More than 100 charities and business people met with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and revenue collection agencies at the National Training Agency (NTA) yesterday in an effort to understand how they can use the exigency order to assist with hurricane relief efforts, Guardian Business understands.
The MOF also held a press conference yesterday to announce and explain the exigency order and what it means for the hurricane-impacted islands of Grand Bahama and the Abacos.
Executive Director of the Organization for Responsible Governance Matt Aubry explained that the government has made the customs process attached to the exigency order “relatively simple” in order for non-profit organizations (NPO) and people on the affected islands to bring items in duty and value-added tax (VAT) free.
Acting Deputy Financial Secretary Athena Marche explained at the MOF press conference that the order, which applies tax breaks for certain items, applies only to Abaco and the Abaco Cays, Grand Bahama Islands, Sweetings Cay, Deep Water Cay and Water Cay.
“The exigency order puts a framework in place for the Ministry of Finance and its revenue collection agencies to operate within an emergency,” Marche said.
“Hurricane Dorian is not only a catastrophic natural disaster for The Bahamas, it is an unprecedented global event. The exigency order means that individuals who are directly impacted by the hurricane in the affected areas can import approved goods duty free and VAT free. It also means that private individuals and organizations who are making charitable donations can import approved goods into the country duty free and VAT free.”
Aubry explained that MOF officials said Bahamas customs agents will be placed on the affected islands to process the tax-free items and ensure a smooth process. He added that those agents will be given the authority to process items that might not be on the government’s approved list, but that may be needed on the islands.
For the next 90 days the items listed in the exigency order that will be tax-free are medicine and medical supplies, building materials, tents, cots, bedding materials, mosquito netting, electrical and plumbing fixtures and materials, household furniture, furnishings and appliances and electrical generators.
For the next 30 days the items listed in the exigency order that will be tax-free are bottled water, clothing, food for personal consumption and personal hygiene products.
Additionally, for three months waivers will be offered for “non-commercial flights bringing in relief goods into the affected islands, including departure tax, customs processing fees and environmental levy fees”.
“The government has eliminated several layers of approval and multiple steps to improve the process and ensure a smooth clearance of vital hurricane relief supplies at the border,” Marche said.
Aubry explained that NPOs met after the meeting at the NTA to begin the coordination of their efforts to get relief supplies to the affected islands.