The last News Bulletin I wrote for the Bahamas Employers Confederation showed that the cloak of Government secrecy not only hides information from the Bahamian private sector, it provides fertile ground for Government to supply propaganda and misinformation to the general public. The rhetoric versus the reality of the ILO's position on the Government's proposed NHI plan serves as a stark example to all Bahamians that we cannot trust statements made by our own Government.
In a like vein, a bad habit of Government is to define words so narrowly that they lose their true meaning. An example of this is Government's assertation that the employee deduction and employer contribution for the proposed NHI plan is not a tax when in fact it is a payroll tax. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, (en.wikipedia.org) defines "payroll tax" as taxes which employers are required to withhold from employee's pay and taxes directly related to employing a worker paid from the employers own funds. In fact, for those individuals whose sole means of income is a payroll check, the NHI deduction is in effect an income tax.
Another way that the narrow definition of taxes is used as propaganda is the exclusion of Government fees when talking about taxes. A few years ago a great deal of hoopla was expressed over the annual Government budget that did not increase taxes. Although no tax increases as defined by Government were introduced in the budget, a number of Government fees were increased significantly. For example, the annual fee for a Business Name tripled from $50 to $150. The segment of society most affected by this increased fee was small business owners who could not afford the cost of incorporating and maintaining a company. The annual $50 cost for a Business Name allowed them to operate their business legitimately; however the huge increase in cost to $150 per year caused some to revert back into the informal economy.
The Government also has the habit of providing partial information that obscures or misrepresents the true state of affairs. Stamp tax used to be a fixed percentage amount that was payable across the board on imported goods. It was decided many years ago to make liquor (spirits) a duty free item, but in order to provide Government with revenue the stamp tax on liquor was increased from 1.5% up to a high of 29%. The Bahamas can boast that it sells duty free liquor, however it is never mentioned that a relatively high stamp tax is paid to Government on these products.
In order for Bahamian society to be truly free and democratic it is important that we hold our political leaders accountable and let them know that we require the full and whole truth on the state of affairs in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Although The Bahamas is famous for our literal sunshine, we desperately need some figurative sunshine, i.e. freedom of information and transparency in our national decision making processes.