Statement by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham
On Action Taken by Minister of State Zhivargo Laing in connection with a change in the rate of customs duties on the product Mona Vie
THE PRIME MINISTER: I have reviewed all the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations made against Minister of State Zhivargo Laing by the Opposition and its various spokespersons.
I have concluded that Minister Laing acted within the scope and ambit of the authority delegated and entrusted to him by myself as Minister of Finance.
The facts are as follows:
A Bahamian citizen, who happens to be the sister-in-law of the Minister, made a formal complaint to the Comptroller of Customs by letter, on 14 September 2007 concerning a decision by Customs to change the customs duty rate on a product (Mona Vie) previously imported by her and other persons at a rate of 10% to 45%. The Comptroller of Customs responded in a letter dated the 4 October 2007, as follows:
“This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 14th September, 2007 relative to the subject.
“In response thereto please be advised that this Department is presently conducting a review of the product Mona Vie to determine its classification and rate of duty.
“In the meantime you should continue to apply the 2009.90 Tariff Heading which will attract 10% rate of duty.
“Any further classification decision and rate of duty will be communicated to you in writing.
Comptroller of Customs”
When, on 20 November 2007, the Comptroller of Customs determined that the product should be placed in a classification of items attracting a higher rate of customs duty, the Minister of State, acting upon advice and within the scope and ambit of his authority, determined that the rate confirmed by the Comptroller of Customs on 4 October 2007 should continue to be levied until the matter might be considered in the next Annual Budget.
The Minister at no time changed a customs duty rate. Neither the Minister nor the Comptroller of Customs is empowered to change customs duty rates.
Such a power is vested in the Governor General acting upon the advice of the Minister of Finance. And neither did so.
Simply stated, the product Mona Vie was determined to have been wrongly classified.
The Minister determined that the classification and hence the duty previously levied on the product by Customs, and confirmed by the Comptroller of Customs on 4 October 2007, would continue for the remainder of the fiscal year.
It is to be noted that Mona Vie is imported into The Bahamas by a number of persons and not exclusively by Mrs. Laing. And all of these individuals, importers of Mona Vie, were affected by the decision of the Comptroller of Customs.
A number of them had also protested the change in the classification, and hence customs duty rate, without notice just three months into the new fiscal year.
I am satisfied that Minister Laing acted properly and in the interest of fair play towards a number of Bahamian business persons.
It is only because his sister-in-law happened to be one of those persons affected that the Opposition seeks to mislead the Bahamian public in this matter.
All Bahamians are entitled to a fair hearing and fair judgment when their interests are at stake, and it is ludicrous to suggest that a group of Bahamians should suffer unfairly because one of them happens to be related to someone in Government.