PLP MP hits out on VAT
Rollins also has Gaming Bill concerns
Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
The government should tax web shops to boost its revenue and introduce value added tax (VAT) at a lower rate than the proposed 15 percent, Gaming Board Chairman Dr. Andre Rollins said yesterday.
The Fort Charlotte MP also weighed in on the controversial Gaming Bill and told The Nassau Guardian that “Believe in Bahamians” needs to be more than an election slogan.
Rollins said debate on the modernization of the country’s gaming industry should not be focused on expanding the sector to benefit foreigners while ignoring Bahamian participation.
“While VAT is such a hot topic in our country we have to look at this as an opportunity to at least reduce the amount of apprehension or to whatever extent we can appease the public that is concerned now more than ever about being overtaxed,” he told The Nassau Guardian.
Rollins said taxing web shops would give the government a revenue injection, allowing VAT to be phased in at a low rate over a few years.
“That would allow the transition into VAT, I believe, to be a lot more palatable or manageable for the average Bahamian,” he said.
“We know that VAT is still not considered to be a progressive form of taxation. It’s a regressive tax, maybe not as regressive as a customs duty based regime, but it’s regressive nonetheless.
“If we are in fact in tune with the concerns of the Bahamian people we would know that they are not too pleased with this whole idea of being taxed more, particularly at a time when the economy is still not growing to the extent that we can absorb all of the unemployment.”
The government plans to institute a 15 percent VAT on July 1, 2014 to help close the gap between revenue and expenditure.
In November, Prime Minister Perry Christie told Parliament the government could get $15 million to $20 million in annual taxes if web shops were properly regulated.
The controversial Gaming Bill was tabled in the House of Assembly last month.
The bill would allow casinos to offer mobile and Internet gaming, while preventing web shops from legally doing so, and maintains the status quo, which prevents Bahamians from legal gambling.
Rollins said it “makes no sense” to modernize the gaming industry for foreigners while leaving Bahamians out.
“We cannot as the government fuel a perception that we are enacting legislation that is geared toward bringing modernization to our country but which simultaneously leaves Bahamians behind,” Rollins said.
“Believing in Bahamians must be more than a convenient political slogan. In opposition you have the luxury of being elected on your promises. As the government, however, you are judged by your actions. This debate is about much more than gaming; it is about maintaining our philosophical credibility as a government that says it believes in Bahamians.”
Rollins said if the issue of Bahamians gambling is not dealt with during the debate on the Gaming Bill, he doubts it would happen during this term.
“I don’t expect for Bahamians to believe that if we don’t discuss the importance of Bahamians participating in the industry, whether as owners or patrons, that if we don’t do it now it’s likely for us to do it later,” he said. “Later when, after the next election?
“We cannot continue to leave the interests of Bahamians behind.”
In January, a majority of people who voted in a referendum on gambling voted no to the regularization and taxation of web shops. The government has said it will abide by the outcome of that vote.
Debate on the Gaming Bill is expected to begin in the House of Assembly on Wednesday.
November 04, 2013