An Open Letter to the Minister of State

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The Hon. Zhivargo Laing

Minister of State for Finance and Public Service

Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Building?West Bay Street

April 12, 2010?P. O. Box N 3017?Nassau, N.P., The Bahamas

Dear Minister,

The global economy is emerging from recession, but its recovery appears to be gradual, with only modest growth in coming years.

The family Islands economies are unique and they should be treated that way. I feel that governments of The Bahamas to date have employed a one blanket economic and or tax policy for the country and this conjures unpleasant image of our colonial past. A more in depth understanding of the various Islands economy I, suggest must taken inconsideration when policies are being developed. I am convinced more and more that the non renewal of duty exemptions for the Exuma in 2008 was a major contributor to the economy of Exuma downhill slide for a few years now and only exacerbated by the global recession. Minister, I wish to bring to your attention that the still fragile economy of Exuma is tittering on the edge and I employ your investigation of same and hope for your intervention, before it is too late.

I recognize that policies will have to strike difficult balances, according to the country circumstances. However, I hope an appropriate stimulus package can be developed and executed for The Exumas in the next and upcoming 2010-2011 national budget.

I have spoken with many of the non-Bahamian property owners here in Exuma who are very concerned about what has been happening recently with their property taxes. This issue is very important to the Chamber of Commerce because what affects the property owners will ultimately affect us. If they don’t have the free cash to spend in our businesses, we all suffer. During the past two years, we have seen a definite downturn in island’s economy and spending is a significant contributor. Retroactive taxing of the winter residents and property owners will make it worse. There is an air of caution now on the island as everyone seems to be holding back waiting to see what happens with the tax situation. The Chamber of Commerce wants Exuma to grow, not falter.

In speaking with the winter residents, they have expressed to me their readiness to pay a reasonable tax on the properties. However, many are concerned by the sudden and very large increases in the amounts owed, increases which do not seem appropriate in view of the general downturn of the overall economy and real estate market here in Exuma for the past several years.

The winter residents have become more than visitors to Exuma life. They have become friends who support our churches and businesses, who volunteer faithfully, who contribute to life in Exuma and have for many years. Many of our winter residents bought property well before the financial boom triggered by the Emerald Bay Four Seasons managed resort. Some are now retired and living on fixed incomes. It concerns me greatly that these people feel that they are being forced to sell their homes and leave Exuma because of this new tax burden. We don’t want people who just drop in for a couple of weeks, use the beaches and leave. We want people here who are committed to the island and its people.

It will harm all of us if the foreign investors’ experience in the Family Islands is a negative one. These people come from all nations around the world. We don’t want them to take the impression back with them that the Family Islands of the Bahamas is a bad place to invest when compared to other places in the Caribbean and South and Central America. Goodwill is a tenuous thing. In this age of instant messaging and internet, one disgruntled person can have a large negative impact on thousands. Let us remember that we are competing for their spending dollars.

The ones who stay will not have the cash flow they once had to put into our economy at a time when all island businesses are feeling the hardships of a global recession. During the past two years, our businesses have struggled in the poor economy. When the winter residents are off the island and not spending in our communities, we have large drops in sales creating hardships for some of our locals. Unlike Nassau, we don’t have the population here in the Family Islands to pick up the slack and so we have to make enough during the winter season to carry us through.

The Family Islands have a very different rhythm than New Providence. We are small communities where everyone knows each other and supports each other. We work together, we shop together, we pray together. When you hurt one of us, when you challenge one of us, when you praise one of us, the entire community feels that pain, strains to that challenge, embraces that praise.

This issue needs to be dealt with in a manner of co-operation and dialogue between the government and the property owners. A town hall meeting between four groups of concerned citizens may inhibit the ability of any one group to get a fair and complete hearing. Having to overlap four different issues may not provide the opportunity to do this. We are asking for separate meetings to come to some mutually-agreeable solutions for all.

Regards,
Floyd Q. Armbrister

Cc: Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham
Hon. Anthony D.E.Moss, MP-Exuma
Hon. Alvin Smith –Speaker
Hon. Phenton O. Neymour
Hon. Carl Bethel, MP
Hon. Brensil D. Rolle, MP
Sen. Anthony Musgrove