The Bahamas’ decision to implement Value-Added Tax (VAT) did not result from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) holding a gun to the Government’s head, a key Ministry of Finance consultant says.
Ishmael Lightbourne, former senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Bahmas, told dozens gathered at Evangelistic Temple that VAT is just one of many remedies to get the Bahamian economy back on track, given that the national debt has skyrocketed over the past 20 years.
The former World Bank director said the Bahamas’ fiscal deficit is five times greater than what it was in 1993. What started out as borrowing to finance capital spending on infrastructure – roads, hospitals and utility plants – has evolved into borrowing for everything from operating public corporations to paying civil service salaries.
“If the IMF were in the position to force us to do anything, they would have done so 20 years ago,” Mr Lightbourne said. “There is a great deal of misunderstanding about that. The IMF has made no threats, and does not - and cannot - seek to impose their will on a sovereign government.”
He said VAT is the Government’s effort to balance out the unsustainable inequity between what the country brings in as revenue and what it spends.
“Governments,” Mr Lightbourne said, “have for the past two decades tried to fill the vacuum left by policies that once allowed foreign investors and developers to build without putting in their own capital investment in roads, utilities, parks and more.
“Succeeding governments were left to foot the bill, but expenses were greater than revenue under an increasingly outdated tax system of heavy reliance on Customs duties.”
“For the past 20 years, in the absence of major private sector investment, this is what we have done,” he added. “As a result, our debt has more than doubled and growth has been stagnant. So today we can no longer be inactive.”
The Government’s series of consultations on VAT continue this month at Government High School on February 19 at 11am; AF Adderley High School on February 19 at 9:30 am; SC McPherson High School on February 20 at 10am; the Bahamas Human Resources Association on February 20 at 11:40 am; Alexiou Knowles & Co. on February 21 at 8:30 am; and BEC on February 21 at 11:30 am.
For more information on the VAT implementation, call the Ministry of Finance VAT hotline between 9am and 5pm, Monday-Friday, at 225-7280. Persons can also visit the official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/vatbah242.