Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis discusses the National Budget with residents of the Southeastern Bahama Islands, July 13-14, 2018. (BIS Photos/Yontalay Bowe)
NASSAU, The Bahamas – Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis continued Town Hall meetings this weekend, explaining his government’s 2018/19 National Budget in the Family Islands. Town meetings were held in church halls and community centres where residents turned up to hear the provisions, and the opportunities presented.
The Prime Minister started his tour of the islands on Monday, June 25, visiting Andros – South, Central and North, then on to Exuma, Cat Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador, North and South Long Island. This weekend, July 13-14, he visited the Southeast islands of Acklins, Crooked Island, Mayaguana and Inagua, where he also visited with Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers and crew of the HMBS Durward Knowles. The Prime Minister was accompanied by a small team of officials.
Fresh from the Caribbean Heads of Government Meeting (CARICOM) in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the Prime Minister first updated the residents on The Bahamas’ position on a number of issues discussed during those July 4-6 sessions.
A major focus was placed on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the free movement of people between all 15 CARICOM Member-States. Although The Bahamas is a Member State, it remains out of the CSME. The Prime Minister told Family Island residents that The Bahamas was unable to support the free movement of people throughout its boundaries with its small population, and as the country was probably the most integrated CARICOM nation in terms the number of Caribbean nationals who are currently a part of its society.
He also spoke about the subject of Marijuana, which was discussed during the CARICOM Meetings, noting that his government is seeking to appoint a committee comprising a wide cross-section of individuals to look into any beneficial aspects particularly for medicinal purposes.
Relating to the National Budget, the Prime Minister encouraged residents to take advantage of its provisions particularly the various tax exemptions aimed at improving the quality of life for the poor.
He mentioned free education beginning September 2018, for full time students enrolled in the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute (BTVI). In September 2019, qualifying students will have the opportunity to receive free education at the University of The Bahamas (UB). Family Island students will be granted $500 a month to assist with lodging.
Regarding the increase in VAT, the Prime Minister said that it was a hard decision to make, but the aim is to grow the economy.
The government considered raising VAT from 7.5 percent to 10 percent but determined that was not enough to deal with fiscal pressures it encountered, the Prime Minister told residents. He also explained that the government considered raising VAT to 15 percent but determined that would have inflicted “too much hardship” on Bahamians, so it settled on 12 percent, which it was determined is necessary to save future generations of Bahamians. A significant portion of the new VAT revenues will be directed back into the economy through the payment of arrears to various creditors, among other things, he said.
The Prime Minister also noted that among the measures is the elimination of VAT on breadbasket items, medicines, residential property insurance, as well as on electricity and water for a large number of persons.