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Call For Independent Body To Oversee Over-The-Hill Initiative

PLP leader Philip 'Brave' Davis.

PLP leader Philip 'Brave' Davis.

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Deputy Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis wants an independent commission to be appointed to oversee the administration of the government’s Over-the-Hill Development Partnership Initiative, citing fears there could be “discrimination” concerning the programme’s concessions.

As he called the plan “over ambitious,” the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP further questioned whether the initiative’s cost benchmark has moved.

In December, officials reported that $5m would be reserved in each budget to assist the government in achieving these goals.

Former PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts further criticised the government, calling the initiative a plan to “gentrify” Over-the-Hill and have the public pay for it.

Mr Roberts alleged it was a scheme for persons to snatch up valuable inner-city land for pennies and rebuild new communities that their group will own and control with rents. The poor will be summarily displaced wholesale, he claimed.

“First of all, any initiative to uplift the inner-city community is welcomed by the PLP,” Mr Davis said when The Tribune contacted him yesterday. “But the concern I have is the execution and implementation of the programme and I trust that it would not be discriminatory in any form.

“Whenever a white paper comes out there would be changes down the road, but hopefully after further consultations on the issue it would remove any vestiges of discrimination. Forming an independent commission or some mechanism to ensure it is transparent, accountable and fair across the board should be implemented.

“The spectre of discrimination arises because they are excluding certain types of businesses from benefitting which in of itself speaks to the fact that it could be discriminatory going forward. Whereas I appreciate that they may have some views on the kinds of businesses that they are excluding, but there might be a better way of dealing with as opposed of discriminating.”

He was referring to a proposed arm in the white paper where gaming houses and businesses deriving proceeds from alcohol sales will be exempt from the benefits of the empowerment zone.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the Over-the-Hill area will become the first empowerment zone in The Bahamas and explained this concept as one known throughout the world, which related to areas designated as such because they were deserving of incentives due to economic hardship.

Mr Davis continued: “I think we ought to put this in the hands of an independent body to remove any instances of discrimination. Having regard to the conduct of this government since it came into to power I would be very concerned over how it is administered.”

Last week in the House of Assembly, the prime minister tabled the long awaited White Paper. It unveiled his administration’s proposed plans for impoverished communities, which include a variety of tax concessions, an action plan for physical rejuvenation along with social and economic empowerment.

At the time, Dr Minnis said the groundwork toward formulating a sustainable programme for the Over-the-Hill community began last October, which means it took the government roughly six months to have a developed plan ready to present to the public.

“The incentives outlined will apply to residential properties – both owned and rented, commercial and industrial undertakings, with an aggregate turnover of $5m or under and all enterprises whose primary income is not derived from the business of gaming or the sale of alcohol,” Dr Minnis told Parliament last week.

“For those qualified residents and business owners with respect to the redevelopment of land and buildings it is proposed (that there will be) exemption from real property taxes, exemptions from customs duties related to construction, equipping and completing building and structures for a specified period and exemptions from excise taxes.”

There will also be exemptions from stamp tax imposed on real property.

He added when it comes to business taxes, all those applicable with the exception of establishments engaging in restricted activity and upon obtaining a trade certificate proving location in the empowerment zone, the government will offer a 100 per cent waiver on the assessed business licence tax.

Customs duties for the purchase of a vehicle with appropriate markings for use by the business also will be exempted, he said.

The white paper notes the Over-the-Hill community’s categorisation as an empowerment zone will last for no more than five years, with the possibility of an extension.

“It is proposed that the designation of the Over-the-Hill community as an empowerment zone last for no more than five years, thereby providing sufficient certainty for an extended period with respect to the duration of the benefits of the zone, but also not establishing the permanent right to incentives,” the document notes.

“It is also recommended that the minister responsible will have the authority to renew the designation of the zone as an empowerment zone, for up to an additional three renewals of up to five years per renewal. Indeed, it is expected that after such a period the zones should reasonably, no longer be considered in economic hardship.”

As he called the plan “over ambitious,” the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP further questioned whether the initiative’s cost benchmark has moved.

In December, officials reported that $5m would be reserved in each budget to assist the government in achieving these goals.

Former PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts further criticised the government, calling the initiative a plan to “gentrify” Over-the-Hill and have the public pay for it.

Mr Roberts alleged it was a scheme for persons to snatch up valuable inner-city land for pennies and rebuild new communities that their group will own and control with rents. The poor will be summarily displaced wholesale, he claimed.

“First of all, any initiative to uplift the inner-city community is welcomed by the PLP,” Mr Davis said when The Tribune contacted him yesterday. “But the concern I have is the execution and implementation of the programme and I trust that it would not be discriminatory in any form.

“Whenever a white paper comes out there would be changes down the road, but hopefully after further consultations on the issue it would remove any vestiges of discrimination. Forming an independent commission or some mechanism to ensure it is transparent, accountable and fair across the board should be implemented.

“The spectre of discrimination arises because they are excluding certain types of businesses from benefitting which in of itself speaks to the fact that it could be discriminatory going forward. Whereas I appreciate that they may have some views on the kinds of businesses that they are excluding, but there might be a better way of dealing with as opposed of discriminating.”

He was referring to a proposed arm in the white paper where gaming houses and businesses deriving proceeds from alcohol sales will be exempt from the benefits of the empowerment zone.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the Over-the-Hill area will become the first empowerment zone in The Bahamas and explained this concept as one known throughout the world, which related to areas designated as such because they were deserving of incentives due to economic hardship.

Mr Davis continued: “I think we ought to put this in the hands of an independent body to remove any instances of discrimination. Having regard to the conduct of this government since it came into to power I would be very concerned over how it is administered.”

Last week in the House of Assembly, the prime minister tabled the long awaited White Paper. It unveiled his administration’s proposed plans for impoverished communities, which include a variety of tax concessions, an action plan for physical rejuvenation along with social and economic empowerment.

At the time, Dr Minnis said the groundwork toward formulating a sustainable programme for the Over-the-Hill community began last October, which means it took the government roughly six months to have a developed plan ready to present to the public.

“The incentives outlined will apply to residential properties – both owned and rented, commercial and industrial undertakings, with an aggregate turnover of $5m or under and all enterprises whose primary income is not derived from the business of gaming or the sale of alcohol,” Dr Minnis told Parliament last week.

“For those qualified residents and business owners with respect to the redevelopment of land and buildings it is proposed (that there will be) exemption from real property taxes, exemptions from customs duties related to construction, equipping and completing building and structures for a specified period and exemptions from excise taxes.”

There will also be exemptions from stamp tax imposed on real property.

He added when it comes to business taxes, all those applicable with the exception of establishments engaging in restricted activity and upon obtaining a trade certificate proving location in the empowerment zone, the government will offer a 100 per cent waiver on the assessed business licence tax.

Customs duties for the purchase of a vehicle with appropriate markings for use by the business also will be exempted, he said.

The white paper notes the Over-the-Hill community’s categorisation as an empowerment zone will last for no more than five years, with the possibility of an extension.

“It is proposed that the designation of the Over-the-Hill community as an empowerment zone last for no more than five years, thereby providing sufficient certainty for an extended period with respect to the duration of the benefits of the zone, but also not establishing the permanent right to incentives,” the document notes.

“It is also recommended that the minister responsible will have the authority to renew the designation of the zone as an empowerment zone, for up to an additional three renewals of up to five years per renewal. Indeed, it is expected that after such a period the zones should reasonably, no longer be considered in economic hardship.”

Comments

HonestTruth 1 year, 3 months ago

For DECADES the PLP did absolutely NOTHING for over the hill, and now that they’re in opposition they actually have something to say... if this wasn’t published in the tribune I wouldn’t believe it. This is truly remarkable

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John 1 year, 3 months ago

The government's effort to make a positive change and a significant economic impact in the 'over the hill' area is a good idea that should be given support on all fronts and fro all quarters. When low income communities get money they spend it immediately and it filters through the rest of the economy. causing everyone else to benefit. But for the program to have a significant impact the area benefiting from the venture has to be large enough to economic boost to the economy. One would have thought the targeted area would have been between Nassau Street in he West to Collins Avenue at least in the East and to Robinson Road in the South.

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bogart 1 year, 3 months ago

In all fairness the Hurricane relief by the PLP did inject money into the community by patronizing a number of Contractor supplies stores in the pore neighbourhoods, hired a number of small time contractors etc however it appears the then opposition did not call for any independent body to oversee as the present opposition is requesting.

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CatIslandBoy 1 year, 3 months ago

As a former Minister of Works, and Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Davis knows only too well how the PLP oversaw the distribution of funds, and the narrow-mindedness and pettiness that accompanied those distributions. While one contractor was being awarded millions in storm clean-up and re-construction, many who were perceived to be FNM got nothing. All I received from Mr. Davis for five years, was promises. It was painful to sit idly by and watch the PLP do this to Bahamian workers.

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