Monday, November 25, 2013

The Bahamas government should not bend to public pressure over value-added tax (VAT) ...says Bahamian Attorney, Wayne Munroe

Munroe: Govt should push ahead with VAT

Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas -

Attorney Wayne Munroe said the government should not bend to public pressure over value-added tax (VAT).

The Christie administration has been criticized for not yet releasing the VAT legislation and regulations with the proposed implementation date eight months away.  The government’s VAT public education program has also come under fire.

However, Munroe said these issues do not mean the government should delay or abandon the tax.

“They just need to get it done, all this nonsense about educating the public about tax, [were] any of us educated about the business license or real property tax or customs duties?

“So [why] suddenly the great need to educate us over VAT?  The people who have to collect it, pay it and administer the system must be told and must make themselves aware of what they need to know and that’s it.”

Munroe also suggested that it might be strategic for the government to delay the release of the VAT legislation and regulations, so people have less time to figure out how to circumvent payment.

“The government’s objective is to maximize revenue collection.  If you give me a month with a bill, I will probably be able to show deficiencies that would be able to beneficially impact my client and adversely impact government revenue collection.

“So there is nothing unusual about not circulating a revenue statute in advance and anyone with sense would know that.  The less time I have with it, the more time you have before I find out a clever way out of it.

The new VAT regime proposed by the government would allow the state to impose widespread penalties on those who fail to comply with the new act and its regulations, including heavy fines, shutting businesses down, publicly naming and shaming, the seizure of goods and the auctioning off of assets and even jail time.

The new regime proposes to allow the Central Revenue Agency (CRA), which the government is setting up to regulate and collect VAT, to demand details of assets from banking institutions, garnish money owed to registrants by others and restrict access to travel for those who owe outstanding taxes.

Under the new tax system, delinquent taxpayers can also be restricted from travel until outstanding taxes are settled.

Munroe questioned the rationale of this provision and said it should not be included in the final draft of the VAT legislation.

“You can’t restrict my movement because I owe the government money, because what does one have to do with the other?

“Does that mean poor people can’t move about?  Now, the U.S. for instance can refuse you entry into their country if you owe people money, but that’s because you have no right of entry into the U.S. or any other country other than your own.

“I can’t see them seriously talking about restricting your movement because you owe taxes.”

The government plans to roll out VAT on July 1, 2014 at a rate of 15 percent in the wide majority of cases.

However, Prime Minister Perry Christie has said he reserves the right to delay the implementation date.

VAT is expected to add an additional $200 million in revenue in the first year of implementation, officials estimate.

November 25, 2013