IMMIGRATION and Financial Services Minister Brent Symonette.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
IN THE aftermath of The Bahamas’ blacklisting by the European Union for being a tax haven, Financial Services Minister Brent Symonette says it might be time for The Bahamas to consider appointing an ambassador to the EU to increase dialogue on matters concerning this country.
The St Anne’s MP said he intended to propose the ambassadorship to Cabinet.
This appointment would most likely also play a role when it comes to the Bahamas’ accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), he said.
Speaking in the House of Assembly yesterday, Mr Symonette said while the government remains hopeful the blacklisting will be short lived, the Minnis administration committed during talks in Brussels, Belgium last week to changing its legal and regulatory framework. This will also include additional accounting and reporting requirements on a timeline of year’s end.
However, he said The Bahamas remains challenged by global integration and international standards alongside a goal post from international bodies which keeps shifting.
Despite this, the minister said the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has rated The Bahamas as “largely compliant”.
“In December of 2017, The Bahamas signed the OECD’s convention of multilateral administrative assistance in tax matters and multilateral competent authority agreement also in December 2017. The Bahamas became a member of the inclusive framework for the implementation of Base Erosion and Profit Shifting,” Mr Symonette said yesterday during his contribution to the mid-year budget debate.
“When the administration changed it was pressure on The Bahamas to execute these agreements and the former administration took a different approach seeking bilateral agreements and time basically ran out.
“So when we came to government, the FNM administration took the view to sign on to the mutual administrative assistance in tax matters convention and also the competent authority and also BEPS. We believed at that time and we still believe that signing on to these initiatives sends a loud and clear message to international counterparts that The Bahamas is a co-operative jurisdiction that is very serious about its commitment to adhering to and implementing the international standards relative to tax cooperation and compliance. We sent that very clear message. Yet and having sent that message, we find ourselves defending our position once again.”
Speaking regarding his and Finance Minister Peter Turnquest’s trip to Brussels in an attempt to ward off the blacklisting, the St Anne’s MP noted that the EU made its decision in the absence reviewing The Bahamas’ case against its delisting.
“We were told that there was not enough time for the council to review the information presented before taking their position and hence we know from the deputy prime minister’s press release a decision was taken without discussion.
“Speaker, notwithstanding the positive work already undertaken we have made a high level commitment to discuss and address the concerns of the code of conduct by the end of 2018 and to ensure that The Bahamas is delisted as soon as possible.
“We met Wednesday with the technical group of OECD and the code of conduct group and went over the applications that we made, letters we have written and everything else like that.”
He also said: “When we were there we committed to the 2018 deadline which we had always committed to in our correspondence back and forth and this was inclusive of changes to our legal and regulatory frame work and additional accounting and reporting requirements.
“The work going forward will include changes to our legal and regulatory framework and additional accounting and reporting obligations.”
He said the government had begun some of these changes well before the delisting with legislation now before the House and other bills in the works.
In addition, Mr Symonette said the government produced for the EU a comprehensive timetable that includes consultation of the industry and draft legislation to be laid at Parliament in short order.
The timetable he said is reflective of the recent meeting with the code of conduct group and member states.
“So we detailed what we’ll do in March, which is continue the talking points with the OECD. In April we will evaluate and address these concerns. In June we’ll be reviewing the concerns and in July we’ll publish, obviously have consultations with the stakeholders on any potential draft legislation or changes in regulatory framework for additional accounting or reporting requirements and the list goes on for subsequent months.”
The OECD, Mr Symonette said, seemed comfortable with this schedule.
He further seemed to suggest that had the previous administration acted appropriately, The Bahamas would not have been blacklisted as non-compliant in the face of changing tax regulations from international bodies.