Laing touts proposed Business License Act changes
Amendments to the Business License Act debated in the House of Assembly yesterday are expected to streamline the way business is done in The Bahamas, according to Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing.
However, tax attorney Ryan Pinder–the MP for Elizabeth–claimed that some of the changes serve the interests of special interest groups.
He referred to the amendment that decreases the amount taxed on hotels, construction companies, petroleum wholesalers and food wholesalers.
Under the Business License Act, they are taxed .75 percent of their turnovers. The amendment places them in a category that would allow them to pay .5 percent.
Laing said some businesses complained that they were going to pay significantly more in taxes than they currently pay when the amended act comes into force. But he said that was not the government’s intention.
“The government wanted to be neutral,”Laing said.
He said with the amendment, those companies would pay essentially the same amount they are paying now or slightly more.
But Pinder said the government has another motive for amending the bill.
“It seems to me that this government has extended the preferential treatment of cherished industries in our country to special interests,”he said.
“Why would you extend this preferential rate to construction companies, except for the fact that the largest construction companies are generally supporters of the FNM?We know who the largest hotel operator supports.
“I ask, why have these industries been included in a preferential business license rate generally reserved for historical industries in this country that we want to promote as a matter of public policy?Enough with the catering to special interests; govern for Bahamians.”
Minister for the Environment Dr. Earl Deveaux encouraged Pinder to take on such matters in a more mature way so as not to do so much damage.
“It is impossible to pass a law for a single group of people because everyone benefits,”he said.
Deveaux said it is”wrong, corrosive and destructive”in The Bahamas to make such claims.
“All of us have to be mindful of what we say, win of lose. But at the end of the day we have the government,”he said.
Deveaux said the Business License Bill is in the best interest of The Bahamas.
The bill clarifies the definition of turnover as money and money’s worth; extends the deadline for filing tax returns by three months, and removes the need to apply for a business license for businesses that are establishing a new branch of that business.
Among other things, the act also widens the circumstances under which people can appeal the decisions of the secretary of revenue.
Laing said while the bill represents positive changes, there is still more work to be done.
He said the country is on course to become the best in the jurisdiction in which to conduct business.
But Pinder pointed out that The Bahamas has fallen in the ease of doing business measurements as compared to other countries.
“We have fallen from being ranked 59th in the 2009 report, to 71st in the 2010 report, to 77th in the recently released 2011 report,”he said.
“Mr. Speaker, this is a trend that speaks for itself about this government’s lack of commitment to the advancement of private business in The Bahamas. It is a failed agenda.”