Opposition outraged at VAT hike, calls it “tax madness”

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Chester Cooper

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has labeled the government’s 2018/2019 budget as a slap in the face to Bahamians who voted for a party which campaigned on promises to rebound the country’s economy.

“This is a sad day,” said PLP Deputy Leader Chester Cooper Wednesday, as he lambasted the government for the 67 per cent increase in value-added tax (VAT) during a press conference in the Minority Room in the House of Assembly (HOA).

“This is an outrageous display today of backtracking on an election promise and trying to smooth it over by listing a whole host of exemptions that will amount to less than what the cost increases will be as a result of the increase in VAT.”

Cooper said the Free National Movement (FNM) government is now speaking with two tongues since taking office in May 2017.

“This is the same FNM that voted against VAT, claiming that it would inflict pain and stress on the middle class and the poor. They called it double taxation,” noted Cooper.

Englerston Member of Parliament (MP) Glenys Hanna-Martin called for the government to provide the hard facts which led them to bump VAT from 7.5 per cent up five percentage points to 12 per cent.

“The government just said that it projects the country’s economy to grow by 2.5 per cent. So why do they now need to increase VAT? We need the answers and the facts as to what data they used to make this decision,” Hanna-Martin said as she blasted the government.

“In the last 12 months, what happened? All of a sudden the country is underperforming? They need to explain to Bahamians why they have not been able to maintain revenue levels.

“Through incompetence, they now have turned around to burden Bahamians for their short falls.”

Cooper pointed out that the burden placed on Family Islanders is a major concern.

International banking institutions pulled out of Family Islands at the start of the year, forcing residents to use gaming houses to deposit money.

The new budget now levies a five per cent tax on those monies as well.

“The banking system has failed Bahamian people,” Cooper said.

“People in remote communities like South Andros, Acklins and Black Point in Exuma; have to depend on deposits in gaming houses t be able to get money. Now it is going to cost them 5 per cent to put their own money on deposit.

“This is tax madness.”

On the issue of exorbitant taxes for gaming houses ranging from 20 to an astonishing 50 per cent, the opposition expressed its concern for the 3, 000 employees that work at various gaming houses around the country.

Cooper said, the new tax hikes on gaming houses’ revenue, may force gaming operators to slash their employee numbers in order to abide by the new tax regime.

Hanna-Martin said the FNM administration has backpedaled on its election campaign promises.

“You’re purporting to keep a campaign promise by taking VAT off breadbasket items, you’ve now increased the cost of other items, which affects poor people at the same time. If they imagine that this is keeping a campaign promise, they have not done that by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.

“I don’t think that Bahamians will take this sitting down,” said Cooper.

Opposition leader Philip Davis said he believes that the new budget might send the country into another recession and said that the opposition will vote “no” on the new budget.