By NEIL HARTNELL
and YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporters
The government has pushed back the deadlines for March’s VAT filings and business licence fee payments until April 15, a senior official confirmed yesterday.
Marlon Johnson, the Ministry of Finance’s acting financial secretary, told Tribune Business that the government was hoping that many businesses had already paid their annual business licence fee - which is normally due by end-March every year - prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated national lockdown taking hold.
Confirming that a decline in March revenues was expected, when measured against both expectations and the prior year, Mr Johnson said: “For the first couple of months [of 2020] the revenue has been holding fairly firm against the revised projections.
“But, of course, we anticipate with the shutdown in the tourism market and the lockdown that there will be a turn on revenue reported for the month..... In talking to businesses, many of them have already complied and made their Business Licence payments. A significant number have already paid, and hopefully others will continue to do so.”
COVID-19 has struck during the most revenue-rich period of the Government’s fiscal year, which is the three months to end-March 31. This coincides with the peak winter tourism season, which boosts economic activity and VAT receipts throughout the economy, as well as Business Licence fee payments, the bulk of real property tax collections, and commercial vehicle licensing month.
Mr Johnson added that the Ministry of Finance was also revising its economic and fiscal numbers for the 2019-2020 budget year’s fourth quarter, which is the period from April 1 to end-June and concludes the Government’s financial year. Medium and longer range forecasts will also be modified.
“We’re living in a very different reality by virtue of COVID-19, and in line with that we’re working through all the prior scenarios we have, updating them and looking at multiple scenarios for when commerce comes back online,” he said.
“We’re doing our part to make sure policymakers have an understanding of the many foreseeable scenarios that can happen so that they can plan according to that. We all appreciate the reality of where we are, and the nature of the economic slowdown and shock in many sectors, and our plans and forecasts will reflect that.
“The truth of the matter is that no one could have seen this coming. The world looks a lot different from the last time. The lesson is we just have to remain nimble. We’re taking it in stride, and our job at the Ministry of Finance is to look at the numbers and the range of options available to the policymakers to accomplish whatever goals we need to coming out of this.”
The Prime Minister last night said the deputy prime minister, K Peter Turnquest, will unveil a range of new measures to assist Bahamian businesses, households and individuals when the House of Assembly meets today.
Dr Hubert Minnis said: “We continue to approve incentives under the Hotels Encouragement Act for a number of small and medium-sizes businesses which will assist them in their recovery. The approvals process for investment projects, both domestic and international, will be accelerated to ensure we get people back to work as quickly as possible.”
He also promised to make an announcement this week for persons “who live in rental properties of a certain value who have lost jobs or income because of COVID-19”, and added: “Pharmacies will be allowed to operate from 9a to 1pm.
“Banks will be allowed to operate from 9am to 1pm. Landscaping and property maintenance businesses, and janitorial service businesses, will be allowed to operate on Saturday and Sunday only. Pool maintenance businesses will be allowed to operate on Friday and Saturday only. All street or roadside vendors will be prohibited from operating.”