By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday blamed the former Progressive Liberal Party’s “lacklustre and late-again approach” for The Bahamas’ financial services industry’s near-blacklisting by the European Union as the government passed three pieces of legislation allowing the country to meet international standards.
Ahead of debate and passage in the House of Assembly of legislation to “protect and boost” financial services in the country, Dr Minnis said while the industry had been under threat for some time, the Free National Movement, once it took office in May, found a sector in deeper trouble than anticipated because of the PLP’s negligence.
The prime minister said the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information Amendment Bill, the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information Amendment Regulations and the International Tax Cooperation (Amendment) Bill are extremely important to the country and its international image.
Failure to comply in this regard could affect the lifestyle Bahamians are accustomed to, Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest added when debate began in the House of Assembly on Thursday.
He said on its basic level, the passage of the bills related to the fact most Bahamians want to continue to earn foreign currency, importing food, furniture, oils and other items used daily without constraints or having to resort to black markets and other nefarious routes.
Meanwhile, PLP Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin said while she supported the bills, the government must pursue “equity” for Bahamians.
The House debated the amendments as the government seeks to satisfy requirements for ratifying the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, something Mr Turnquest is expected to sign when he visits San Marino next week.
“Despite the PLP administration’s claim of being for the people, its lacklustre and late-again approach to dealing with this very important part of the economy was about to land us in the very same position that caused a previous FNM administration to have to prevent the country from being blacklisted,” Dr Minnis said in a press statement yesterday morning.
“Since the election, the government has been working to get our economy back on track. Strengthening and growing our economy will lead to better paying jobs and greater job security.”
He added: “These bills and regulations are extremely important to our country and our image on the international stage. These bills will enable the Bahamas to satisfy the requirements to ensure that we meet various international standards.
“These bills also place us in a position to ratify the multinational Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance Tax Matters, and the full implementation of the Common Reporting Standard, while enhancing the framework to allow for the automatic exchange of financial account information.
“As important, this legislation will prevent the Bahamas from being placed on the European Union’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes, meaning that we will not be blacklisted after enacting this suite of legislation.”
Dr Minnis said after years of economic mismanagement, his government was starting to make headway in turning around the country’s economic prospects. The Bahamas, the prime minister said, cannot risk setbacks like being blacklisted by other countries.
When he addressed the House of Assembly yesterday to move the legislation, Mr Turnquest, the deputy prime minister said the bills had been widely circulated and consulted on.
The package of legislation is aimed at enhancing the legal framework to allow for the automatic exchange of financial account information by September 2018 and to prevent the Bahamas from being placed on the European Unit’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes (blacklisted).
Mr Turnquest said it seemed the Bahamas was constantly having to amend laws to adapt to the ever-changing international demand for cooperation and transparency in tax matters.
Recently the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), concluded non-compliant nations would be sent “strong signals” to encourage positive changes leading to the removal of the jurisdiction from the black list.
He said: “The OECD and its member states, are deadly serious about the actions they intend to take, with talk of ‘defensive’ measures to be implemented against what they deem non-cooperative jurisdictions to encourage compliance with their wishes.
“Considering our need for FDI, foreign currency and corresponding banking relationships to effect cross border trade or to import food, oil, etc, the reality is we have little choice but to comply in a responsible way, which bring us to the bills being presented today.”
“I want to say again that I know for the average man out there that this is complicated that you don’t necessarily understand how this relates to you because you are trying to make your hustle every day (and saying) this has nothing to do with you.
“But I want to encourage you to appreciate on its basic level that this relates to the fact that you want to be able to earn foreign currency. That you want to be able to import food, furniture, oils (and) whatever the items that you use in your daily lives freely and consistently without obstruction, without having to resort to black markets and other nefarious routes in order to pay for those goods. This really is about all of us not just the financial services industry and our need to insure we protect our financial institutions.”