NASSAU, The Bahamas, Friday October 21, 2016 – Prime Minister Perry Christie is backpedaling from a suggestion that government may need to “tax some item” to get funds for the country’s Hurricane Matthew recovery and repair effort. He says no new taxes are needed.
Christie was adamant, as he spoke in the House of Assembly, that the Ministry of Finance knew that prior to Matthew’s arrival, as external experts presented the information as part of a specially commissioned study.
The government has been facing harsh criticism over Christie’s comments on Monday that the country needed to give serious consideration to a more effective way of financing its losses. During that interview he said it might have been time to consider a “selective approach” to accrue the money by “taxing some item that would be of minimal impact on people”.
However, when he stood in Parliament for the first time since Matthew pummeled New Providence, Grand Bahama and Andros, he suggested that his comments were in an off-record conversation with reporters.
The nation’s leader asserted that it was “natural” to ask a question to invoke debate as to how the government would tackle debt caused by natural disasters.
He seemed bothered by the media’s decision to publicize the comments, which have incited outrage among Bahamians.
“We were given the assurance of the technical staff of the Ministry of Finance that the funding to service this debt can be derived from the existing tax system in a policy neutral manner – that is, no change in the existing rates,” he said.
“This assurance was done by way of a study on behalf of the ministry by external experts (and) the study was commissioned and presented to the ministry prior to the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. The key finding of the study is that with a more structured compliance programme, the revenue base could grow by 10 per cent in the short term and up to 20 per cent in the medium term,” the prime minister added.
“The study indicated that with the investments made by this administration in information technology to support tax collection efforts that this was not only doable, but it was achievable. My government decided to engage in a study that would put it in a position not to panic over an issue of this kind but to sit in the Cabinet…and have the Ministry of Finance speak to us about the options available to us and to be able to say before we go any further, ‘let us collect the money that is available to be collected’…before we go any further and talk about anything because we know the extent to which people are suffering, it doesn’t arise.” (Adapted from The Tribune)