By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government was yesterday urged to be all over the Fiscal Responsibility Bill "like white on rice", as it will give Bahamians confidence their VAT sacrifice is not in vain.
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business it was "absolutely critical" that the government now turn its focus to the bill in the budget's aftermath, as its passage would introduce checks to prevent misuse of the targeted $400m VAT revenue windfall.
He added that the proposed legislation needed to be "passed in months", something the Minnis administration has previously indicated it intends to do, given the need for increased accountability and transparency to match the government's ever-expanding tax take.
"It's absolutely critical. This Fiscal Responsibility Bill, that has to happen," Mr Myers told this newspaper. "They [the government] need to be on that like white on rice. That has to happen in months; they need to get that passed in months.
"A large reason why we all got kind of blindsided by this budget is it takes so long for information to come out of these ministries and departments."
Mr Myers' concerns were echoed by Carey Leonard, the ex-Grand Bahama Port Authority in-house attorney, who said the bill's passage would give the private sector "more confidence and comfort" that the extra sacrifice they and Bahamian consumers are being called upon to make will not be wasted.
"The government really needs to get its Fiscal Responsibility Bill through sooner rather than later," the now Callenders & Co attorney told Tribune Business. "That needs to be passed along with the Budget.
"What worried some people is that when VAT was increased more, they thought there would already be Fiscal Responsibility, and there isn't. It would give more people, especially in the business community, more confidence by passing the Fiscal Responsibility Bill."
Mr Leonard continued: "Talking to a number of business people, they said they don't like it [the Budget and VAT hike], but it's the best way to go. They'd also like to see the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
"They'll feel a lot more comfortable. The Government really needs to push for that and get it through." The Government released the draft Bill for public comment, and feedback, just two to three weeks prior to the Budget's unveiling, but it has since been overshadowed by the fall-out from the subsequent VAT hike and other revenue-raising measures.
The Minnis administration, though, has moved to adhere to its principles before the legislation is passed. The $237 million fiscal deficit forecast for 2018-2019, equivalent to 1.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), is intended to hit the first target in a three-year glide to an annual deficit of 0.5 per cent in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.