The Abaco Chamber of Commerce hosted the Chief Councillors Association of Abaco at a dinner at Mangoes Restaurant on February 13. The two groups are concerned with mutual problems affecting Abaco and felt it would be beneficial to discuss and work together on these. This meeting of the Chief Councillors was in keeping with the Local Government Act that mandates an island’s chief councillors meet together for the common good of their island.
The halting of work on the airport terminal is upsetting to both groups. Abaco needs the terminal to accommodate our visitors who are the core of Abaco’s economy. It was decided that the Chamber and local government groups must make more noise to push government to complete the facilities. To this end, a joint statement is planned. It has been said that when the terminal is completed, direct flights from Atlanta may begin. In addition to the terminal, concerns were raised over the high cost of air travel to Abaco.
Refuse collection and disposal are another common issue. The landfill is not being managed and is now just a dump. Central government took over the expense of barging garbage from Elbow Cay and Man-O-War Cay and the management of the landfill, but there is no effective management of the landfill. Fires are burning there continually.
More authority needs to be given to local government as the people in local government know what the local communities want and need and how they want available funding to be spent. Central government is not paying attention to our towns’ needs, and local government has neither the funding nor authority to make meaningful progress. There is a lack of accountability on government spending for island projects. Contracts are issued without local knowledge of what is to be accomplished, what the project may cost or how the finished project will be maintained.
The Chamber and the Chief Councillors both want the Freedom of Information Act to be put into practice to enable accountability of government business.
Other complaints included the mini-hospital not being completed. Government now says it is due to the plans being incomplete in some aspects. Another complaint was that central government did not ask for local input about our road conditions and issued contracts with varying degrees of success. We have a new power plant that cost over a $100 million, yet we are still experiencing power outages.
It was suggested that several members of the combined group attempt a meeting with the Prime Minister, taking a list of complaints. But it was brought out that government would not meet with established civic groups in Nassau that recently formed the Coalition for Responsible Taxation. It is doubtful, they felt, that the Prime Minister would meet with Abaco representatives.
Government’s proposed Value Added Tax legislation was brought up. The Chamber explained that it felt that it will cause problems for businesses to comply properly and will result in an increase in the cost-of-living for everyone. Increased business expenses and the increased tax will ultimately be paid by the consumer.
Dennis Lightbourn, President of the Abaco Chamber and delegate to the Coalition for Responsible Taxation, explained aspects of the proposed Value Added Tax (VAT) legislation that government wants in place on July 1 of this year. Local government persons have not had any information on this tax scheme from government since a White Paper issued a year ago introducing the concept. It was not until last November after much pressure did the government release the draft legislation of The Act and The Regulations. However, these documents are constantly being revised as government decides the governing rules.
The Coalition was formed in Nassau to study the proposed tax legislation, examine alternatives and work with government to find a satisfactory solution to government’s need for increased revenue. Coalition leaders did meet with mid-level government employees who were focused on implementing the VAT system. Eventually, the Coalition was able to meet with the Ministers of State who showed little interest in listening to the Coalition. The Coalition then spent between $50 and $60 million in going to the public through radio talk shows and television to get government’s attention. Finally, the Coalition met with the Prime Minister on February 10.
The Abaco Chamber is working with the Coalition to petitions signed asking for more time, more facts and information about alternative tax methods. The Chamber is holding public meetings in several Abaco communities to discuss it directly with residents.