Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis continued his trek across the islands to discuss with residents the 2018/19 National Budget and the Value Added Tax increase to 12 percent. A Town Hall Meeting was held at St. Andrew’s Community Centre overlooking Elizabeth Harbour, where scores of residents turned up on Wednesday, June 27, to hear of the provisions aimed towards making life better. Exuma is one of the fastest growing economies in The Bahamas. The Prime Minister spoke passionately about future plans for the country, particularly the poor, vulnerable and young people. “It is very important to understand and appreciate the Budget as it relates to the future development of The Bahamas,” the Prime Minister said. “It is the function of a government to leave behind a better country.”
According to the Prime Minister, several things are of particular importance to him as it relates to the Budget: He used his own childhood as an example of living in poverty within the larger discussion of how the Budget aims at decreasing the poverty level and increasing opportunities for the middle class, for a better way of life. Another area he said that is “dear and personal” to him is for Family Island residents to have the same opportunities as residents in New Providence. Between intermittent applause of approval from those in attendance, the Prime Minister went on to list more provisions within the Budget such as education, healthcare, and home ownership. He said starting September 2019, qualifying students would receive free education to attend at the University of The Bahamas (UB). Similar arrangements are being made at the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute (BTVI). Already the top 4 students who graduated from UB with a degree in Economics will be contracted by the Government to work at the Ministry of Finance, and granted scholarships to obtain Masters Degrees abroad. They would be subsequently hired by the Government in line with a 10-year vision plan to improve the Public Service.
Regarding the increase in the VAT, the Prime Minister said that it was a hard decision to make, but the aim is to grow the economy. “As Prime Minister, you must make difficult decisions. I would prefer to lose an election than lose a country,” he said. 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 Exuma. 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 is determined is necessary to save future generations of Bahamians.
A significant portion of the new VAT revenues will be redirected into the economy through the payment of arrears to various creditors, among other things, he explained. “I don’t ever want to see what is happening in Barbados happen here,” he said. “I never want to pick up the phone and call an international lending agency… you have to be in control of your own country.” “We should not lose sight of the fact that the government has been mindful, in the development of its plan to provide tax relief to the most vulnerable in our society,” the Prime Minister said. He noted that among those measures are the elimination of VAT on breadbasket items, medicines, residential property insurance, as well as on electricity and water for a large number of households. The Prime Minister previously visited South, Central, and North Andros on Monday, June 25, to discuss the provisions of the Budget.
More images from the Exuma Town Meeting below: