During what was described as “Christmas in October” for the people devastated by Hurricane Dorian, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday announced that residents and businesses on Abaco and Grand Bahama will be exempt from paying value-added tax (VAT) on a range of items until June 2020.
Minnis, Jack Thompson, who heads the hurricane redevelopment efforts on Abaco, Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield, Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis and other senior government officials held a town hall meeting on Green Turtle Cay.
“In order to get you going as quickly as possible, we have declared the Abacos and the cays, we’ve declared them, inclusive of Grand Bahama, a tax-free zone,” Minnis told residents.
“You will be able to bring in all of your materials, appliances, clothing, etc. and the Customs Department will explain that here; that’s why I brought them here.
“But, you will be able to, over the next year or three years, bring those in duty-free. You will also be declared VAT- (value-added tax) free initially for one year and we will assess that going forth.”
In a statement issued yesterday evening, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) explained that the VAT relief policy “means that individuals and businesses will be exempt from the payment of value-added tax on a range of items”.
According to OPM, these include: unprepared food of all types, water, fruit and vegetable juice; clothes, shoes, hats, belts, stockings, gloves, scarves, cleaning supplies, beds and bedding material, hardware supplies building materials, landscaping supplies, pest control supplies; electrical fixtures and materials, electrical generators, farming equipment and supplies, fishing equipment and supplies, manufacturing equipment, cots, protective and safety gear, household furniture, furnishings and appliances, solar panels, mosquito netting, plumbing fixtures and materials, office supplies and equipment, tents, air-conditioning units and other equipment.
VAT on fuel for generators in areas still without electricity will also be VAT-free, OPM said.
The prime minister said the government will establish an independent trust to allow storm victims to receive up to $10,000 in assistance.
He said up to $1.5 million has been allotted for storm victims who work in farming, fishing, maritime and boating industries.
According to the prime minister, those individuals will be able to receive grants not exceeding $50,000.
While vowing that the government will not abandon Abaco residents, Minnis said he intends to visit the areas affected by Dorian every month “to ensure that you are progressing and things are being rebuilt and reconstructed”.
Thompson later concluded that, “I think we ought to give the prime minister and the ministers this, like Christmas, this good news, in October.
“So, let’s give them a round of applause.”
The crowd then broke into applause.
Dorian struck Abaco and Grand Bahama and the surrounding cays in early September, decimating parts of the islands.
The storm, which is on record as the strongest to hit The Bahamas, left thousands displaced, hundreds missing and at least 67 dead.
Some storm victims on Abaco are still without electricity and water nearly two months following Dorian.
Residents on Green Turtle Cay were expected to have electricity by November 15, according to Minnis.
However, yesterday, Minnis said, “We’ve had some setback and we’re assured that by the 30th, the end of November, you will be completely electrified.”
Residents on the cay were also curious about the government’s Family Relief Center.
A resident said, “In relation to people who have lost homes, I saw that they were putting domes in the Spring City area. I read somewhere also that they would be able to put them on properties next to your homes.
“Is that an option that is available to people?”
Lewis replied, “Yes, we’re looking at making that an option. And the Spring City operation should be completed – we’re building 250 domes in that area – we’re looking at by mid-January.
“We’re hoping to do it faster and there’s some site conditions we had to address.
“But, we will make it possible for persons to purchase those domes to have on their properties while they’re rebuilding.”
When residents asked for a cost, Lewis said he was unable to provide one.
However, he noted that “it is very affordable”.
The government intends to establish a Family Relief Center on Abaco for residents.
Lewis has said that land is being cleared and infrastructure is being put in place for the facility.
Earlier this month, the prime minister said the temporary housing is expected to cost about $6.4 million, noting that the domes will be in place for at least three years.
On Tuesday, while on the Guardian Radio 96.9 talk show “The Revolution” with host Juan McCartney, John Michael Clarke, who is the co-chairman of the Reconstruction Committee, said the first shipment of the domes will arrive on Abaco on November 14.
He said they take “three to four hours” to erect.
Clarke said the domes are being done by the Brickell Management Group.