Waiving VAT for the Chinese in order to get Baha Mar completed reveals the Government’s duplicitous treatment of “ungrateful” Bahamians, Malcom J Strachan says . . .
Last August, and with much pomp and circumstance, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced that the Government of the Bahamas, and the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM) signed an agreement under which Baha Mar resort will be completed and sold.
Reporters were called in as Christie addressed the nation via a televised national address. You could see the peacock feathers if you looked close enough. It was a moment of great pride for the Prime Minister, as he beat his chest and professed that his Government had achieved its “three” objectives which had taken it over 20 months to negotiate.
For ease of reference, those “accomplishments” were:
1 Construction would resume as quickly as possible
2 Every effort would be made to ensure that the casino, casino hotel, convention centre and its hotel, and the golf course would be open before the end of winter 2016-2017.
3 Ensure payment of claims to Bahamian creditors and contractors.
With his Cabinet colleagues around, the Prime Minister exclaimed that he was “pleased” that they had achieved “all of these objectives”.
Following his announcement, no questions were allowed and no further details of the proposed “deal” were made public. The specifics of the “deal” were sealed before the court at the request of the CEXIM with the blessing of the Government.
Now we know why.
Last week, an email from China Construction America to one of its local vendors was leaked to the media exposing that the same construction company, which had failed to meet three of its own self-imposed opening dates, had been granted full exemption from Value-Added Tax (VAT). Bahamians were outraged. And rightly so!
The Bahamas has been rocked over the past year two years by two destructive hurricanes, Joaquin in 2015 and Matthew in 2016. Were Bahamians who live on those storm-ravaged islands given a waiver on VAT to help them recover from the storms? No.
But a Chinese construction company can be blessed with a waive, just because it asked for it.
The news last week regarding the exemption of VAT for the new owners of Baha Mar really ought not to have surprised anyone considering the way the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has performed in this term. But this move was a new low for this administration, which has repeatedly opted to put foreigners before the people that elected it to power. When it was announced in August, 2016, that monies owed to creditors would be paid out after much negotiation and bartering on the government’s part, many queried where these funds were coming from, along with other details of the agreement.
They were met with remarks from the minister responsible for education that suggested Bahamians ought simply to be happy with the fact that they were getting any money at all. In fact, when some creditors were not paid in full, the Government had the unmitigated gall to say that the workers were “ungrateful”. Ungrateful. Think about that for a minute. At the time that the Claims Committee chairman James Smith uttered these remarks, the Government knew that Bahamians were paying for their own severance with taxpayer dollars.
They knew, and said nothing. They kept perpetuating the political spin that Bahamians were being “blessed” right before the Christmas break. The payments were actually called a “gift” and “goodwill gestures” at different stages!
This type of blatant misrepresentation by a Government to its people goes beyond the pale. It points to a level of contempt it must have for us, the people.
To know that you had traded away Government taxes and concessions but knowingly misrepresented the same as “gifts” from a Communist state just underscores the level of duplicitousness that plagues this PLP administration.
Shame on them! Shame on them all!
Over and repeatedly, despite the calls for transparency in this matter, the Bahamian people were instructed to sit small and be grateful. Repeatedly we read and heard from Minister Jerome Fitzgerald and other members of the Government describe the negotiations as “taxing”, and “arduous”, but that at all times they had worked diligently to put the Bahamian people first.
In an article dated August 31, 2016, Minister Fitzgerald states that all of his time over those last six weeks of negotiations had been spent on the deal. He is quoted as saying “I was unable to sleep, got up two, three in the morning and did it again. A lot was at stake”.
Now that the details of this deal are leaking we are better able to understand just how terrible these negotiations were - at least for Bahamians.
We would have been better served by just having the Chinese write down what they wanted passed across the table and agreed to it with our eyes closed.
As it now stands, every single Bahamian must pay VAT, and duty, no matter their colour, creed or social status. Yet here we have a government so eager to open what they themselves have deemed their legacy, that they are willing to burden their own while elevating a Chinese construction company. How much more must happen before we get the full details of this deal? To add insult to injury, Minister Fitzgerald is again quoted in another article published last Friday as saying that the monies that our government waived on VAT were so “minuscule” that it didn’t ‘really matter’.
This is all the insight we need to fully understand why our country has been downgraded by credit rating agencies four times in the last five years.
As more and more details leak about this proposed deal, Bahamians are obviously going to be stuck holding the bag with this toxic treaty. We have a government that is hell bent on propping up an arrangement that clearly is only to the benefit of the Chinese. But we imagine that another shoe has yet to fall.
After all, this is the PLP we are talking about. The “all for me” crew. No doubt the full story of Baha Mar is still yet to be told. We shall wait to see.
Until then #wemarch.
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