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Cooper blasts rate reduction bond bill

Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper called the government’s Electricity Rate Reduction Bond Bill, 2019 an “ill-timed, disgrace” of a bill that he said will further tax Bahamians.

The bond is expected to help Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) refinance its $321 million legacy debt and raise another $350 million for new spending – $70 million of which would be used to fund an expansion of the Wartsila plant the Clifton Pier Power Station.

On Wednesday, Minister of Works Desmond Bannister said that the bond will result in an average of a $20-$30 monthly increase to household bills for a 10-month period, and that it will be “wiped out” in 2021.

But he did not detail how that figure was arrived at.

During his contribution to the bill on Wednesday, Cooper said, “All I heard today, Mr. Speaker, was an admission of failure as it relates to BPL.

“I don’t care if you call it a fee; whatever you want to call it, it’s a tax.”

He continued, “This is a tax, in my view, and borrowing on the backs of the Bahamian people.

“It’s an ill-timed move.”

He added, “I pointed out in the budget debate that there was no mention of the impact of this rate reduction bond… because, as is the case now, there was never a plan.”

Cooper said, “You wait until after you tell us that unemployment is expected to climb by four points.

“You wait until then to do this, to further tax the Bahamian people.

“When their backs are against the wall, you hit them with this.

“Before you come with legislation for new building codes before another hurricane season in the next six months or so.

“Before you fully implement the Abaco and Grand Bahama VAT-free zones, you do this.

“It is disgraceful, and you know it.

“You made no mention of the rate reduction bond in your Fiscal Strategy Report and its potential impact on the economy or the cost of living.

“Yet, you put this on the Bahamian people without so much as a by your leave.

“Little public education; little public disclosure.”

Cooper said Parliament could have had “some time to deal with this transparently”.

“Not until now, when Bahamians are still reeling after suffering through a hurricane that you bother to tell the public that they’re expected to pay for this,” he said.

“You wait until after you come to this House to say you’re going to borrow $500 million… until you tell the Bahamian people that the economy is forecasted to shrink… until you tell them that unemployment likely to go up, and even when you unemployed you still got to pay your bill.

“Then you put a tax on them. Ill-timed; ill-conceived.”

The bill was passed in the House of Assembly yesterday.

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