Bahamas Foreign Affairs Minister, The Hon Fred Mitchell Attends The 8th UK Caribbean Forum
During the two day forum, Mitchell raised concerns about constitutional matters in The Turks and Caicos Islands and also expressed the government’s opposition to tax sharing agreements that could potentially impact the financial services industry.
Being the lead country responsible for the Turks and Caicos Islands in CARICOM, Mitchell explained that taking a strong stance with them is in The Bahamas’ national interest. To date, The Bahamas has more people from The Turks and Caicos who live in The Bahamas compared to those now living in that country. Mitchell emphasized that the government wants to ensure that Turks and Caicos have the same rights to live a life of democracy and development the kind of economy that they want to build.
“I spoke with the Foreign Secretary, the Minister in The Foreign Commonwealth Office and with the Parliament and communicate that there needs to be additional fiscal space for the government of The Turks and Caicos Islands to conduct social spending. They cannot do that now because of the restrictions of a 200 million dollar loan that the British obtained on their behalf,” said Minister Mitchell.
Bilateral discussions included economic development, trade and investments, energy and education. UK and Caribbean officials also placed emphasis on combating organized crime through various partnerships including two new proposed tax sharing programmes. Minister Mitchell told the British government and Caribbean Foreign Ministers that The Bahamas will not be part of the programmes and will continue to put forward their opposition regarding these and similar proposals.
“There are two initiatives the British have advanced, one is an automate tax information exchange which they call the new standard imposed by the OECD and the other is the Central Beneficial Registry of the ownership of shares in companies and trusts. We are not in a position to agree to any of those at this time. Certainly it is a matter that we have to refer back to our capital and in particular our Attorney General and Minister of Financial Services,” said Minister Mitchell.
Some of these countries see The Bahamas as a jurisdiction where the wealthy escape paying taxes, Minister Mitchell also stated that there is a need to protect the right to privacy and strike the right balance with combating organized crime.
“There are countries most interested in collecting their taxes. They are of the view that people who live in countries like ours are evading taxes, we do not share that view. Firstly, tax competition is a legitimate form of trade and there are legitimate reasons why people want their wealth to remain private which has nothing to do with criminal activity,” stated Mitchell.
The UK Caribbean Forum concluded with Minister Mitchell leading a panel discussion focusing on issues facing The Caribbean alongside a select group of UK parliamentarians.
The UK Caribbean Forum is held every two years; the first meeting was held in The Bahamas in 1998. The forum brings together UK government officials and Caribbean Foreign Ministers to discuss and plan how nations can further strengthen their relationship with The United Kingdom.
Pictured from left to right: Premier of The Turks and Caicos Islands, Hon Rufus Ewing; Foreign Commonwealth Office Minister for The Caribbean and UK Member of Parliament, Mark Simmonds, Bahamas Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon Fred Mitchell and Bahamas High Commissioner London, His Excellency, Eldred Bethel at Lancaster House Tuesday June 17, 2014.