By INIGO 'NAUGHTY' ZENICAZELAYA
Another week, and more questions than answers from our government on many fronts.
VAT or bust?
This week, the persistent rumour of a VAT increase forced Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest to (once again) deny that the government has intentions to raise the current rate and hurt Bahamians even more than we are suffering now.
During his presentation in the House of Assembly, Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper hinted at an increase during debate on the 2018 Fiscal Strategy Report.
For his part, Turnquest denied the rumour, and cautioned the “opposite side” to be “circumspect.“ He also said that a VAT raise was not on the government’s radar.
I guess the words had to be said since a possible increase is definitely on Bahamian taxpayers’ radar, and not in a good way.
As much as the public is hopeful that an increase never comes to pass (because, quite frankly, who can afford it?) the DPM’s denial was too clever by half and cloaked in “political speak” to really offer the assurance the public needs.
Note the words, “There is no intention on the part of this government to increase the value added tax. There is no such discussion preliminary or otherwise.”
So does that mean Bahamians never need to fear another increase by this government? Cause it sure sounds like Turnquest’s statement has an expiration date.
It would have been better to hear, “Yinne don’t have ta worry ‘bout no VAT increase cause we ain’t fool enough to raise VAT again cause we know yinne would vote us out in a hot minute if we crazy enough ta try it.”
Instead, we get a statement about how rumours have the ability “to cause panic, not just locally internationally,” which is understandable.
But do you want to see panic? Go back on your (albeit temporal) promise and raise VAT. Then try to send your people out to convince Bahamians to re-elect the Free National Movement. “Panic,” as the DPM puts it, will turn to dread faster than a conch turns to salad in these islands.
Just say “No man,” to Oban
Why it remains so hard for our Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to say any deal will Oban is tantamount to political malpractice is beyond me.
We’re drawing near to the one year anniversary of that distatrous, legally dubious signing of the Heads of Agreement with Oban Energies and ‘Doc’ is still cushioning his critique of the agreement in ... well ... Doc talk.
When asked about the future of the Oban project, which I think most Bahamians disapprove of, our PM instead offered this nugget:
“Listen I’m talking about futuristic - Oban is not…listen man, you hear me just open a project last night that I know gonna work. You hear I’m going to Cabinet today to discuss another project that I know gonna work. So I ain’t talking nonsense today, and don’t twist my words when you go on Cable 12 now.”
So, a couple of things.
First, it’s obvious Doc realises deals like Oban Energies and their fossil fuel agenda are not “futuristic”.
Second, is the PM admitting that the Oban deal won’t work?
I hate to twist his (already twisted) words but it’s hard to see, given the circumstances surrounding the signing and all the sordid details of the deal we have since learned, how any prudent and transparent government would put real pen to real paper and do a deal with this company.
I guess that is what Doc was trying to say, in his own ... um ... unique Doc way.
Bottom line, just put Oban to bed and be done with it. Bahamians don’t want to hear anything else about this “elephant in the room” much less hear our PM trip over his own words (while being sarcastic to the media) just to say that elephant is already, basically dead and gone.
Speaking of Oban, an executive from Carnival Cruise Lines, Giora Israel, The company’s senior vice president of global port and destination development, felt the need to speak on the proposed Oban deal by saying, “I am not very familiar with the Oban project; I am familiar that we are far away from wherever it was proposed; we are 20 miles away. So, I don’t know much more than reading a little bit in some of the newspapers about it.”
Thanks for your two cents, Carnival, but so what?
Bahamians don’t have the luxury to think in terms of ‘miles away’ because these are all our islands, all our people, and all our futures at stake. You’ll never hear a Bahamian say, for example, “I’ne care what’s happening in Mayaguana because dem set of Bahamians are too many miles away.”
So while we appreciate the possible investment Carnival is proposing to make in Freeport (albeit, in a different, Port Authority controlled area that is 20 miles away from what could be a huge problem for Bahamians), I think it would be wise for all foreign investors to practice these two words: No comment.
No comment on local matters of extreme national importance to Bahamians where your company is not directly involved. No comment on hot political “hot potato” issues like Oban Energies.
I know it may be hard when the microphones are in your face and you feel the need to say something (anything!) when certain questions are asked but believe me, even what would would be a great, welcomed, one hundred million investment does not buy you enough clout or cover to - as the old people would say- “stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.”
A National Tragedy
This week, we learned that some 30 bodies have been recovered from waters off Abaco when a boat struck disaster and sank, carrying dozens of Haitian migrants on board.
Eighteen souls were rescued, and this week, after initially believing the number of the departed to stand at 30, we learned there are some 35 others unaccounted for.
To say this is heart-wrenching is an understatement.
Yes, I know that Bahamians have a complex relationship with Haitians – we strongly disagree with illegal immigration but have no problem putting “certain” immigrants to work for us when necessary (and profitable).
All of this adds to complicated feelings on hearing of such a disaster like the one this past weekend. But let me just say, now is not the time for hard words or recriminations.
It is a time to mourn the loss of those who sought a better life in our islands and elsewhere, and died trying to achieve it. The immigration debate will go on. The ideas and strategies to discourage migrants from making such a perilous journey will go on. But thirty (and possibly sixty-five) persons will not.
Now is only the time to say, ‘May their souls Rest In Peace.’
I will leave you this week with a quote from the great Nelson Mandela – “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion … if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”