Exuma MP and PLP Deputy Leader Chester Cooper.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister Peter Turnquest should quit deflecting blame for his administration's bad budgeting decisions, Progressive Liberal Party Deputy Leader Chester Cooper said yesterday.
Last week, the government halted its implementation of a new sliding tax on web shops and a stamp tax on web shop patrons after operators filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court. Both have been delayed pending a court hearing on October 5.
Mr Turnquest admitted to The Tribune that the delay will put pressure on the government's fiscal forecasts. He blamed the Christie administration for the position in which the country finds itself. Attacking that administration's "reckless spending," he said it failed to implement programmes that would protect gamers and communities from the negative consequences of gambling.
But Mr Cooper said: "Having presented the people of The Bahamas with an unrealistic and poorly thought-out budget hinging on new taxes that the Progressive Liberal Party and most economically aware Bahamians explained were onerous and would prove difficult to collect, the minister of finance apparently now finds himself retreating to his well-used safe place of blaming the PLP for the bad policy of the Free National Movement. I would remind the minister that this is 'the people's budget;' one he promised was an exercise in 'right budgeting.' One must ask the question: if the government thought its budgeting process was so right, why is it that the minister now says that budgetary targets may have to be revisited in light of the suspension of the new gaming taxes? The people's budget cannot rise and fall on the policies of the PLP when the PLP had no hand in the policy behind these fanciful numbers. This is not the first instance of backtracking or reversal regarding this budget.
"It seems as if this government got more wrong than it did right in this exercise. What we have now is a massive fail that will likely throw off revenue projections and the fantastical 'three-year plan' of this administration. This leads me to the conclusion that this government simply does not know what it is doing."
The increase in taxes associated with web shops is expected to bring in $30m to $40m more revenue for the government, Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business.
Mr Cooper said: "Minister Turnquest should be ashamed to suggest that the PLP is to blame for the gaming tax debacle that has occurred. The government is the regulator. It had a year to try and do this properly if it thought this aggressive pursuit of tax increases was in order. If it were not confident in the current regime, why bet the budget on a massive increase in tax revenue from a sector it solely regulates? This was simply lazy budgeting on the part of the minister with unattainable goals lacking creativity and the consideration of what makes revenue move. Minister Turnquest is on his very own with regard to the gaming taxes and the Minnis administration's disingenuous reasoning for the hike in value added tax. The PLP created both these regimes that this government has now sought to increase and exploit. It should have been thankful for the prudent roadmap left behind. Yet, there was only contempt for the research and consultation that went into crafting these sound revenue generating mechanisms. Therefore, here are we. The PLP suggests the minister start owning the choices of this cabinet and seek to rectify the consequences we predicted would stem from such slipshod policy. We wish him the very best of luck."
Yesterday, PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell also criticised Mr Turnquest. He said the Minnis administration's web shop taxes were "clumsily" conceived and imposed without consultation, as he sought to free the Christie administration from blame for issues government now faces with its numbers house levies.
Mr Mitchell was responding to Mr Turnquest who told The Tribune on Sunday the Christie administration was to blame for the problems officials are having implementing the sliding scale and new five per cent patron taxes for the industry.
Mr Mitchell hit back at the minister, saying he should be "ashamed of himself" for making such claims.
He said: "Peter Turnquest's assertion in the press this morning (Monday) that it's the PLP's fault that the FNM now has a problem with taxing the web shop gaming sector is so silly and illogical that it is beyond belief.
"Here we are 16 months into their administration, the taxes they clumsily and without consultation imposed, are of their own making. The imposition of the new taxes was politically motivated to cripple local Bahamian entrepreneurs and make it possible for their favoured friends and supporters to take the sector over. Now that there has been judicial intervention, the best he can come up with is it's the PLP's fault.
"The gaming sector was legitimated in an open, clear and transparent manner by the PLP. It was done with proper advice with a proper statutory and regulatory regime. Thousands of people work in this sector today. A new class of Bahamian entrepreneurs was able to bring their wealth into the formal economy."
Yesterday, Mr Turnquest appeared to respond to critiques, writing on Twitter, "Feeling the need to explain what a budget is and what happens if your projections under perform or are affected by uncontrollable circumstances but somehow I doubt it would help."