The Minnis administration is establishing an inventory of Crown land throughout The Bahamas in a bid to make low cost housing available on the Family Islands and spur economic growth in the archipelago, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday.
Bethel, who led debate on the Economic Empowerment Zones Bill, 2018 in the Senate, said Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has assigned Crown land officers to identify tracts that are available and suitable for residential development.
“The intention is that going forward, over the coming year and years… what will happen is that certain tracts will be surveyed off and allotments crafted, and marked out,” he said.
“The government will then come in and put in the essential infrastructure, a roadway, making sure that waterlines and electricity poles are in place and, similarly, these areas will be declared to be economic empowerment zones, which will then allow persons to utilize the law that we’ve crafted to build in government-owned subdivisions, their own dwelling homes.
“And, so, we will see the orderly expansion of housing opportunities to thousands of Family Island residents primarily throughout the length and breadth of this country.
“So, the same opportunities that are being afforded for the purpose of what we call service lots at below costs… will be extended to them and they will have customs duty exemptions on building supplies.
“Once an economic zone is declared, it will also facilitate businesses by Family Island residents to be established and to have all of the exemptions that are set out in the bill.”
Bethel said through this program, the government will also seek to address an age-old complaint that Bahamians can’t get title to their generation land.
“That will be addressed in a systematic way,” Bethel said.
The senator added that the bill will also provide similar tax breaks to Bahamians that foreign investors get.
“Bahamians always say, ‘You give everything to the foreign man’,” Bethel said.
“‘You give everything to this one and to that one, you don’t do anything for Bahamians.’
“Well, this and our reform laws in terms of land ownership, service lots are attempts to directly give to ordinary Bahamians the same economic incentive, tax breaks and benefits that foreigners get, and the critical difference in this bill is that we don’t only apply it to the house, we apply to the business, the Bahamian-owned businesses, in Over-the-Hill areas.”
The Economic Empowerment Zones Bill, 2018 details tax exemptions and benefits for residents and businesses in the designated zones.
Businesses with an aggregate turnover of $5 million or less will be exempt from customs duties for the import of commercial vehicles, business license fees and excise tax.
Residents who are seeking to build homes in the zones will receive exemption from customs duties on all materials necessary for the construction or reconstruction of buildings and structures. Homeowners in the zones will also be exempt from real property tax, excise tax and stamp duty.
Businesses that sell alcohol as their primary activity, and gaming houses, are not eligible for the exemptions.
Once it is brought into force, the bill will expire on July 1, 2023.