Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Michael Pintard yesterday accused Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis of misleading Parliament when he said that the 2023/2024 budget has no new taxes.
Pintard pointed to several bills tabled following Davis’ budget communication in Parliament last week, commonly known as the budget bills, which contain several new taxes.
“The power to impose and increase taxes, fees and levies fall under the ambit of the constitutional money bills and must be brought to the people’s representatives for consideration,” he said in a statement.
“The FNM will not support attempts by this increasingly brazen and unaccountable PLP government to sidestep Parliament’s authority and oversight.”
But in a statement last night, the Office of the Prime Minister slammed Pintard and FNM for leaving the country “in an economic mess”.
“To hear the leader of the opposition now make factually incorrect accusations against the government’s budget is the worst kind of hypocrisy,” OPM said.
“We are still having to clean up the mess they left behind.
“But we are not putting the burden onto Bahamian taxpayers, but now the FNM claims that we’re hurting foreigners.
“Every single time a choice has to be made, the FNM favors the rich and the foreigners over ordinary Bahamians.”
But Pintard said the government’s “supporting bills clearly lay out brand new revenue measures and increases”.
The Customs Management (Amendment) Bill, 2023, would empower the minister of finance, after consultation with the minister of health, to make regulations providing for the payment of a “health and wellness levy” on the importation of specified goods and domestically manufactured goods “deemed to have a negative impact on health and wellness”.
Pintard said, “The budget speech made no mention of a possible sugar tax or wellness tax, yet the government is proposing an amendment to the Customs Management Act that would delegate to the minister of finance the ability to levy the much discussed sugar tax without seeking Parliamentary approval.
“This cannot be. If the PLP wants to implement a sugar tax, it must come to Parliament and get approval for the structure and for the rates.”
The Passenger Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2023 seeks to impose a new $2 tourism enhancement levy for every passenger arriving or leaving The Bahamas.
Pintard said, “This new tax measure is an increased burden on Bahamians and impacts competitiveness of the destination by making expensive air travel even more so.
“The government is also imposing significant increases on the taxes payable by boaters and cruise passengers coming into the country. Together these new and increased taxes are expected to raise over $100 million in increased government revenue. How then did the prime minister say that there are no new taxes in the budget?
“It is frankly disturbing and embarrassing that the country’s chief executive would continually mislead Parliament and the public in such a glib and gratuitous manner.”
The government is also seeking to amend the Immigration Act to empower the minister to impose a levy on work permit fees that may be used for the purpose of immigration enforcement, and national health and wellness promotion programs.
Pintard said the opposition takes “strong issue” with the amendments to the Immigration Act.
“The amendments would allow the minister unilaterally to establish and set rates for mandatory fees and levies to be charged to taxpayers. The entire premise of every democracy is that there is no taxation without representation.
“It is only the elected representatives of the people through Parliament have the right to establish and change taxes and fees to be deployed to defray central government expenses. It is why our Constitution makes special provisions for money bills which have the effect of imposing or increasing taxes and fees imposed by government. This PLP government seems determined to upend even established constitutional and parliamentary conventions in their ever increasing attempts to evade accountability and transparency.”
When he spoke in Parliament last week Davis said the government is raising “much-needed revenue without adding any new taxes”.
He said, “A key focus will be to generate more revenue for the public purse, without raising taxes. This means no increase in the VAT rate, and no increase on customs duties, excise duty, tax rates, and real property tax rates.”