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New body set up to look at tax structure

Tax policy: David Burt said new system would help create fairness (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A Bill creating a commission to look at changing Bermuda’s tax structure was approved by the House of Assembly last Friday.

David Burt, the Premier, said the Tax Reform Commission Act would help create a fairer system for the island.

He said: “This Bill is the first step to build that better and fairer Bermuda that this Government promised voters at the last General Election.

“We must fully review our system to ensure that it’s the right platform to power economic growth into the future.”

The seven-member, bipartisan commission will be given a broad scope to look at ways to create an equitable tax structure that keeps the island competitive internationally.

Michael Dunkley, the former premier, described the piece of legislation before the house as having “honourable and noble intent” but said it was imperative to ensure that taxes would be collected.

He also said it was important to ensure that the tax collected, which goes to the Government, is used in the correct way and a high level of accountability would be needed.

Mr Dunkley also claimed that the legislation being debated did not deal with the wealth gap and the assertion that tax reform would “rise our people up” would give Bermudians “false hope”.

In response to the former premier’s comments, Mr Burt said: “I am fascinated that the OBA hasn’t learnt the lessons of the election defeat. He doesn’t recognise that it is fundamentally unfair that the only income that is taxed is income from labour. Those who have more will always have more. Our system promotes the growing divide in Bermuda.”

Jeanne Atherden, the shadow finance minister, said that the commission should consider the ability to collect tax revenue.

She said: “It makes no sense to change your tax base if, at the end of the day, you can’t collect it.”

Ms Atherden also said the One Bermuda Alliance had placed the island on track to have a balanced budget and the island must be careful about changing tack.

Meanwhile Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said the OBA had made difficult choices to keep the island from falling “over the precipice” of debt.

Wayne Furbert, the Junior Minister of Finance, said that the tax structure should have been looked at long ago.

He said: “Not one of us could stand and say the tax system in equitable. At the end of the day this is the right thing to do and I’m hoping the opposition will get on board.”

Meanwhile Rolfe Commissiong said the island’s tax structure had long benefited a “very privileged minority” and that a few “tweaks” over the decades had done little to address the imbalance.

Mr Commissiong also said that the ability to collect the taxes was vital, saying that in 2014-15 more than $197 million was owed to Government.

Walton Brown, Minister for Home Affairs, said the international business community was “one of the impediments” to a fair tax system in Bermuda.

He added: “There are elements in international business who just whine when you talk about a fair taxation system. Our system means that the wealthier segments get a tax break.

“This is a bizarre case of corporate greed when a single individual can earn a salary of $30 million per year.”