Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis visited communities around the Family Islands to discuss with residents the 2018/19 National Budget and how it would impact their lives, and the Value Added Tax increase to 12 percent. Town Hall Meetings were held in church halls and community centers where residents turned up to hear about what provisions are in the Budget and what they should be taking advantage of. The Prime Minister started his week-long tour on Monday, June 25 and ended on Saturday, June 30, visiting Andros – South, Central, and North, then onto Exuma, Cat Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador and North and South Long Island. 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 he relates to the Budget. He told his audience that the National Budget aims at decreasing poverty levels and increasing opportunities for the middle class for a better way of life.
Another area he said, “dear and personal” to him, is for Family Island residents to have the same opportunities as residents in New Providence. The Prime Minister listed more provisions within the Budget such as education, healthcare, and home ownership. In September 2019, qualifying students would have the opportunity to receive a free education at the University of The Bahamas (UB). And, Family Island students would also be granted $500 a month to assist with lodging. Also, beginning in September 2018, full-time students enrolled in the Bahamas Technical &Vocational Institute (BTVI) to study a trade would receive free education. Already the top four 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 a 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 residents. 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 payments of arrears to various creditors, among other things, he explained.
“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 persons.
More from the Family Island visits below: