Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Cooper on the business license act amendment

CONTRIBUTION TO BUSINESS LICENSE AMENDMENT
CHESTER COOPER, EXUMAS AND RAGGED ISLAND MP, PLP DEPUTY LEADER
DECEMBER 12, 2018

Mr. Speaker,

It is my great pleasure to rise in this House today on behalf of the people of Exuma, Ragged Island and the magnificent chain of 365 Exuma Cays.

 

It is always a pleasure, Mr. Speaker, to rise in this house, the bedrock of our democracy, no matter what the issue.

That we can be here, as the people’s representatives, to give voice to their concerns, to aid those in need and to bring clarity to often complex subjects, is more than a duty.

It is an esteemed honor.

And, so, let me say today that it is my honor to point out to this wayward, stubborn government, the error of its ways, as it now scrambles to undo what many, many people told them should have never been done in the first place.

It is an honor for me to speak here today, but for the other side, I struggle to identify the honor in wasting the people’s time.

As we all know, nowadays, BPL ain’t cheap.

And yet here we sit, running the people’s AC and burning the people’s light, using the people’s broadcast network to watch this administration go full circle.

You know, it was just last week that two members opposite, including our esteemed minister of finance, took great umbrage as I explained to them that, in my view, the downfall of this administration will be its failure to consult.

This failure, apparent today, was also apparent on Monday, when the attorney general, whom I suggested members opposite consult, delayed, for a week, the Non-Profit Organisations Bill due to concerns raised by the church and civil society.

Some might find that strange. However, I don’t.

One would think one would get tired of telling this government, ‘I told you so.’
But one does not.

Because, again, I did tell you.

And again, you did not listen.

And again, you end up looking like you don’t know what you’re doing because somewhere in your heads you could not fathom that grown men and women, who have invested lifetimes in many of these ventures you blunder into, have the good sense to know what is good or bad for their business and their interest.

This was the case with the non-profits bill, the gaming tax, .
And it is the case with the business license issue before us.
Try to spin it any way you want.

What it is, is clear on the face of it.

You have egg on your face and you seek to clean it up before any real damage is done.
You did not listen to the business community on VAT, now you struggle to meet your projected targets.

You did not listen to the Christian Council on the non-profits, now you seek to rush their participation in a revamped bill before the end of the year.

You did not listen to us on the Grand Lucayan, now here we are, using the people’s tax dollars to fix up the hotel to make it somewhat attractive to investors.

Here we are settling with government money, severance costs for those employed for years by a private business; all because you negotiated poorly on the people’s behalf.

They call that fattening frog for snake in Forbes Hill, Little Exuma, where I am from, Mr. Speaker.

And, of course, you did not listen to the business community on your ill-thought-out plan to make it harder for businesses to do business.

Isn’t it hard enough already?

Tax upon tax upon tax.

Bureaucracy upon bureaucracy upon bureaucracy.

This is how the FNM does business.

With brute force; no finesse.

Steeped in the errant belief in its own rightness.

The original amendments, were passed without any deep discourse or thorough explanation by the minister himself.

The opposition, voted against your budget and your VAT increase, I might note.

Those amendments, as of January 1, 2018, would have required companies with an annual turnover of $10 million or more to provide audited financials on a yearly basis.

Those businesses earning between one dollar and $10 million would have had to provide a financial statement along with a certified bank statement covering each bank account in the business’ name and any other accounts it used in transactions.

Perhaps it is non-productive to drill too deeply into what, for the moment, will not happen.
But I do wonder where the government’s head was at on this.

Particularly in letting businesses sweat since June only to repeal this just weeks before the information would have been due.

Tell me, where was the green paper on this?

I’m a businessman. I didn’t see it.

Are businesses your playthings, to poke at and test theories on without consulting those who built them with their own blood sweat and tears?

The word that comes to mind in the midst of all this is “overkill”.

Something I hear a lot in the business conversations about this government nowadays.
Had you consulted BICA they would’ve suggested to you that you could use the VAT filings to reconcile with turn over.

They would’ve told you than a full audit with notes was overkill. Had you consulted the various regulators they would’ve told you that the timeline for performance of the audit for business license was inconsistent with established regulatory filing deadlines.

Had you consulted the Clearing banks they would tell you that for privacy and other reasons it was inappropriate to insert banks into a client’s tax matters.

That the concept of a certified bank statement is an alien concept.

They would’ve told you that bank statements themselves were not ideal in determining turnover since they would include many investing, loans, financing type activities. Besides, not all turnover may be deposited.

Had you consulted the Chamber of Commerce they would tell you to stop adding bureaucracy and stop paying lip service to ease of doing business and implement tactics and strategies to make inroads here.

Tell me, who would protect such data?

Who would it be allowed to be shared with?

What would you hope to glean from such delicate study of what businesses do with their banks? What assets they possess?

Was this some backhanded way of trying to figure out how viable a corporate or income tax would be in The Bahamas?

I thought surely the good minister said the government was using the people’s money to pay a large firm to explore the viability of that.

Perhaps he would so kind as to provide this House with the results of that study.
Or, at the very least, give us an update on how that’s progressing.

If the government wants to change the business license regime, which, frankly, is in need of reform, though not this way, then it should do it in an open transparent manner with all stakeholders involved.

This was clear in the way the PLP implemented VAT, which this government ignored.

Perhaps instead of tinkering with so much it seems not to understand, this administration should seek to grow the economy, as I suggest just about every time I get up here to speak.

Nominal growth won’t do it. We need dynamic growth – an economy firing on all cylinders.

The kind of growth we seeing now as a result of Baha Mar, the resort they said had a fake owner and a fake opening.

Now they rave about the GDP growth and the increase in stop over visitors.
Thank God for Baha Mar.

Thank God that the PLP ensured the property was opened before they left office.
Yes, focus on economic growth, meet with foreign investors and encourage the revitalization of Bay Street and other domestic investment.

Stop meandering, wasting more and more of the people’s time, going back on things it should have known better to touch without asking in the first place.

We support this amendment.

If you find your good sense and want to reverse OBAN we will support that move too.
If you wish to roll back your VAT rate, we will support that amendment too. It was also ill-conceived and inflicting untold pain and suffering on the Bahamian people, the poor and the middle class.

On behalf of Exuma, the Exuma Cays and Ragged Island, I thank you.

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