Cabinet ministers dismiss opinion poll on 2018-2019 budget

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and this Cabinet walk to the House of Assembly.

Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Peter Turnquest dismissed a poll by marketing and research firm Public Domain, which showed overwhelming opposition by residents to the proposed upcoming fiscal budget currently being debated in Parliament.

The poll, which was conducted by telephone between June 2 and June 6, also showed that 66 per cent of the public “very much” oppose government’s proposed value-added tax (VAT) increase from 7.5 per cent to 12 per cent, while 13 per cent of persons support the increase.

Nine per cent said they somewhat support it while five per cent said they were unsure.

“We have done I think a very good job in terms of trying to explain it in Parliament,” Turnquest said.

“Unfortunately, some people have not been able to hear that message and we are going in each constituency, and holding town meetings and clarifying and addressing the concerns that Bahamians legitimately have about the budget.

“We’ve had quite frankly a very good response once people were able to get the information directly, rather than from these fake news and all of these WhatsApp things that are going around that are distorting the facts.”

Attorney General Senator Carl Bethel said while the message may have gotten lost in translation, the government has to make hard decisions in the best interest of the country.

“Sometimes in governance, you have to do what’s right, not what’s popular,” Bethel said.

“We’ve reached a stage in The Bahamas fiscally, in terms of where the government is in terms of its obligations [which is] the fact that nearly $800 million has to be used to pay either matured debt or interest on old money borrowed decades ago sometimes, that’s already been spent. $800 million.

“And when you look at the traditional sources of revenue, they are not enough to cover these obligations.”

While the budget has been dubbed “The People’s Budget”, 62 per of persons surveyed in the Public Domain poll said they believe the budget is designed to benefit special interests within the Free National Movement (FNM) and only seven per cent believe “the budget is The People’s Budget”.

Respondents were also asked, “Do you think it’s fair or unfair that locally owned Bahamian business, like gaming houses, will be taxed at upwards of 50 per cent, while banks and other industries are taxed less than 10 per cent?”

To this question, 64 per cent of persons said it is “very unfair”, 15 per cent said very fair, six per cent said somewhat unfair, nine per cent said unfair and six per cent were not sure. Eighty-nine per cent of respondents said the government should consider job losses when approving new taxes for web shops.

Gaming operators have warned that there will be job losses of and store closures of up to 192 venues, if the government moves forward with its new taxation scales.

The new budget proposes gaming operators pay a minimum of 20 per cent to a maximum of 50 per cent in additional tax, based on their earnings.

The tax structure also includes a new five per cent stamp tax on deposits made to gaming houses by customers.

Thirty-six per cent of those surveyed said they strongly believe that the tax hike on the gaming industry is “economic racism”, while 15 per cent “somewhat agree”, 13 per cent unsure, 13 per cent somewhat disagree and 23 per cent strongly agree.

When asked “Do you believe the budget is more likely to help the average Bahamian or the wealthy”, 68 per cent said “somewhat wealthy”, 12 per cent said “very much wealthy”, eight per cent said “somewhat average”, six per cent said “very much average”.