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News Report: "Govt treating business community with contempt, BCCEC says"

Published by: Youri Kemp, The Nassau Guardian , June 28th, 2024

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) yesterday raised concerns over the government’s “invasive inspection strategies” toward compliant businesses after armed agents of the government barged into a popular business on New Providence last week for an impromptu inspection.

“The budget debate lorded the increase in external reserves by $547 million to $2.9 billion due to net foreign currency inflows from the private sector rather than borrowing, and while we appreciate the letter of the law, we are concerned that this seemingly welcomed increase has instead been met with contempt for the business community rather than embrace, with invasive inspection strategies toward compliant businesses for documents easily obtained through portal access,” the BCCEC said in a statement on the Davis administration’s 2024/2025 budget.

Surely the use of armed forces and uniformed branches are better served to grapple with the impediment of increased crime rather than obstructing day-to-day operations of businesses and disrupting the ease of doing business for their clientele?”

On Monday, agents from the Maritime Revenue Enhancement Task Force, some of whom were armed with automatic guns, entered CBS Bahamas to carry out an unannounced site inspection.

CBC Bahamas Vice President Brent Burrows II said, “The sight of heavily armed government agents entering a retail store created an atmosphere of fear and confusion.”

The government said it is reviewing the procedures of the task force.

On the issue of the budget, the BCCEC said the government must consult more with the business community.

“While we applaud the government for fiscal reforms that have resulted a deficit reduction, EU blacklist removal, B1 credit rating with a stable outlook, climate finance measures and increased external reserves, we remain concerned over the invasiveness of new practices and policies, lack of business community inclusion in decision-making, seemingly limited consultation with industry experts, cumbersome restrictions that impede the ease of doing business and limited measures to strengthen the MSME landscape of the country,” the BCCEC said.

When he delivered his budget communication in May, Prime Minister Philip Davis said the government projects that the deficit will be slashed to $68.9 million, less than half the $131.6 million projected for the current fiscal year, which ends on Monday.

He said total revenue for 2024/2025 is projected at $3.54 billion, total expenditure is projected at $3.61 billion and said that there will be no new taxes in the budget.

The BCCEC said, “The budget debate also revealed an increase in tax revenue for the July 2023 to March 2024 period with little mention of the direct meaningful impact this has had on the business community.

“Additionally, despite disguising the increased cost of doing business, masqueraded as fiscal prudence, which is meant to increase the 24/25 revenue trajectory to $3.4B, we are hard-pressed to understand why the expenditure still topples the same at $3.61B – a feat surely met with more questions than answers. Perhaps the government can benefit from more consultative fiscal reforms that limit expenditure rather than burdening an already challenged electorate for increased revenue squeezed from its coffers.

“While we note, with keen interest, the suggestion of more public-private partnerships, government-guaranteed loans and reform of state-owned enterprises, we are concerned over the lack of collaboration with the business community through entities like the BCCEC, ORG and SBDC that are in the trenches with those most impacted by these reforms. We feel strongly that genuine consultation with stakeholders is the route to better outcomes.”

The Davis administration also touted during the budget debate that it signed 27 labor agreements in 30 months. The BCCEC said that “equates to nearly an agreement each month, but are concerned about the benefit the same has yielded for the business community”.

“For instance, the robust energy reform appears to have sought Bahamian inclusion but neglected the voice of non-government energy experts, environmentalists and the business community,” it said.

“Moreover, despite the assertion that only general service companies should see an increase in bills, we wonder what control and segregation mechanisms are in place to properly monitor and bill such accounts on an accurate and consistent basis. We welcome the opportunity to provide the government with meaningful alternative energy solutions available 24/7, unlike solar, using oceanic currents, wave and wind energy as discussed during conversations with experts.”

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