EDITORIAL: Hurricane survivors left in limbo by rules change

THE aftermath of Hurricane Dorian hit The Bahamas hard. First, there were the personal losses – the deaths of so many in the storm. Second came the challenge to rebuild.

Abaco and Grand Bahama both faced huge reconstruction, with some buildings completely wiped out by the monster storm that struck in September 2019.

The Tribune was there first-hand to see the storm, with reporting staff at the scene even as the hurricane hit the islands.

There was absolutely a need for a helping hand for the survivors as they started to rebuild – a process no one could have foreseen would be further disrupted by a global pandemic, a war in Europe that sent fuel prices surging and global problems with both supply chains and inflation.

So when Financial Secretary Simon Wilson warned last night that tax breaks introduced after Hurricane Dorian “cannot go on indefinitely”, it should be of no surprise that people in those islands are concerned.

The existing Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) order for Abaco and Grand Bahama is due to expire tomorrow.

Mr Wilson says, however, that those orders are “not inexpensive” and suggested that SERZ orders were being abused for tax evasion, fraud and other illicit purposes.

Instead, he suggested that the government will move away from orders where everyone affected qualifies to a case-by-case basis.

He said that “anyone who has a valid” claim for tax relief would be “honoured”. He said: “The best way to put it is if you have a valid claim for Dorian damage it will be honoured. So what some folks have done, because of shipping delays and so forth, is they have come to us in advance and said they have purchased supplies but, because of supply chain issues, they are going to arrive after December 1. We’ve accommodated those persons. In Abaco I think there’s a fair few, but we’ve accommodated them.”

What Mr Wilson does not provide is evidence of this so-called fraud and tax evasion. And our courts do not appear to have been troubled by anyone being arrested for such behaviour.

Instead, we appear to be moving to a system where people have to plead personally for assistance. That has raised concerns.

Roscoe Thompson, the head of the Marsh Harbour/Spring City Township, was wary a case-by-case system could lead to “political favouritism”.

He said “there’s no confirmation or clarity” on what will happen from tomorrow, especially with regard to what documents will have to be provided to secure tax exemptions – or even to whom those papers should be submitted.

Mr Thompson said: “A lot of Abaconians feel disenfranchised, a little perturbed, a little upset. We thought we would get a little longer. This government, during election time this was one of their campaign promises, and they’ve gone back on it.

“It’s only been three years since Dorian, and we lost a year-and-a-half to COVID. A lot of people have not had the funds and financing to rebuild. Now people are finally getting the money, but can they still rebuild or bring in a car they had approval for in 2020 but did not have the means to do then?

“It’s really going to hurt the economy… you don’t have to go to a case-by-case basis. I believe it’s a way of getting rid of the SERZ and not extending it. It’s going to hinder Abaco big time.”

According to Mr Wilson, a “rebalancing” is now needed because taxpayers in New Providence and other islands cannot “cross-subsidise” these concessions forever.

Putting it simply, this means less funding is going to be available across the islands hit by Hurricane Dorian. Cutting the tax breaks means less support, it’s as simple as that. In a case-by-case basis, if one person gets told yes, they can have this, and a second person is told no, then that’s halving the support available to begin with. So those islands will not have as much aid as previously.

Now if the person who gets the support is a friend of a minister and the one who does not get help does not have that relationship, suddenly you get concerns over why awards are granted.

And consider this – Mr Wilson is essentially saying that islands not affected cannot be asked to help those that are.

One of the signatures of this administration is that it has been travelling the world asking for nations not affected by climate change to reach into their pockets to support those, such as The Bahamas, that are being hit.

Why should the US or China have to pay up to support The Bahamas if The Bahamas won’t pay up to support its own?

As East Grand Bahama MP Kwasi Thompson pointed out too, there are repairs that need to be done that directly affect the impacts from climate change such as increased storm surge – he called for the High Rock sea wall to be fixed, while he said there were still residents in areas such as Lady Lake and Over The Bridge in need of home repair assistance.

All this is not even taking into account the fact that applying for help from the government and actually receiving it can be a long drawn-out process.

If it costs $50m a year to help rebuild after the storm, this is the cost we need to be touting internationally over climate change – and we shouldn’t be skimping on the bill when it comes time to pay it.

Can such tax breaks go on forever? No. But while it is easy to walk into a community and find homes where the reconstruction is still going on? We owe it to our fellow Bahamians.

After the storm, a common rallying cry was Bahamas Strong. We shouldn’t let that turn into Bahamas Cheap.


Flyingfish 3 months, 4 weeks ago

If the government was serious they would have consolidated resources and built a new block of apartments on the former Mudd/Peas. Not single plot low density house, for each family.

And no a triplex is not what I mean by apartment, rather European style 3-5 story buildings which can house many at once. The government has wasted the donations, time, effort towards rebuilding Abaco so foolishly. Buying domes to only trash them later.

Any semi competent and EDUCATED planner can do better, unfortunately the political class make to much dang decision despite knowing jack all. Handing out money to rich investors & second homeowners first instead of native Abaconians.


birdiestrachan 3 months, 4 weeks ago

kawsi thompson had all the time in the world to fix all of these problems he runs his mouth about. he was right there when the doc was signing a big contratc for Kay Forbes Smith, what did she do? Nothing Zero.


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