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Editorial: Public Purse Empty - But Look At The Unpaid Taxes

IS it any wonder our country is in the financial state it’s in?

Never mind bringing in income tax – how about just collecting the money that’s owed already?

In today’s Tribune, we report that up to 40 percent of real property tax bills never reach the intended taxpayer. Unpaid arrears are more than $600m.

How hard can it be to make sure that a bill gets in the hands of someone who owns a piece of property?

There is a physical address that bill is connected to – if no one collects it from their address and they end up not paying the bill, well, that’s their problem and that should end up in the default process, maybe ending up in court. Don’t pay it long enough and that should even end up with the property possibly being forfeit.

Seriously, if this is how we fail to deal with bills on buildings that, by their nature, are large and noticeable, then how on earth would we implement an income tax on people who move around?

It also apparently takes two years for penalty surcharges for non-payment to be added.

Let’s flash back to all the debates over whether BPL or the Water and Sewerage Corporation should be cutting people off for non-payment – with many of those customers likely caught up in the pandemic economic slowdown and unable to spread their money around enough to keep up with the light and water as well as putting food on the table.

For those who were cut off, how outraged must they be that people with entire properties are simply not paying – and one of the reasons is that no one can seem to find the owners of these buildings?

The Minnis administration can’t even pretend this is just a legacy of governments that went before them – arrears went up under this government, by $78.21m.

How much of that money could have paid for financial support for people who have been furloughed? How much could have gone towards feeding those in need?

Meanwhile, over at Albany, filled with some of the richest residents in The Bahamas, we discover that in the 2017-18 fiscal year, just $401,000 flowed to the public treasury after $29.498m in VAT was “deferred”. This in a year when Albany got more than $23m in tax breaks.

We were never under any illusion that there was a level playing field – but these numbers certainly highlight the difference between the poor who get their lights turned off for falling behind and the rich who barely pay a penny.

The new US president, Joe Biden, has previously said that paying more in taxes is patriotic. It puts money in the hands of the nation that can be used to improve it. This isn’t even a matter of paying more – this is a question of paying any at all.

This is a system that needs to be fixed. Property tax should be one of the easiest taxes to collect and to monitor. The question is – who’s going to fix it?

Dodging questions

National Security Minister Marvin Dames and Police Commissioner Paul Rolle need to do better over allegations involving police officers and Peter Nygard.

Last month, Mr Dames was asked about the investigation and told reporters he is confident the police force will investigate the allegations – but on Tuesday Commissioner Rolle said “you need to speak to Minister Dames”.

What did Mr Dames say yesterday? You guessed it: “That’s a question that you have to take up with the Commissioner.”

The Tribune, the public and other media aren’t stupid – we’re constrained by legal requirements to report on what has been alleged against the RBDF. But there is no one who has followed this story and has followed what is available on the internet who doesn’t know the names of certain officers who have been named in the Nygard controversy. The minister and the Commissioner are playing this game of back-and-forth, with the public caught in the middle never getting a straight answer.

What we would say is this – allegations have been made that go right to the heart of public trust in the police force. It has been claimed that Peter Nygard bribed certain senior police officers. It does not one thing to restore the public trust when it seems clear these allegations are not being taken seriously – and certainly don’t seem to be making any progress.

This should not be something that can just be batted away until people forget. Do better.

Comments

proudloudandfnm 3 weeks, 4 days ago

This is exactly why I oppose any new taxes. And the most maddening aspect of this is that most of our money goes to paying government staff. The same staff that can't collect taxes already on the books. This is insane...

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bahamianson 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Look at unpaid taxes, unpaid rent, unpaid car loans, unpaid mortgages, unpaid school fees, and the list goes on.people neednto be taught responsibility.

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John 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Bahamians should never have to pay taxes on their dwelling homes in any instance. They bear the brunt of the tax burden and once they acquire a dwelling home it should be tax free. Just look at how many millions are owed by foreign owned casinos whilst government try to squeeze locally owned web shops like lemons in the heat of summer. Look at the number of tax concessions given to foreign owned businesses compared to Bahamians. The entire tax structure is designed to keep Bahamians poor and impoverished while the foreigners can come here and become millionaires overnight. It’s a disgrace before heaven and on earth the amount of taxes being on everyday items being imported into this country. When VAT was introduced as part of tax reform it was supposed to replace customs duties (and stamp taxes) that were considered to be barriers to trade. But years later, not only is government still collecting VAT in addition to customs duties, but it has increased the amount of vat it is collecting by 60%. Even before the corona pandemic, Bahamians saw themselves in a worse economic condition than they have been in in a long time. And government is faring no better with the increased taxes. Two reasons 1 they are choking the guts out the local economy. Businesses cannot grow because of overtaxation and local Bahamians can only afford to buy what they need to survive . No room for progress. And even as many foreign businesses thrive (especially in the tourism industry) government sees little increases in revenue because these businesses are exempt from most of the taxes Bahamians pay. Bay Street and cable beach and paradise island has been closed for almost a year now. So basically it is the locals who are supplying government with revenue. What will happen in the next 3-9 months will be life changing for this country. As businesses will close, persons will be evicted from their apartments and others will lose mortgage properties. Next month will make a year since many in the population have worked. The cruise ships may not be back before summer or fall.. what are the short term plans to create employment and enhance government revenue? More taxes on the Lil poor, struggling, stressed out many unemployed Bahamians?

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M0J0 3 weeks, 4 days ago

NO PLAN NO PROGRESS NO VISION

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KapunkleUp 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I am not disagreeing with everything you said but let me play counterpoint for a minute. With the closing of the major hotels, we have gotten a glimpse of what life is like without foreign investment to create jobs in our country. It ain't pretty. We simply cannot have a vibrant economy without foreign money unless we are all prepared to decrease our standards of living by orders of magnitude. That said, you are not going to attract big foreign investments without agreeing to tax breaks. It just not gonna happen. What I, and many others, have been saying is that our government leaders have consistently damaged our economy by mismanagement and plain outright malfeasance. Both parties, FNM and PLP are responsible for this deep hole we are in. I don't see it getting better either. The general mentality of our people is to worry about themselves and today instead of thinking long term and the country as a whole.

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John 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I am not knocking the foreign investment or the foreign investors. The point is they should not be given advantage over the Bahamian. Most of the small Bahamian owned motels and guest houses in New Providence and many family islands have closed because they don’t receive the support of the government. Many don’t get any concessions from government. Now put your point in another perspective. What if Bahamians were given the opportunity to buy into the many foreign businesses operating in the country? At one point Atlantis was a publicly traded company. Bahamians who bought stocks saw their investment increase four-fold in a few short years. Then Atlantis threw Bahamians their money back and went back to being private company. Was it because they didn’t want to disclose how much they are making? Stocks for every hotel, cruise line and airline servicing the Bahamas, including Bahamasair should be available to Bahamians on the local stock market.

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KapunkleUp 3 weeks, 4 days ago

You make a very good point. One of the stipulations, going forward, could be that some percentage of any large resort should be listed on BISX in order to provide us with a chance to share in the profits. Nothing wrong with that.

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empathy 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I too subscribe to the philosophy that one’s primary dwelling should incur ’no’ or minimal taxation. There have been many instances where municipalities around the world have had to redress unfairness in residential taxation (aka Real Property Tax) because it unfairly taxes folks who can ill afford it: think of the elderly retired home owner whose home is their greatest asset now being forced to pay high rate taxation on a fixed income. The co$t of taxation on one’s primary residence should be nominal and include predominantly the cost to the government of record keeping. Documentation of Real Property is important to prevent fraud and theft of property in an effort to discourage fraudsters from stealing the poor and vulnerable’s most precious and valuable commodity, their home and property. Taxation on second (and third) homes can be at a reasonable rate, although these are likely to be income generating properties subject to VAT or business taxes.

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tribanon 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Decades of corrupt politicians have greatly enriched themselves at the expense of the vast majority of the Bahamian people by allowing foreign investors to receive outrageously generous concessions of every kind and by permitting politically connected very wealthy Bahamians and foreign residents alike to get away with manipulative schemes of one devious kind or another that result in them paying ridiculously low taxes and fees.

The entire corrupt system has left the country bankrupt and left too many Bahamians and local businesses financially destitute and unable to pay the taxes and fees our corrupt politicians are now seeking to impose on them.

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ColumbusPillow 3 weeks, 4 days ago

The Bahamas postal service is non-existent. HOW CAN PEOPLE PAY THEIR TAXES WITHOUT MAIL SERVICE OR MAIL/POST BOXES??

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avidreader 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Greed and selfishness have propelled us well on the way to becoming just another country in which the elite group sees no sense in working for the improvement of the country. They believe that if they don't take advantage of their situation in society, someone else will step into their place.

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FrustratedBusinessman 3 weeks, 4 days ago

"How hard can it be to make sure that a bill gets in the hands of someone who owns a piece of property?"

The Bahamian government has yet to discover the technology of electronic mail, apparently.

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BONEFISH 3 weeks, 2 days ago

The revenue enhancement unit was set up to go after individuals and companies for outstanding taxes. They collected ninety million dollars in a six month period after hurricane Matthew according to Moody's the rating agency. In fact, Moody's questioned why was that unit disbanded by the FNM government.

The editor is either unaware or bias in it's support of this government. The financial secretary Wilson and his technical team gave presentations to Peter Tunquest about the programs they were running to collect outstanding revenues and modernize the tax administration. Those programs were cancelled and the contractual staff sent home in 2017. What the auditor general 's report is revealing is the cascading effect of those poor decisions.

Somebody outside the Bahamas spoke to me yesterday and just expressed shock. How could a government raise the vat tax, a regressive tax and make no real attempt to collect all this outstanding taxes. The person said to me Bahamians simply don't understand much. The person said to me ,all of those programs are going to be restarted .The person also said that the international lending agencies including the IMF will insist that it to be done.

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