LettersUncategorized

Customs duty and the fall of The Bahamas

Dear Editor,

As a way to raise revenue for The Bahamas, I can think of no worse way then the current customs duty regime. I say this the day after coming through customs at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA). I am convinced that this form of taxation has substantially contributed to widespread corruption in this country. As I watched the ‘tourists’ being waved through, I also watched the customs agent open our bags, looking at the first layer, ignoring the majority of what was contained in our many bags.

At the other customs offices in Nassau, and at our ports, the temptation is only greater. Forget the insult of having someone looking at your personal belongings in the first place, making you stand there, wasting your time as this goes on. The utter inefficiency in this way of taxing our people, as admitted by our own government, is bad enough. Further, what a waste of otherwise talented personnel and temptation for dishonesty at the interchange between our citizens.

As an employer, it is a given that the best way to keep your employees and customers honest is to remove the temptation to be dishonest. Leave unaccounted piles of cash laying on the table, and only a fool would expect it all to still be there when you return. Likewise, allowing people to “declare” what they bring into the country, so that you can then tax them, is simply a recipe for dishonest behavior. So too is the idea that customs agents wouldn’t be pressured into accepting “a little something” for simply turning their heads when the time and the price are right. Would it not make sense to bring in jewelry and other expensive items by paying for the tickets of “tourists” who are simply waved through the customs line? To think that the acknowledged pervasive corruption involved in the customs duty regime in this country has not permeated all other aspects of life here, is simply naive.

The next question that arises from this way of raising revenue for the government besides ‘Is it efficient?’ should be, ‘Is it fair and equitable?’

Isn’t it clear that the richest among us will have at their disposal the money and the means to avoid some of the duty that is imposed on the rest of us? They not only have the cash to bribe the customs agents, but they have access to the yachts and private planes which come in and out of this country with little to no oversight on a daily basis. The richest also own the big businesses that collect millions upon millions of dollars of VAT money, whether or not they paid it themselves. In effect, the customs duty is a regressive tax. Hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest. There has been discussion of needing to find a new source of taxation, mostly due to the proposed accession to the WTO by The Bahamas. Though I firmly believe that joining the WTO is a bad decision for the majority of our citizens, the idea of a different way of raising revenue for running the government is a good one.

Income tax may seem like it is in the cards, according to the financial gurus in this country, but there are also problems and pitfalls in using this approach, as we see clearly in the case of our neighbor to the north. Also would come the diversion of our limited educated talent pool, the accountants and lawyers, who will swarm to the aid of the richest among us, for the sole purpose of manipulating the loopholes in the law in favor of those paying their large salaries. Personally, I see the need for us to use our limited talented human resources to rapidly refashion our country into one that actually works — a country that isn’t continually lagging, falling behind, perhaps even taking the lead in economic and social development. The two, economic and social development, must go hand-in-hand.

We have a big job to do in the next few years, despite the failures of the FNM and PLP. We, the Bahamian people, have a lot of work to do, just to survive as a country. Can anyone argue with that last statement?

We must not simply just replace one failed revenue raising scheme with another. Remember now, the Bahamian government estimates it collects about 30 percent of the taxes due to it. Could we get this to 90 percent?

We must get much more efficient. We must consider the suffering of our people and begin to make taxation fair. We cannot ignore the very real increases in the cost of living lately, with no increase in wages. We must see the continued increases in taxation as a war against the people, which it really is, when so many Bahamians cannot make ends meet now. To ignore the plight of the majority of our people is criminal. To date, no government here has taxed the people fairly. If The Bahamas did institute an income tax, I have no doubt that the web shop owners would hire some really good foreign lawyers who would figure out how to legally claim that they were among the lowest paid employees in this country. It happens all the time in the U.S. Look at President Trump. In a supposedly Christian nation, that we have not figured out how to fairly tax our people as a whole, speaks either to the power of the moneyed interests over our government, or to the weakness of the church, or both.

In conclusion, I find that the current method of customs duty is a wholly inefficient, sadly regressive way of raising the money to run this government. It is easily corruptible, and I believe it is greatly responsible for a decline in honesty among our people. A corporate, income or commercial property tax, or some combination thereof, which is progressive in nature, would be the most efficient, fair and predictable way of raising the revenue needed to effectively run this nation.

The future of this country rests upon the ability to be open and transparent. The needed checks and balances, the software, the technology that already exists cheaply, all must be put into use and action immediately so that sound decisions can be made. This has to be done now. We must not give this country away with tax concessions to developers and foreigners. This is a very desirable place to be, just like Disney World. There are no tax concessions given to Bahamians when you take your kids to Disney World. Why? Because it is expensive to run that place, just like it is expensive to run The Bahamas. So, why shouldn’t we charge more for the privilege of foreigners doing business here, or having a second home here, enjoying the peace and beauty of this wonderful country? Every piece of property bought by a foreigner raises the price of property for all Bahamians.

There should be no concessions for coming here; there should be costs. I’m not suggesting these costs be unreasonable, but, there shouldn’t be concessions.

If capital punishment is ever revived here, it should be reserved for politicians who give this country away.

— Norman Trabulsy Jr.

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