By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest told business leaders on Grand Bahama the government will amend and replace the Freeport Incentive Act 2016 with a more progressive plan.
Mr Turnquest was speaking at the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce Business Luncheon last Friday at the Grand Lucayan Resort. It was the first time he had addressed the chamber in his capacity as minister of finance.
The MP for East Grand Bahama - who never supported the legislation while in opposition - was applauded by a packed room of business persons who were very pleased to hear the Minnis administration would repeal the legislation.
He said: "You as business persons have to do your part too. You must follow the rules as you expect us as a government to. Government contracts must be made transparently based on merit and ability at competitive rates. Conflicts of interest will be frowned upon and not tolerated in this modern government structure."
He indicated more severe situations such as acts of bribery or attempted bribery would be dealt with according to the law.
"We must be a government of the people, and of integrity to safeguard the public's trust and their future prospects. The rule of law will prevail, and no one is above the law," he warned, followed by applause.
Mr Turnquest said the majority of Bahamians are law-abiding citizens and the strengthening of the enforcement of anti-corruption measures should be of no concern to most.
The issue of fiscal responsibility and reform, he said, is the second priority of the FNM administration.
He noted that while The Bahamas' modern system of tax and customs administration is executed by committed and honest actors in the positions of public trust, unfortunately, the system has not always worked.
As a result, Mr Turnquest noted the government has recently launched amendments to address noncompliance with tax and customs laws.
"These programmes have been piloted in Nassau with great success and will be extended to Grand Bahama and Family Islands in the very near future, having full regard for provisions in the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA). And there are concerns about the Customs Management Act of which I am somewhat familiar and how that Act interacts with the HCA and the business community here in Grand Bahama."
Mr Turnquest assured them that measures implemented are mixed based and focused on levelling the playing field between those who operate within the rules and those outside.
"In this context, we believe these programme will be welcomed by the business community (here) as there are often distortions that caused shadow operators not doing their fair share.
"We must not allow Freeport to continue to be used as a smuggling gateway to the rest of The Bahamas to avoid tax responsibility and avoid detection of illegal activities.
"And I can tell you…it is somewhat discouraging to hear some of the actual things that happened, and so we will put in place necessary audit and checks to ensure that we deter that kind of activity and everybody has a level playing field across the board," he said,
Mr Turnquest also indicated that government is taking necessary steps to reform processes that will facilitate the ease of doing business in the country.
He then mentioned the launch of the Public Finance Management and Performance Monitoring Project within the Ministry of Finance.
Mr Turnquest shared what the programme is about to the Freeport business community.
He said the first component is designed to improve the management capacity of the public sector by increasing government's ability to effectively and efficiently monitor the planning and implementation of priority projects.
He noted that the second component is national statistics, which will increase access to reliable and timely local data by creating a national statistics system.
The third component, which is public financial management, will deal with inefficiencies in budget formulation and execution, with every transaction the government makes undergoing scrutiny and streamlining.
The fourth and final component is public procurement reform to rectify the lack of transparency and efficiency in the government procurement process, promoting competition in the marketplace.