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With the passing of the deadline for VAT registration on 30th November, the Ministry of Finance warned of the issuance of fines to late registrants, but “those businesses making best efforts to register within the first few weeks after the deadline may see their fines reduced or even waived altogether” said the Ministry in a press statement.
The Ministry advised that the VAT Department will be issuing warnings and imposing fines during a transitional period following the registration deadline of November 30th, 2014. The fines for late registration will depend on the delay following the deadline, the size of the business, and whether the application is submitted voluntarily or as a result of prompting by the VAT Department.
For example, businesses that register late, but on their own volition may be issued a warning or fined an amount of up to $10,000. Businesses that register as a result of direct contact by the VAT Department may be issued a warning or face stricter fines up to $20,000.
It was reported that as of the deadline, some 4,417 applications had been submitted to the VAT Department for processing. The department admitted to expecting around 4,000 applications.
Prime Minister Christie “transparent” on BOB’s future
Speaking to the media earlier this week about the future of Bank of The Bahamas following the initial restructuring of $100 million of the bank’s commercial portfolio, Prime Minister Christie had this to say about the bank’s future:
“Whatever we are doing, we are going to have to account to the Bahamian public for it. We did it in a very public way by saying this was done to aid the Bank of The Bahamas; that’s done. With respect to that money, we are hiring an accounting firm to manage Resolve (the incorporated collection company), that (accounting) firm has been identified. I have had a meeting with one of the partners of the firm…I have given the directions that I would wish to give as the government on how we would wish this to be done in the best interest of the Bahamian people. I expect then to review reports that have been done; I expect them to get going and I expect to come to the Bahamian people on what will be happening with the company Resolve.”
On the issue of the board of directors for Resolve that are being identified by the Statement Minister for Finance, the Prime Minister said “significant Bahamian personalities (have been identified who) will be respected by the country upon their agreeing to be directors of Resolve and so with the appointment of directors people will see that this is a part of steps we are taking to ensure that not only that the Bank of The Bahamas go on to make a profit and that’s going to happen, (but) also, that we will take that $100 million and find a way to get a lot of it back for the country.”
The Prime Minister said he expected this process to be completed this week so that a communication can be made to Parliament to update House members on the process.
As for the executive management of BOB, Prime Minister Christie said that the bank’s board is currently reviewing that structure and he expects recommendations from the board by year’s end.
Also commenting on the steps taken to date to shore up the Bank of The Bahamas were State Minister for Finance, Governor of The Central Bank and Chairman of the Bank of The Bahamas, all in their own words:
Michael Halkitis, Minister of State (Finance):
“The Government, the Central Bank and BOB worked tirelessly to implement a solution for the Bank. In the best interest of Bahamians, BOB depositors and shareholders, it was decided that the best way to maximize the value of BOB’s troubled assets was to use a domestic mechanism. A number of resolution options were carefully explored and examined in depth since the Central Bank raised concerns about BOB. The best option, Bahamas Resolve Limited, which was announced on October 31st, 2014, has allowed BOB to return to compliance with capital and liquidity requirements, and is back on the path of profitability. We have also requested that BOB senior management submit a recommendation before the end of this year on restructuring and realigning its business models.”
Wendy Criagg, Governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas:
“As you know, on October 31st, 2014, Bahamas Resolve Limited was implemented, which alleviated $100 million in troubled debt from Bank of The Bahamas. The Central Bank supports this initiative as it ensures the continuation of a stable and sound banking environment. Bank of The Bahamas is now in compliance with domestic and international requirements for capital and liquidity. The Central Bank will continue monitoring BOB, as it does with all other commercial banks. Writing to and engaging with our licensees is a regular part of our supervisory process, and constitutes one of the tools through which we seek to ensure compliance with best practices and thus to promote stability in our financial system.”
Richard C. Demeritte, Chairman of the Bank of The Bahamas (BOB):
“BOB has been working closely with both the Government and the Central Bank in addressing the Bank’s underperforming assets. The action taken to transfer $100 million of non-performing commercial assets from BOB into Resolve has allowed BOB to return to compliance with Central Bank requirements. BOB has already commenced a reorganization of its internal structure and has also committed to report to Government and the Central Bank recommendations for further enhancements by the end of this year
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. These steps, along with new programs and services the Bank will be offering, will enhance shareholder value, allow the Bank to return to profitability and sustain further growth. As stated in our recently released Annual Report, a review of BOB’s executive management is already underway.”
Ministry of Labour: Union boss a no show.
The standoff between the government and the Customs and Immigration union continued Monday when the president Sloan Smith and legal counsel/consultant Obie Ferguson of the Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union were no shows to a scheduled Monday meeting to sign an industrial agreement.
Labour Minister Hon. Shane Gibson accused the unions of “playing games” and the warned that if they want the $1,200 lump sum payment, they must sign the industrial agreement.
“So if the members of the Customs and Immigration union want that money before Christmas, tell the union executives to stop playing games and sign the agreement” said Gibson.
Well that impasse came to an end when both sides found common ground and an industrial agreement was signed at the Ministry of the Public Service on Thursday afternoon. Conceding that the government is constrained by certain fiscal realities, Labour Minister Hon. Shane Gibson was hopeful that as the economy improves, the government should be better positioned to do more for the union in future negotiations.
“Obviously in negotiations no side ever gets all that they want. In this particular case I believe that the union obviously in my opinion deserved more than we were able to give them. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to do so at this time but the way the economy is, starting to grow and change now I believe that once we get to that next agreement we should be in a much better position to do more than we were able to do this time.”
Plane crash in western New Providence
The pilot, identified by relatives as Captain Rufus Ferguson, is being hailed as a hero as his quick thinking and actions averted an aviation catastrophe this past Tuesday. After reportedly losing power during a flight from Governor’s Harbour Eleuthera to LPIA in Nassau, the pilot of a Piper Navajo Chieftain PA 31-350 aircraft ditched the aircraft in 6,500 feet of water off Clifton Pier. Of the eleven passengers on board the aircraft, four were Bahamians and seven were Americans. Ten of the eleven persons onboard survived the plane crash. The victim was identified as a 77 year old American male.
Passengers were picked up by several vessels including one from nearby Stuart’s Cove.
Immigration Officer injured during routine interdiction exercise
On Wednesday 3rd December, an immigration officer was injured with lacerations across the upper eye and nose while seeking to interdict a suspected illegal migrant in the area of Cowpen Road.
It is believed that the suspected individual, a man, in seeking to evade the authorities threw barbed wire at the officer that resulted in the cuts. A man was subsequently arrested by the police to assist in their inquiries into the incident. The officer received stitches to the cuts and was subsequently released.
The Minister for Immigration wishes to thank the officer for his work and service. Mr. Mitchell said, “this reminds us that in doing the work on behalf of the Bahamian people our public officials are called upon to make sacrifices to give service.”
Government Ministers address Energy Security Forum
Speaking at the Energy Security Forum this past Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis revealed that the initially proposed business model to split BEC into administration (management and distribution) and power generation divisions was scrapped in favour of a management agreement because none of the final bids were satisfactory to the government.
The new agreement will mirror the one that currently exists with the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) and the new management company must be able to cut electricity costs by 30% in two years according to the Deputy Prime Minister.
“Government has sought to identify a strong, technically capable and experienced company to manage a new BEC”…”We will seek to cause that business model to basically mirror that which the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) has for the management of the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA). Like the airport deal, Government will retain 100% ownership of BEC.
“Government will commit to a management company that can guarantee the reduction of the cost billed to the customer to an average of less than 30 cents per KwH within 24 months from commencement of the contract” DPM Davis told delegates.
Opening the Forum was Environment Minister Hon. Kenred Dorsett who told delegates that the tabling of the Electricity Act and attendant regulations will enable and give teeth to the government’s National Energy Policy that was released in September of this year.
Some of the policy initiatives that the government will explore as part of its energy reform thrust are “pay as you go” metering for BEC or prepaid electricity and net metering up to a specified ceiling with NO cash payments from BEC for surplus electricity placed on the national electrical grid from consumers.
Signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room (CWR) “solidifies” the Bahamas’ commitment to the 10-island challenge “to promote sustainable and attract foreign investment” said Minister Dorsett.
“The Government, along with CWR, will work to develop solar farm programs of up to 20MW across a number of islands, namely Eleuthera, Andros, Cat Island, Acklins, Bimini, Inagua, Crooked Island, Exuma and Long Island.
Minister Dorestt said that the CWR will also support the government’s initiatives to build a solar photovoltaic farm at BAMSI in North Andros and, and implement street lighting retro-fit projects across The Bahamas.
The energy forum was held at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel under the sponsorship of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and the Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC).
Tourism Minister and Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini, the Hon. Obadiah H. Wilchcombe addressed a large crowd gathered at the Government’s Administrative Complex in Eight Mile Rock this past Sunday evening. Persons from throughout the West Grand Bahama District assembled there for the 1st Annual Tree Lighting and Gospel Concert. The event was sponsored by the West Grand Bahama Local Government District Council and featured performances from a number of local churches and school groups. Minister Wilchcombe spoke on the spirit of Christmas and what it should mean to everyone.
In order to protect the Bahamian Grouper from extinction while ensuring its economic sustainability for future generations, the government has closed the Bahamian Grouper season effective 1st December 2014 until 28thFebruary 2015. Persons found in violation of this fishing ban will be fined $5,000 or sentenced to one year imprisonment.
A special sitting of the court of appeal took place on Wednesday where the Attorney General, Sen. Allyson Maynard-Gibson thanked retiring foreign Justices Christopher Blackman and Stanley John for their service of jurisprudence to The Bahamas and welcomed Bahamian Justice Jon Isaacs to the bench of the Bahamas Court of Appeal.
The “Cookies for Kids” campaign was launched this week to bring greater attention to the vexing problem child abuse. The brainchild of Elaine Pinder, this campaign is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development, the National Child Protection Council (NCPC) and Bamboo Shack where funds from the campaign will help to fund the good work of the NCPC. Elaine Pinder, the Chief Executive Officer of Bamboo Shack also serves as fundraising chairperson of the NCPC.
The Electricity Act was tabled in the House on Wednesday. Minster of The Environment and Housing Hon. Kenred Dorsett led with the first reading. This groundbreaking piece of legislation and attendant regulations effectively reforms the energy sector, providing for net metering and other forms of alternative energy sources to reduce the overall cost of energy.
The UN mandated International Day for People living with disabilities was observed by The Bahamas on Wednesday. Minister for Social Services and Community Development, Hon. Melanie Griffin delivered a short House communication to formally recognize this day. Mrs. Griffin told House Members that the Disabilities Act “is one of the most important pieces of legislation that will affect the lives of persons with disabilities…”
The results from Transparency International are in and the Bahamas Scored 71 with 0 representing the most corrupt countries and 100 being the least. The organization gave The Bahamas a ranking of 24 out of 175 countries. The only countries in this hemisphere ahead of us are #10 Canada (81); #17 USA / Barbados (71); and #21 Uruguay/ Chili (73). Another interesting comparison is the fact that only 6 members of the G20 – the 20 largest advanced and emerging economies in the world – #11 Australia; #10 Canada; #12 Germany; #15 Japan; #14 United Kingdom and #17 United States enjoy rankings higher than The Bahamas.
The Rev. Dr. Myles Munroe, his wife Ruth Ann and Pastor Richard Pinder were all laid to rest this week; Dr. Pinder on Monday and the Munroes on Thursday. The bodies of the Munroes lied in repose at the Diplomat Center on Wednesday where Parliamentarians signed the book of condolences up to noon and the general public did so from noon until 5pm. A memorial service was held at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on the evening of Wednesday, 3rd December 2014. Again, may their souls rest in peace.