By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION Leader Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday if the government is serious about revitalizing Bay Street it should “cease the reported practice of issuing licenses to foreign retailers” to reduce the cost of shopping in the downtown area.
In a press release, Dr Minnis also said the government “should remove duty on clothing altogether.” Doing this, he said would improve the attractiveness of Bay Street and increase the variety of items that can be sold at competitive prices.
Dr Minnis was responding to Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe who told Tribune Business this week that Bay Street “is like a dying centre”, as he pushed for duty-free shopping status to tackle its lack of variety and recognised retail brands.
Mr Wilchcombe said that making downtown Nassau a duty-free shopping zone will ultimately lure more tourists as well as locals, adding that the area has too many jewellery stores and had been “infiltrated” by foreigners.
Dr Minnis said while he agrees with Mr Wilchcombe’s assessment, he “is puzzled by the government’s duplicity.”
“On one hand the minister speaks to the dominance of foreign owned retail businesses while at the same time his government has gone against a policy long held by successive governments to protect Bahamian retailers. We have learned that the government has granted direct NEC approvals and licenses for several high-end luxury retailers to operate at Baha Mar, contrary to government policy,” Dr Minnis said.
“In 1998, when Atlantis attempted to do the same thing, the FNM government listened to the outcry of Bahamian retailers, including that of the current attorney general’s husband, and insisted that retail operations at Atlantis must be Bahamian owned. The PLP has obviously seen fit to discontinue that policy.
“Just as the Pindling administration, in its final miserable years, decided to ‘change the face of Bay Street’ by licensing a host of foreign-owned duty-free jewellery stores, it seems that this Christie administration, in its final miserable years, is similarly intent on changing the face of retailing throughout the entire tourism industry. Such reckless abandoning of long-cherished economic empowerment policies could ultimately lead to the complete demise of the Bahamian retailer. The PLP campaigned on the slogan “Bahamians first”, but again it seems that in practice the PLP continues to put Bahamians last.”
If the government removes duty on clothing, Dr Minnis said it would create more jobs in the retail clothing sector and lessen the burden on the tax payer when it comes to clothing purchases.
“Any revenues lost in duty may be made up from the VAT charged on increased sales volumes in the retail sector, VAT collected from more consumption due to reduced levels of unemployment, increases in stamp tax, and VAT receipts from real estate transactions related to commercial real estate expansion and rentals in the city centre,” Dr Minnis said.
“The FNM would further encourage the local clothing sector by looking at removing duty from sewing materials, patterns, threads, accessories and equipment, thereby creating more jobs and competitiveness in the fast-growing domestic fashion and design sector.”