gotten worse.”
He cited the Ministry of Agriculture as one area where, despite having several hundred staff, agricultural output was now less than it was in the 1970s when the Ministry was staffed by a handful of officials.
Elsewhere, Mr D’Aguilar said the private sector was calling for the “fair and even” application of the rule of law to all Bahamians and residents. He warned that failure to do so would only further “incentivise” a growing informal economy that would hurt legitimate businesses and the Government alike.
“We know people that know people,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “We know the back door rather than the front door. There’s an informal economy that goes on in this country that’s really hurting us.”
Companies in that ‘informal’ or underground economy paid no to little taxes and Customs duties, which made it hard for legitimate Bahamian businesses to compete against them on a ‘level playing field’.
And, with the Government introducing Value-Added Tax (VAT) and increasing other taxes to compensate for the due revenues it was already failing to collect, Mr D’Aguilar said it was further squeezing those businesses that already paid their fair share while “incentivising the informal economy”.
He added that the Coalition was also pushing for the creation of a public watchdog or government ombudsman, whose role would be protected in law, to safeguard the public interest and ensure the Government was not “tiefin’ our money”.
Other areas of focus include getting the Government’s accounts into compliance with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), passage of a Freedom of Information Act, and reform of high-priced, inefficient publicly-owned utilities.
“Demand government productivity and accountability. We can dream,” Mr D’Aguilar said. Transparency in spending programmes, and either ‘capping’ the Government’s debt-to-GDP ratio at a 60 per cent maximum or ‘balanced Budget’ statute, are other Coalition objectives.
Mr D’Aguilar also called for changes in monetary policy, and a lowering of the Bahamian Prime interest rate. Describing this as an “artificial” benchmark, the Superwash president said Bahamian businesses and entrepreneurs were handicapped by having to borrow at higher interest rates (costs) than foreign competitors.
“The cost of debt from the banks is too high, and is choking growth. Bahamian Prime is absolutely killing us,” Mr D’Aguilar said.