By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government does not have any plans to increase value added tax “or any other taxes” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
Instead, Mr Turnquest said officials are seeking to use existing resources to deal with the economic fallout from the virus, which is projected at $1 billion or more.
His comments come amid public uncertainty about VAT possibly increasing to limit the impact of revenue lost to the government due to the virus.
However, speaking ahead of a Cabinet meeting yesterday, the minister assured reporters: “There is no plan to go up on value added tax or any other tax at this point.
“…Bear in mind that this crisis is going to cost some significant loss in revenue to the government as it is to individuals and businesses. And we’re going to have to find out and figure out how we’re going to address that for the long term.
“Because one thing we cannot afford to happen is for us to (amass) significant debt that we saddle the future generations with. We want to be careful about that and as responsible as we can with respect to that.”
With thousands left unemployed due to the tourism shutdown from COVID-19, Mr Turnquest stressed that now is not the time for discussions on whether VAT should be increased.
“This is a difficult period and coming out of this is going to be very slow,” he said.
“Job creation and job retention is going to be slow and so this is not the time to be talking about increase in taxes. We have to figure out some things and make some adjustments to ensure that we live within the means that the people have given to us.
“It’s going to take a lot of creativity. It’s going to take some bold steps in respect to our state of enterprises and how they operate to make them more efficient and less of a burden on the taxpayer, but as far as we are concerned at this point, we don’t see any increases of taxes.”
However, recognising that thousands have been adversely impacted by the government’s actions to curb the spread of the virus, Mr Turnquest said it was important for officials to provide further relief to residents in need of basic services, like home repair.
“You know people are home, things break, things happen and so we are looking at those kinds of businesses that will provide necessities for people who do basic repairs and engage in basic services they need in order to go through this period,” he said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis relaxed restrictions for certain businesses in the country, announcing that auto parts, home and hardware stores and plant nurseries will be allowed to reopen in the capital under certain guidelines and on staggered days.
Landscaping and property maintenance also now fall under essential businesses and will be allowed to operate during the 24-hour curfew, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
The move, however, has been met with criticism in recent days, with some residents saying the actions might have been implemented too soon, given the fact that the country is still seeing a surge of COVID cases.
Responding to those concerns, the deputy prime minister said: “If you follow the schedule of openings and the types of businesses that are being allowed to open and the insistence on the protocols, the safety protocols from the public health officials as to how these entities are to open, I believe the risks are being significantly considered and are being mitigated as best we can.
“This shutdown and curfew has been difficult and there are persons who have legitimate needs for services and goods, just to protect life and to continue to protect health,” he said.
“And so, we have to be sensitive to that and allow some relief for persons to be able to access those goods and services that they need in order to continue to be safe and not to venture out and do things that may not be in their best interest.”
Asked yesterday about the possibility of reopening islands that do not have COVID-19 cases, the minister said discussions are ongoing as it relates to allowing those communities to have an internal economy.
He said: “I do not know about opening the borders to international people or even people in the Bahamas, but I know that the discussion is ongoing with respect to assessing the risk of allowing these islands to have an internal economy in the absence of any confirmed cases of COVID.
“So, I think that’s something that is very topical and current and all things being considered in respect to no cases being confirmed, I suspect that you’ll see some movement on that shortly.”