Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said yesterday, “it is what it is”, regarding this jurisdiction’s constant scrutiny by international financial watchdogs that have repeatedly threatened sanctions against The Bahamas over the past few years.
His comments come as the country awaits the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) on-site visit, during which it would consider whether or not to de-list The Bahamas from its gray list of countries with strategic deficiencies in the area of anti-money laundering/countering the finance of terrorism (AML/CFT).
Turnquest said the threats are out there and the country’s financial services sector will just have to learn to live with it.
“It is still out there and the rules will continue to evolve. As I always say, it’s time for us to stop complaining about it. It is what it is. We have to figure out how we’re going to survive and exist in this world and that is what we’re doing. We’re focused on the future, focused on structures that wealth management clients, that people who really contribute are interested in and making sure that we have the talent here to invest their money and incur the additional scrutiny and cost that may be associated with investing offshore,” he said yesterday while appearing as a guest on the Guardian Radio talk show “The Revolution”.
“I think we can do that. We have tremendously talented people in that industry and I look forward to the creativity that is going to come as a result of all the changes. Again, taking advantage of crisis to create opportunity.”
The Minnis administration has made it a legislative priority since it came into governance to comply with requirements from international bodies like the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) and the European Union (EU).
Turnquest was speaking to the larger issue of restructuring the nation’s taxation system, when he was asked why the government seems reluctant to reduce its reliance on consumer taxes and consider the inclusion of corporate or income taxes, which has long been called for by many economists.
“With respect to taxation, whenever you start to talk about taxation it is a very uneasy topic for most Bahamians. The reality is that if there is going to be any adjustments to our tax structure, it takes quite a bit of research and it takes quite a bit of time to not only develop the program, but also to educate the Bahamian people about what you’re trying to accomplish and what the benefits are of a new system, versus the system that we have,” he said.
“I know there are a lot of people who believe that personal income tax is the way to go, that it will level the playing field and all that, but I think there’s common saying that you can’t make me rich by making you poor. And we don’t necessarily explain that well enough to people so that they understand.”
Speaking to the country’s reliance on tourism – which generates approximately 50 percent of the country’s gross domestic product – and calls for a more diversified economy, Turnquest said Bahamians shouldn’t believe that if somehow less attention was paid to tourism, there would be a pool of money to invest in something else.
“The structure of the Bahamian economy is engrained. It is difficult to change in any short period of time. We have invested significantly in the tourism industry before most countries in the world and we have done well from that industry. Many in the middle class, many of the wealthy elite in the country, benefit from and continue to benefit from the tourism industry. You can go from the top manager of a hotel to the straw market vendor or taxi driver; they all benefit from that industry. So, we’re not about to abandon that. It is the one natural asset that we have, that we have exploited, but we still have a lot of room to further exploit and we only have to think about our ecosystems, our various islands that we have woefully underdeveloped and underexploited,” he said.
“The types of tourism that we can exploit, that we have not bothered to. Unfortunately, we have spent a lot of time, historically, working on these big box hotels and cruise ships and everything is built around those, rather than the other way, where we can have actual empowerment of Bahamians that is putting the promotion dollars, putting the support behind the small, boutique-type resorts and properties that Bahamians can own.”