By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas must be “methodical” and not reactionary in response to the European Union’s (EU) ‘blacklisting’, a well-known accountant yesterday urging it to “roll with the punches”.
Gowon Bowe, the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) president, said the Government must have a clear understanding of the EU’s demands as well as its own targets and timelines.
“We cannot be simply be seen to be reacting. We have to be seen to be sort of methodical and proactive. We must set out a strategic plan with milestones and dates,” he argued.
K Peter Turnquest, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, are currently in Brussels on a mission to engage the EU Code of Conduct Group that oversees the anti-tax avoidance initiative as well as the EU Council directly.
“I hope that they at least took the opportunity to be very clear with the parties they met with as to what milestones have to be achieved in order to get off the blacklist, and I hope that they come back with a clear plan on what needs to happen from a European standpoint,” Mr Bowe said.
“We should devise our own plan, hitting the key elements they would like us to hit, key objectives as well as what products and services we see ourselves offering. I think that we are still a ways off in terms of saying what our new identity is as an IFC and what our value proposition is.”
Mr Bowe added: “We have to move with purpose and in time be able to show them what we have implemented. We have a lot of plans in place for things we need to do, but thus far everything has been very rushed and at 11th hour.
“We have to be mindful that that does not breed confidence from a tax authority. If things are being done last minute they begin to question whether you are serious about enforcement.”
The ‘blacklisting’ decision by the EU comes roughly three months after it placed the Bahamas and seven other jurisdictions that were impacted by hurricanes last summer on a ‘watchlist’. The EU said these jurisdictions, which were given special consideration, had been given until early 2018 to respond to the EU’s concerns.
In a statement yesterday, the Government said it was “regrettable” that the EU indicated there was a “lack of commitment at the highest political levels” by the Bahamas in meeting its demands. “The Bahamas government, through the Ministry of Finance, has consistently been engaged with the EU’s Code of Conduct Group and has responded to its requests,” the Government said.
“Prior to today’s meeting, at the level of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Bahamas reiterated its commitment by formal letter and is on schedule to meet the December 2018 deadline set by the European Council for implementation of the areas of concern indicated.
“The Bahamas remains committed to complying with international regulatory standards and initiatives, and will continue to hold discussions with the EU to determine how we can work together to ensure a better understanding and facilitation of the process to be removed from this listing in the shortest time possible.”
Mr Bowe stressed the need for the Bahamas to be “methodical”, not merely reactionary, in its response to the ‘blacklisting’. “We have to be doing things methodically, on our own timeline and a timeline acceptable to them,” he reiterated.
“We cannot give them the impression of weakness. We need to temper our emotional response and not seem to be disappointed or surprise. We can’t take umbrage when they threaten to do certain things.
“We have to be able to roll with the punches and not seem wounded when they make threats or statements. We have to be able prove that they were either inaccurate in their depiction or unjust in their assessments.”