Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
TAX dodgers will be subject to criminal charges before the court under the government’s proposed amendment to the Penal Code.
As the amendment brings tax evasion into the category of criminal acts, Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest said it debunks the notion that The Bahamas is a tax haven as is the view of international bodies, including the G20, EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The Penal Code Amendment Bill 2018 described by the minister as a “landmark bill” was included in the compendium of bills debated in the House of Assembly yesterday. The government wants to pass the bills to ensure it can maintain favourability in the eyes of international regulators ensuring there is no future blacklisting.
The East Grand Bahama MP said: “It is now a crime to intentionally defraud the government of its revenue. This bill brings tax evasion within the lexicon of criminal acts in The Bahamas and is a landmark bill whose time has come.
“In making tax evasion an offence within The Bahamas, and we are debunking the notion that The Bahamas encourages tax evasion or protects tax dodgers, and we are counteracting the stigma associated with being regarded as a tax haven.
“Again, this is a new paradigm, one that The Bahamas has not been used to. Normally when there is a breach of one of the revenue acts there is an administrative fine or we turn a blind eye. Mr Speaker, in the eyes of the international community this is tax evasion. It’s permitting the opportunity for persons to engage in activity to avoid their taxes without any liability.
“So in as much as we of our own accord have no interest in enforcing a penalty regime in order to ensure that we can enforce tax judgment in other jurisdictions and enforce our own legislation, but it gives The Bahamas the resilience to enforce the law relating to tax evasion and tax avoidance and administer that through the courts.”
He further addressed critics who question why the government continuously acquiesces to the instructions of international bodies. He stressed non-compliance could result in financial institutions leaving the country and a loss of jobs and a withdrawal of correspondent banking relations from banks among other things.
“I will take you back to March of this year when the European Union Code of Conduct Group Business Taxation (the COCG) issued a list of non-co-operative tax jurisdictions and The Bahamas was placed on it. As I understand, the EU will be putting pen to paper this month to compile another list of non-co-operative tax jurisdictions, which will be published in January 2019. The Bahamas, like most other countries are doing their endeavour best to avoid being placed on the so-called ‘blacklist’.
“The Bahamas is a sovereign nation, capable of making its own laws and regulations. Financial services is our second industry, which provides high-level jobs and this is reflected in the significant 15 percent contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP). The Bahamas is a premier international financial centre conducting trade and business with EU member states, its citizens and other reputable jurisdictions and financial markets,” Mr Turnquest said.