By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’s president yesterday voiced concern that the Government is “running out of time” to clarify if the Dorian tax breaks will be extended beyond year-end.
Greg Laroda told Tribune Business that December is almost “half-way gone” yet there has been no official confirmation by the Davis administration - despite repeated verbal assurances - that the import duty and VAT relief seen as vital to aiding rebuilding efforts will continue.
“I think that one is very important,” he said of the Special Economic Recovery Zones’ continuation in Grand Bahama and Abaco. “I believe most persons on both Grand Bahama and Abaco are hoping it will be like a foregone conclusion.
“We’re still in a situation where, because of the downturn in the economy, a lot of folks do not have the funds to take advantage of it. A lot of them are out of jobs, and they cannot do repairs to their homes if they are no working. The expectation from the average person on the street is that it will be extended for another six months, if just to see where we land at that point in time.”
Mr Laroda, emphasising that The Bahamas was “lucky” to have escaped a direct hit by a major hurricane for the second consecutive year, added: “Folks need more time to recover. That’s something we plan to talk to the Government about.”
Suggesting that meetings had already taken place with the GB Chamber, and further discussions are planned, he said the Government was leaving it late to state a position on the SERZs and whether they should continue beyond December 31.
“We’re running out of time,” he told Tribune Business. “December is half-way gone. We need to know..... I think for the average person on the street the expectation is that the Government will step up to the plate sooner rather than later, and not announce that they will not be extended, but announce that it will be extended if only for the first quarter or first half.
“Let’s see if the economy rebounds, and some persons get back to work and take advantage of it and do some repairs. The Government has the numbers. Even though they may say it’s been in effect a long time and has to come to an end, no matter how long it is, if people are unable to take advantage of it for no fault of their own, it needs to be extended.
“The whole object was to enable people to repair their homes and businesses, and get back to normal, and if they have been unable to do that it needs to be extended. It’s important that the Government, sooner rather than later, makes that announcement that it is going to be extended even if on an interim basis.”
Mr Laroda was backed by Ken Hutton, the Abaco Chamber of Commerce’s president, who said of the SERZs: “We have a lot of verbal assurances, but nothing in writing. There’s a lot of second homeowners and people trying to rebuild who would really like to find out what will be happening in two weeks.
“We went through this with the previous government every single time. One would have thought the new government would provide a lot of clarity sooner, but I guess the more things change the more they stay the same with regard to the extension of the SERZs.
“We’re two weeks before the deadline and nobody knows what’s going on,” he added. “It’s very frustrating. Unfortunately there’s very little we can do except make noise, which we are doing.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in Abaco most of the commercial job sites [construction] are closing on the 17th and will not be open until January 4. We’ve got less than a week to determine what happens next year. That’s just immensely frustrating. There’s no clarity, there’s no certainty. It’s very frustrating and disappointing.”
The SERZ orders have been extended three times since they first were enacted in December 2019. Mr Hutton has previously asked for a full three-year extension to the SERZ in the recent past, but the Government has not given a response to the Chamber’s request.