Halkitis: New Freeport fees cover costs
As a group of Freeport licensees plan to participate in a class action lawsuit against the government, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis is standing by the government’s new fees, claiming they represent the cost of service provided by the government.
“We don’t view it as a tax, what we view it as is an effort to recover some of the costs for the Department of Customs and a service that’s provided,” Halkitis said during a recent appearance on Guardian Radio’s Morning Blend show.
“We have received some communication from some of the stakeholders in Grand Bahama. We actually had some meetings with them about this and we have been able to explain the true impact.
“They view it as a tax that cannot be sustained and we are in the process of putting our written response back to them. We don’t think it’s double tax but we view as a fee for service.”
Freeport attorney and QC, Fred Smith, of Callenders and Co., is driving the Freeport licensees’ class action suit against the government over newly-introduced fees, arguing that “continued interference by the central government is the only reason Freeport continues to wallow in a recessionary swamp”.
The lawsuit will encompass the groups’ objections not only to the new customs processing fee and environmental levy, implemented on July 1, but also other demands made by the central government via the Department of Customs on Freeport licensees in recent years.
The group would like to see the GBPA, the governing authority for the Freeport zone, join with them in the suit. If it does not, licensees are prepared to make the port authority a target of it instead.
Halkitis maintained that the government has provided customs in Grand Bahama for the most part for free for many years, but it is a cost it can no longer be responsible for, particularly as it looks to take over security at the Freeport Container Port within the next two years.
“In the next year or two, we are going to have to take over the security at the port, which is going to cost an additional sum of money, so again these things will have to be paid for,” he said.
In the meantime, Halkitis confirmed plans to meet with more stakeholders within the Grand Bahama business community.