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GB Chamber President Forwards VAT Recommendations to OPM
Feb 20, 2014 - 6:27:23 PM

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L-R: Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce President Barry Malcolm, TCL President, Joan Albury and Director of the National Training Agency, Agatha Marcelle address the media. (Photo/Zhivago McPhee)

Barry Malcolm To Reveal Details At Grand Bahama Business Outlook

Freeport, Bahamas - Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce President Barry Malcolm on Thursday confirmed that he has officially forwarded the chamber’s list of recommendations for value added tax (VAT) to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), but said he won’t reveal details until he addresses the 16th Annual Grand Bahama Business Outlook conference next week.

The government is moving ahead with plans to introduce a 15 percent VAT by July 1 as a way of increasing revenue and broadening the nation’s tax base.

During a news conference at The Counsellors Ltd., the Grand Bahama businessman revealed that those recommendations were submitted this week.

He said by the time the Outlook conference takes place, “the OPM would have had a chance to review and digest what we’ve put forward.”

Many in the business community have spoken out against the controversial tax, noting that it will have severe implications.

They are now urging the government to seek alternatives.

While Financial Secretary John Rolle is slated to address the conference on the proposed tax, Mr. Malcolm and the Director of the National Training Agency, Agatha Marcelle – both of whom are also scheduled speakers – fielded questions from the media.

Since the Christie administration announced plans to forge ahead with VAT complaints have abounded that Bahamians are not being properly educated about the new tax.

Mr. Malcolm noted that the presentations on VAT in Freeport, through the chamber, have happened during luncheons and special call meetings.

“[They] have been our largest meetings over the last 12 months in terms of attendance and depth of participation.”

“The chamber feels whatever new tax regimes are put in place must be understood, must be discussed and must be taken on board by the business community. So, without pronouncing one way or another for or against VAT, the chamber has sought to really deepen the conversation in Grand Bahama and deepen the consideration of what are the implications and impact of VAT. So, we’ve done a lot within the chamber itself to have that conversation. In my view, more needs to be done, but we’re certainly doing our part to try and have those conversations for our members and for the broader community.”

But, Ms. Marcelle said considering that VAT is such an important issue she has not seen a high volume of people attending the various seminars and forums.

“It’s always just a little bit and the rest stay back and complain. We just need to be more participative in a proactive way to want to learn. But, any of the gatherings to deal with VAT, they’ve been small compared to what you think should be out there to get the information,” she said.

Meantime, Ms. Marcelle’s topic, “The Other Side of the Investment Coin,” will deal with the development of human resources.

“That is how we’re going to tie in what the National Training Agency is going to be doing in Freeport. Usually, when investors come in, they focus a lot on the actual building of the property, they focus a lot on the products they are going to offer, and one of the things we have to begin to do is to focus on actually the training and development of the people that are going to be working for them,” she said.

“The presentation will show the participants exactly what the National Training Agency does and how what we do relates to the whole matter of the investment. So, as we work with them, as we give them the basic training, as they begin to get a feel for the expectations of the workforce now they stand a better chance of being able to get that job. So, we’re going to connect that with the work of the National Training Agency.”

Hawksbill Creek Agreement: The Way Forward

Mr. Malcolm whose topic is, “Optimising The Freeport Model” said he will also address the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.

“There needs to be a non-ambivalent, very clear commitment by all stakeholders as to whether or not we’re going to move forward with the HCA as intended or not. The model is one that was structured 60 years ago, but it’s exactly the same model that has been successfully and subsequently put in places like Panama, Dubai and the Emirates and they have put in place a model for economic development successfully that we have had in place legislatively for the past 60 years,” he said.

“The problem as I see it – and I think history will affirm this – is that we as a country at the level of businesses countrywide . . . have never said we’re going to embrace this model, not because some folks came in and tried to champion it many years ago but because it’s a critical component for our economic development and growth.”

He added, “If you can get this model to work in Freeport, it’s not Freeport that benefits, it’s the entire economy of the country that benefits and until we get that commitment, and maybe we never will, the model that is Freeport will never work. It will never be as successful as it already is in places like Panama, the Cayman Islands, places like Singapore.”

This year’s speakers include, Tourism Minister, Obie Wilchcombe; Grand Bahama Minister, Dr. Michael Darville; Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) Vice-Chairman, Sarah St. George, who will be addressing the Outlook for the first time; President of Modalena Ltd., Russell Miller and Microsoft Country Manager for Bermuda, The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos and Belize, George Gobin.

TCL President Joan Albury, whose company produces the Business Outlook series, said she is pleased to have all of the speakers on board and acknowledged Ms. Marcelle’s contribution.

“The Bahamas didn’t just get started today. I think the premier change agents that we had in The Bahamas some years ago was the 100-Day Challenge and if people remember Agatha Marcelle was the person who championed that and that certainly made a difference in The Bahamas in terms of quality service. So, we are certainly pleased that Agatha Marcelle is going to be a part of our programme and she is going to be discussing the other side of the investment coin,” she said.

Mr. Malcolm, meantime, said the line-up of speakers really “speaks to the dynamism and breadth of the Freeport economy.”

“Much of what happens in Freeport centres in and around international trade and the need for platforms in Grand Bahama, which facilitate and which enhance the conduct of international trade. The line-up of speakers will give a good feel for the dynamics of what can be and should be coming out of Freeport as an economic zone for the country,” he said.

The Grand Bahama Business Outlook conference takes place on February 27 at the Grand Lucayan Resort at 8:30 a.m.

This year’s theme is “Charting a Course for Growth” in Grand Bahama.

To register for the event, visit www.tclevents.com.

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