Opposition Leader on Duty Free Bay Street

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Dr. Hubert Minnis
Dr. Hubert Minnis

The Free National Movement notes with great interest the Minister of Tourism’s position with respect to Bay Street. In principle the FNM agrees with the assessment, but is puzzled by the government’s duplicity. On one hand the Minister speaks to the dominance of foreign owned retail businesses while at the same time his government has gone against a policy long held by successive governments to protect Bahamian retailers.

We have learned that the government has granted direct NEC approvals and licenses for several high-end luxury retailers to operate at Bahamar, contrary to government policy. In 1998, when Atlantis attempted to do the same thing, the FNM government listened to the outcry of Bahamian retailers, including that of the current Attorney General’s husband, and insisted that retail operations at Atlantis must be Bahamian owned. The PLP has obviously seen fit to discontinue that policy.

Just as the Pindling administration, in its final miserable years, decided to “change the face of Bay Street” by licencing a host of foreign-owned duty-free jewelry stores, it seems that this Christie administration (in its final miserable years) is similarly intent on changing the face of retailing throughout the entire tourism industry. Such reckless abandoning of long-cherished economic empowerment policies could ultimately lead to the complete demise of the Bahamian retailer. The PLP campaigned on the slogan of “Bahamians First”, but again it seems that in practice the PLP continues to put Bahamians Last!

Further, rather than simply focusing on preserving the duty free zone status of the downtown commercial heart of Nassau for the sellers of high-end jewelry, the government should remove duty on clothing altogether. Not only will it improve the attractiveness of downtown Bay Street, it would also improve the variety of items that can be sold at competitive prices downtown; and would accomplish the following:

· Create more job opportunities in the retail (clothing) sector.

· Allow for more entrepreneurial start-ups in the retail sector

· Lessen the burden on the taxpayer when it comes to an essential such as clothing, and the like.

· Revitalize the commercial real estate sector in the City centre.

Any revenues lost in duty may be made up from the VAT charged on increased sales volumes in the retail (clothing) sector, VAT collected from more consumption due to reduced levels of unemployment, increases in stamp tax, and VAT receipts from real estate transactions related to commercial real estate expansion and rentals in the City centre.

The FNM would further encourage the local clothing sector by looking at removing duty from sewing materials, patterns, threads, accessories and equipment, thereby creating more jobs and competitiveness in the fast-growing domestic fashion and design sector.

If the government is serious about revitalizing Bay Street and creating variety, it should cease the reported practice of issuing licenses to foreign retailers and if they wish to reduce the cost of shopping, they should do so for both visitors and Bahamians alike (and not only on Bay Street). Clothing should be given the same provision as is done for high end jewelry and leather goods.