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General services tax a work in progress

While there is “nothing mysterious” about the delay in rolling out the general services tax, now set for April 2018, Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, conceded that the Bermuda Government had “yet to really define the scope of it”.

The proposed 5 per cent will be levied on turnover from the provision of most services by service providers to the public, according to the Budget statement.

The tax will not apply to banking, insurance and money service businesses, who will face a separate financial services tax instead.

Its method of implementation and the list of companies that will be affected remains a work in progress, Mr Richards said.

The Government's long year of consultation on adjustments to the payroll tax system has consumed much of the time that would have been devoted to fine-tuning the GST, which was proposed in last year's Budget, MPs were told.

The minister discussed elements of the 2017-18 Budget at a press conference after his two-hour statement in the House of Assembly, with Mr Richards fending off the suggestion that he had delivered an election year Budget. “People can put whatever spin they want on it, but the things done this year have been laid out for a couple of years,” Mr Richards said, calling it “one part of a multiyear plan to completely eliminate the annual deficit”.

The minister was joined by Michael Dunkley, who hailed it as “a Budget for our current times”, in line with “a robust strategy that would help us wrestle back control of our public finances”. The Premier said finer details would start to emerge next week, as the various ministers held press conferences on the Budget's implications for their portfolios.

Mr Richards's full statement read:

“The National Budget for 2017-18 moves Bermuda closer to our goal of having a balanced budget, whereby no money will be required to be borrowed to finance the needs of Government.

“Projections for 2018-19 indicate that the Current Account surplus will cover interest charges and capital expenditures, meaning that for the first time in 15 years, Government will not be adding new net debt, and will start reducing it. But for the first time in Bermuda's history this coming year, our debt service will be the highest line item of expenditure. Servicing the national debt will be more expensive this year than the budget for any single Ministry.

“All told, for fiscal 2017-18 there will be a projected deficit of $135 million — that's $135 million more in expenditure, than anticipated revenue, requiring $135 million in new borrowing.

“But this deficit is $64.4 million less than the 2016-17 deficit, which was nearly $200 million. We have been making annual progress in whittling the deficit down.

“This Budget puts our net public debt at $2.398 billion, with a projected debt service cost of $186 million, claiming nearly 18 cents of every dollar the Government collects in revenue.

“This Government Budget is one part of a multiyear plan to completely eliminate the annual deficit — the most important part of our financial plan to ensure the long-term prosperity for the Bermudian people.

“To take that step, the Government is moving to both broaden the tax base, and, establish tax cuts to ease cost-of-living pressures on lower-income earners.”

Finance minister Bob Richards arrives at the House of Assembly (Photograph David Skinner)

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Published February 24, 2017 at 4:07 pm (Updated February 25, 2017 at 1:18 am)

General services tax a work in progress

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