Legislators and Their Non-Payment of Taxes

taxThe government has not yet officially moved from its July 1 deadline to implement value-added tax (VAT). The business community is against it. Bahamians via talk radio and social media seem largely against it.

An interesting thing has happened in recent weeks since The Nassau Guardian published stories on the hypocrisy of the government’s tax messenger, Ishmael Lightbourne, not paying property taxes while advocating for Bahamians to pay their way. Questions have arisen about other government officials and legislators paying their taxes. The public is curious to know who is comfortably being hypocritical in our Parliament – asking Bahamians to pay more when they pay little to nothing.

Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller recently suggested that he owes taxes to the government and said that politicians and people who hold public office should not be required to publicly disclose what they owe in taxes.

Miller, who is the executive chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), said such a move would violate the right to privacy.

“All Bahamians, I don’t care what level of life [they are at], owe taxes,” he said.

“The situation with regard to real property tax has been around a long time.

“No one has the right to know what you or anyone else in this country pay or do not pay [in] taxes. That’s between the relevant government agencies and the individual.”

Miller is missing the simple point. In democracies we strive to be fair. Men and women who are elected to public office have the responsibility of passing laws and being responsible for ensuring those laws are being carried out. Public figures are expected to follow the law. They are not expected to do so only when they feel like it.

Real property taxes are legally owed to the state. The government has been negligent for years in collecting these and other taxes. That negligence has contributed to the debt situation we are in today.

From Miller’s remarks, he seems to think taxes are discretionary when times are hard. When asked if he owes taxes, Miller said he is just like every other average Bahamian trying to make ends meet.

“I said all,” he said. “Every Bahamian owes some form of [tax]. All. I don’t care how rich the guy is.

“I’m a Bahamian man. I’m part of that. When I say all, I include me in everything I say.

“I don’t distinguish myself from [any] Bahamian. I’m just like the regular Bahamian out there who [is] hustling trying to make a living and trying to pay your bills and take care [of] your family.”

In good times and bad times taxes are owed. In really bad times a responsible Parliament lowers taxes for its people to spur on economic activity and put money back into the pockets of people. That’s how relief should come about. It should not come about from people thinking they can just not pay their taxes.

With our legislators now thinking about seriously increasing our taxes, we the people have a right to know who pays their taxes and who does not. They have no moral right to privacy in this matter. They have no right to hide their hypocrisy. If we have men and women who do not pay their taxes pontificating day after day about the Bahamian people needing to pay more – berating us for negligence – we have a right to know who they are and what they owe.

Beyond having the moral right to know the details about our public officials, the Public Disclosure Act – a law that is only loosely followed by some in The Bahamas – mandates that certain public officials publicly declare certain financial information.

Those who want privacy should not enter public life. Those who step forward to serve, to make laws and to enforce laws must be willing to subject themselves to governing in the sunshine.