PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has expressed his administration’s commitment to doing what is necessary to ensure this country maintains its standing as a respected international financial centre.
His comment came on the heels of the European Union Economic and Financial Affairs Council’s announcement yesterday morning that this country was not included on its list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes.
The Bahamas’ avoidance of the EU blacklist is certainly good news and gives validation to government’s efforts over the past year, Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest told reporters yesterday. As the government expects there to be additional demands by the EU, the deputy prime minister said officials have no “illusions” when it comes to its standing with the European body.
He also said the Minnis administration still had a lot of work to do to shore up its position. In a statement issued yesterday, the Ministry of Finance said this was the result of proactive measures.
“We are very happy to say the Bahamas is not on that blacklisting,” Mr Turnquest said yesterday outside of Cabinet. “The Attorney General, the Ministry of Financial Services, the Ministry of Finance as well as the Prime Minister’s Office, all of whom have contributed to the development today, so we are very happy about that.”
He also said: “Now we move into the implementation phase of all of the legislation that we’ve put in place, which is going to require significant effort from a number of parties as well as from the industry. As we have demonstrated the whole of 2018 that we are committed to doing what we have to do to ensure that the financial services industry is in fact protected.”
Ahead of the official release of the list, Branville McCartney, the former Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader, told Tribune Business on Monday the government should be cautious against any premature celebration over such an outcome – both because it had yet to be officially confirmed and the fact that avoiding it has resulted in “the ruining of our financial sector”.
Responding, Mr Turnquest said: “I notice there are some comments in the paper today with respect to this being just a temporary stay if you will. We have no illusions.
“This is an industry that is very dynamic. It continues to move as regulations and standards move. We know that there are upcoming initiatives from the EU and the OECD with respect to taxation of digital transactions for instance, harmonisation of value added tax rates and rules. There are also initiatives in respect to the potential for some kind of minimum taxation internationally.
“So all of these are issues that are going to be confronting us in the year coming up. But our priority right now is to work on the implantation of all of the rules that we have even as we plan for and keep ahead of any developments that are coming.”
Mr Turnquest said there will be a few pieces of legislation passed this year to shore up good standing with the EU.
“Again this is a very dynamic environment and things change as standards change as the evolution of transactions and financial services products comes about.
“There are different standards that come up to police those kinds of developments and so I think it would be reasonable to expect that there will be further requirements as we go along.
“Again the important thing is that the Bahamas is at the table and we are in fact participating in the discussions so we are keeping abreast of the developments and not allowing ourselves to fall behind as we have done in the past.
“We are actively participating. Our technical teams are there. As you know we have an ambassador to Brussels now and so we’re getting real time information so that we can again be proactive in terms of dealing with any new developments that may arise.”
He said the government has continued to state its position to the EU as it relates to the continuous shift of the goal post.
“The Bahamas has maintained and continues to maintain that it is a very transparent and compliant jurisdiction that adheres to international best practices and financial services. We have demonstrated that.
“We also recognise that as the standards change we also have to make changes and sometimes there may be a lag between the enactment of those changes and the assessors’ impression of when those changes should occur, but at the same time we have to recognise that we are a small country with limited resources and our technical capabilities sometimes lag. That does not mean that we are not committed to doing what we need to do to ensure that we remain relevant. That we remain current and that we remain again in accordance with best practices,” Mr Turnquest said.