DPM hears small business owners’ concerns

ANSWERING QUESTIONS – Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, Minister of Finance answers questions from the media regarding the recent demonstration by local small business owners.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K. Peter Turnquest met with Grand Bahama small business owners at the Ministry for Grand Bahama on Friday, October 6, listening to their concerns regarding newly implemented Task Force responsible for Government Revenue Collections.

The small business owners are disgruntled with the way in which the task force, reportedly, executes its duties, which most claim hampers the process of doing business, collecting goods as well as fines paid out for infractions that they alleged are nonsensical.
While the both Turnquest and the small business owners state that the meeting proved to be a cordial one and more importantly, they are elated that the nation’s second commander-in-chief took the time to hear them out, mixed emotions and concerns remain.

The Freeport News caught up with Turnquest, who discussed his views on the matter stating, “We had a very good meeting this morning with a number of Grand Bahama small business owners, which comprised a number of couriers, who expressed their concerns with doing business in Grand Bahama.

“We assured them that the processing of Bahamas Customs is not intended to be punitive in any way or to disrupt businesses; however, we are in an enhanced mode of revenue collection and compliance.

“We explained to the business owners a little bit about the process in an effort to help them understand that as long as they do their part then, Bahamas Customs would do theirs and that would result in a very smooth and seamless relationship.”
Turnquest added, “The Grand Bahama small business owners expressed serious concerns about the delays in clearing shipments and we acknowledge that there have been some issues in respect to that, and we are working towards correcting those bottlenecks as quickly as possible.

“Additionally, they expressed concerns about the facilities, which we intend to talk to the Harbour Company about in an effort to see if there is some way to develop a more user-friendly inspection area; therefore, making the process a bit more comfortable for the Customs Officers, brokers and customers.

“At the end of the day, I believe that everybody understands that the Government of The Bahamas has a responsibility and obligation to carry out the laws and to do so in a professional and courteous manner. And as such, no officer, agency or minister has the right to unilaterally adjust the law without going to Parliament.”

Keen on discussing several policies that the business owners asked to be improved upon to provide more efficient service across the board, Turnquest shared the government is soliciting the help and support of the small business owners to help them understand how best they can be served through Bahamas Customs, the Ministry of Finance, the Department of In-Land Revenue and all of the agencies that fall within the Finance Minister’s remit as well as the general environment in Grand Bahama.
“We recognize that this is economically challenging times and understand everyone wants to hold onto every dollar that they can; however, we also recognize that there is only one law and that law has to apply across the country.

“Again, none of us have the ability to just arbitrarily apply the law; hence, I have asked the business owners to exercise patience. And while I know that this transition differs from the way things used to be as we tighten up and install discipline – the process is (proving a bit difficult to get use to) at the end of the day, will benefit all of us.
“It ensures that there is equity among the business owners and that there is not some who are paying and others that are not, as well as those being subject to inspections or others getting away free,” said the DPM.

“We want an across the board even, equitable, seamless and courtesy process that enhances and encourages efficiency on both sides of the equation.

“We talked a little about the business environment and what is happening in Grand Bahama, as well as the way forward letting them know that the Government of The Bahamas is working very diligently to bring investment to the island that we hope will be beneficial to all concerned,” Turnquest added.

Darren Cooper, D’s Car Rental Proprietor and GB small business owners’ spokesperson, said that the meeting went well and they all left with a little more clarity concerning the government’s position and now, the authorities have a better view of what they are hoping for as well from a business perspective.

Again, he noted that no business owner wants to rob the government or be exempt from paying Customs Duties or VAT; however, they do not want to be nonsensically fined either.

Cooper maintained that no solution was arrived tat yet, but there is a commitment by all concern to remain compliant with the laws until such time as Turnquest is able to have certain issues properly addressed and rectified, so their business would survive.

“Ninety percent of the business owners were in the meeting airing the exact same issues and concerns with the way business has been going as it relates to Bahamas Customs. High fees levied for infractions and so forth as well as the continued hold up of the shipments is really affecting us, but we are happy DPM Turnquest took the time to listen to us and is prepared to help as best as able, of course, as the law dictates.

“We understand that the task force is here to stay and we will continue to comply with the laws; however, we need a resolution if our businesses are to survive and the restoration of the economy with our help is a success,” said Cooper.
All sides have committed to working together and arriving to a lawful, compliant, good and beneficial for all concerned conclusion.

The GB small business owners are set to revisit the matter with DPM Turnquest in the next few weeks to see how well things move along.

According to Turnquest, “Certainly, I have gone away with some ideas as to what the business owners feel can help them to be more efficient and profitable, and I have given my commitment to look at those issues and see how we can adjust and do our part and I have asked them to do theirs and they have agreed to do so.

“We will meet within the next six weeks to give a report on the progress that I have made from my side in terms of trying to improve this process, relationship and be more communicative with the public so everyone knows the process, and there is no questioning or premature judging of the process and everyone knows what is expected.
“And by doing this we can make informed decisions on how we do business.”

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