Concerns bills to satisfy tax watchdogs are bad for legal sector
The compendium of legislation recently passed by the government to safeguard the country against sanctions by international tax watchdogs and shore up the financial services sector is adversely impacting the legal fraternity.
President of the Bahamas Bar Association Kahlil Parker said while compliance with global standards is important, it should not be at the expense of constraining how Bahamian professionals are able to carry out their obligations.
“We have some concerns, particularly with the manner of the regulation of the legal profession. We have recently been categorized carte blanche as financial service providers, which puts us under the regulation of the Compliance Commission, which proposed to do on-site inspections with respect to the practices,” Parker said in an interview with Guardian Business yesterday.
“We have concerns about the legal professional privilege, privacy of our clients, these are things that we are in active discussions with the AG’s (attorney general) office. We hope that these things don’t come to litigation, but if we don’t have some accommodation to ensure that the obligations we owe to our clients are preserved, we will then have to deal with that in that way.
“We try to engage with the government on these subjects as much as we can to reach happy common ground, but compliance has to be coherent and it has to be with a view to making sure that Bahamian industries and Bahamian professionals are allowed to successfully carry on their professions in the new environment. We can’t just comply, comply, comply and comply ourselves out of existence.”
In an effort to get into good standing with the European Union (EU) the government has passed the Multinational Entities Financial Reporting Act, 2018; the Commercial Entities (Substance Requirements) Act, 2018 and Guidelines; the Removal of Preferential Exemptions Act, 2018; the Register of Beneficial Ownership Act, 2018; and the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 2018.
As a result, The Bahamas was this week removed from the EU’s list of Non-Cooperative Jurisdictions for Tax Purposes.
In particular, the Register of Beneficial Ownership Act, 2018 allows for the “competent authority to establish and maintain a secure search system to assess beneficial ownership details for all legal entities registered in The Bahamas.”
“I’m known for a particular saying, it’s from Romeo and Juliet, ‘wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast’. I think there is always an opportunity to be comprehensive and consultative in your approach to these things. I understand that you get threatened to be put on a grey, purple, whatever list; but the reality is you have to think about your home conditions. And as we have seen we’ve been taken off one list and then we’re on another list and then we’re threatened to be on a third,” Parker said.
“I’m not motivated by those considerations. I think that yes, there’s a desire to make sure the global environment is safe and you deal with anti-terrorism measures seriously, but you also have to make sure that you’re not incorporating inappropriate models into our environment. We are watching that and we are vigilant about that to preserve the legal profession for future generations.”
JUMPLINE: Parker: We can’t just comply ourselves out of existence