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Community Articles, Finances,

The $1000 stimulus and the waiver of the duty and CPF on basic bread items are good initiatives but we also need to do the same for fuel

The distribution of stimulus needs to be fair, and the people need to feel the impact of the waiver

Introduction

I know there is mixed reaction about the Government’s recent initiatives particularly the $1,000 stimulus. Initially, I had concerns about the stimulus as well, but my thoughts have changed. The more you interact with people, you realize that many people are hurting and need help. Even the people we think have money are also hurting. Too many of us assume that people that make a lot of money do not need help, but the truth is the more money you make, many times you end up with more expenses. Furthermore, the prices of good and services continue to escalate, and the income of individuals has not increased and so people need additional sources of income.  Therefore, I support the payment of a third stimulus because every dime helps. It is not a long term solution but it will help on a short term basis.

I also support the waiver of the duty and CPF on basic bread items, however, the Government must ensure that the consumers feel the savings. I also think the Government should waive the taxes, duty and CPF on fuel on a temporary basis. The high cost of fuel is the one of the driving factors for the high cost of living in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Fuel impacts everything. The fuel impacts the electricity cost and if the electricity costs are high, merchants need to recover their costs and they will do so through the increase in their prices to the consumer, also when the fuel price is high, it impacts the disposable income for individuals. Therefore, the landed cost of fuel needs to be reduced and this can be done through a complete waiver of the duty, taxes and CPF.

The Stimulus

I know there are concerns about whether, Government should be paying stimulus. The truth is, that is our money. If the parliamentarians can get all sorts of allowances and hefty pensions for life after serving two terms, then why can’t the people get an additional $1,000. The issue I have is that should everybody get $1,000. Of course, that is the easiest and simplest approach but there are some people that need more than $1,000 and some people don’t need it at all. There should be system in place whereby the allocation can be link to your pre disposable income. With that said, those that don’t need don’t have to apply for it like what I did during the second stimulus payment. I did not apply for the $500. Perhaps, I should have applied for it and give it to someone that needs it. Consider this, a household with two adults can get $2,000, a household with three adults can get $3,000. If the members of the household combine their $1,000, this will help them to alleviate their financial burdens.

One of the concerns that persons addressed is that the stimulus is a handout, and we need to provide opportunities for the people.  Honestly, there are so many opportunities in this country and the expatriate community recognize this and take advantage of it. The Government provides funding in the forms of grant to locals through Invest TCI. How many of us are embracing this opportunity?  Recently, there appeared to be an increase in the takeup but more people need to access these funds.  While this is a great opportunity it appears that some people do not know about it and don’t know what to do so I think Invest TCI needs to be more visible and go in the communities and ensure that assistance and awareness are done so that there will be more applicants.

Another opportunity is that there is a significant reserve category in the business licence for Turks and Caicos Islanders.  Rather than some of us embracing this opportunity, we are selling our birth rights by “fronting for individuals”

Finally, people are claiming that need access to financing.  I agree that access to financing is a valid concern, but do you know if you prepare a convincing business plan, have good record keeping and have some sort of savings or collateral, the banks will provide you with access to finance. I know many of us may not want to hear this but sometimes it is not the banks that are at fault, it is us.  We are not keeping financial records and we are not saving. For those individuals that are having issues with access to finance, there is hope though because the Government announced at the most recent Invest TCI conference, that they are in constant dialogue with the banks about more access to finance. The Government also said they are exploring providing access to individuals through the development of a Corporate Fund. Of course we need to see actions on this initiative.

The Waiver

Many of us including myself have complained that the Government needs to exempt the duty and CPF on basic bread items. They are doing so now until November. However, the Government needs to meet with all vendors and relevant stakeholders and come to a written agreement that they will pass the savings onto the consumers, and they will not increase their profit margin.  In fact, the Government should ask the stakeholders to reduce their margin like what the Government of Barbados has done.

Currently, fuel suppliers must pay a fuel tax of 64 cents, an import duty of 44 cents on the gallons of fuel imported and then the CPF of 5%.  I think the Government should remove the the fuel tax, the import duty and CPF on fuel.  I believe the consumers would see a significant change. Again, this needs to be monitored as the Premier mentioned that one of the reasons the Government is providing the stimulus is since the Vendors are not passing the savings onto the consumers.  I was very surprised with that the statement because the Government has the power to ensure that the vendors passed on the savings even if it means implementing a price control on a temporary basis.

Another thing the Government needs to do is the construction of deep water ports. This of course is a long term solution. My understanding is that deep water ports will facilitate the accommodation of larger ships which in turn can increase the capacity of imported items such as fuel. It is believed that a deep water port can reduce the cost of imported items significantly as much as 30%.

Conclusion

I believe by now most people know that I am heavy critic of Governments, but we must give credit where credit is due. The stimulus and the duty and CPF exemption on basic bread items are good initiatives. People can use and apply the stimulus how they want to do it. Of course, the grant of stimulus on a continuous basis is not sustainable but then again, the payment of pensions to our parliamentarians is not sustainable either.

These initiatives are not a waste of our money. It will be only a waste if individuals are using it on things they want rather than what they need. The waiver initiative can be a waster if the savings are not trickled to the consumers. The Government therefore must step in and ensure that this is done.

Finally, we must not assume that everyone is aware on how to access the grants from Invest TCI.  It is necessary to meet the people and guide them on what they need to do to ensure that they can get access to the grants. This will require face to face meetings with the citizens. Trust me the opportunities are here. Let us embrace them.

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Community Articles, Finances, Uncategorized,

Light bills send shock waves and frustration in Turks and Caicos

TCI Government can ease the burden by providing fuel credits like the Government of Cayman

Introduction

When the residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands received their light bills on June 30th, they were shocked and expressed their frustration about on social media. The utility company, Fortis TCI issued a press released and stated that due to the war in Ukraine, it drove the price of fuel up and hence there was a 23% increase in the fuel factor compared to the May 31st bill. Many residents, however, were not satisfied with that explanation and said they wanted to know why their consumption was high. Based on this, I decided to do an analysis of my utility bill and offer some suggestions on what we, Fortis and the Government can do to have a lower bill.

An analysis of my bill

My June 30, 2022, bill revealed that I consumed 1,770 kwh of electricity resulting in a bill of $912.44 including $425.69 for the fuel factor.  The bill for May 31, 2022, was $570.63 and my consumption was 1,211 kwh of electricity. Therefore, my consumption increased by 559 kwh of electricity. While the rate of .275 per Kwh remains the same, the fuel factor rate increased from .1962 in May to .2405 in June indicating a 23% increase as reflected in the press release from Fortis. I must admit I expected my bill to be higher this month because we were using the AC many nights in the month of June compared to May. Of course, I didn’t expect it to be over $900 but I didn’t know what the fuel factor would be but then again, I should have not been surprised since everything else has increased. My mortgage payment went up by more than $700 and the fuel at the gas station has increased significantly.

Despite these justifications, I was still not happy with my bill, so I decided to review my bill for the same period in 2021 and 2020 respectively. In June 2021, my consumption was 1,506 kwh and my bill was $596.07 of which $181.92 was the fuel factor portion. Interestingly, the fuel factor rate for June 2021 was .1208 which is about half the rate of the fuel factor of .2405 for June 2022. In May 2021, my consumption was 1,333 and the bill was $498.35 of which the fuel factor was $136.70. The fuel factor rate for May 2021 was .1026. If you noticed, my June 2021 bill was just a little higher than May 2022 but the consumption for June 2021 was higher than May 2022 by 295 kwh.

In June 2020, my consumption was 2,190 kwh of electricity and my bill was $796.07 of which $226.67 was the fuel factor. As you can see, my consumption for June 2020 was a lot higher than June 2022 but my bill was lower. The reason my bill was lower is that the electricity rate in June 2020 was .26 and the fuel factor was .1035 whereas in June 2022, the electricity rate was .275 and the fuel factor was .2405.  Now my bill for May 2020 was $858.88 and my consumption was 2,280 which was the highest so far. The fuel factor was .1167.

What can we as consumers do to reduce our bill?

We know that the more we consume electricity, the higher our electricity bill will be. Therefore, we must find ways to reduce our consumption. Of course, this will be a challenge this summer where the temperature is extremely hotter than usual and so many of us will be tempted to use the air conditioner. Ironically, some consumers have claimed they have not increased their consumption, but their bill is high. I cannot comprehend this, but I know as a consumer, I am going to sign up for my online account so that I can monitor our consumption daily and act based on the results of the consumption.

Fortis TCI website has several tips on what we can do to conserve energy. Make sure your lights are turned off when you are not using them. Use compact fluorescent bulbs. Use irons that have automatic turn off features. Use flat bottomed pans. If you have a cooking time for your food, turn your stove off before the designated time. Turn off your computers if you are not using it. Fortis also has renewable energy programs known as Core and programs respectively. Alternatively, I believe you can install your own renewable energy and solar programs or even wind resources.

What can Fortis (our utility company) do?

Currently, Fortis is using diesel to generate and distribute electricity to the residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands. As a result, the company relies totally and heavily on fuel. Whatever fuel cost that the company incurs, that cost is recharged to all their consumers in what is known as the fuel factor which is standard practice. For this cost to reduce, Fortis needs to reduce their reliance on diesel and move to more renewable energy resources.

I know customers can log on to monitor their usage daily but perhaps Fortis should implement a system that customers can be notified automatically on a regular basis about their consumption especially if their consumption exceeds its regular usage.

What can the Government do?

The Government of the Cayman Islands recently announced that they will provide a fuel cost credit for fuel factor rates that go above 15cents per kwh for the months of Jul, August and September to residents whose consumption is between 101kwh and 2,000Kwh. If the residents’ consumption is below 101 and greater than 2000, then they do not qualify for the credit. If the rate is above 15 cents, the Government will pay the difference for the residents. I think this is a great initiative and the Turks and Caicos Islands Government should do something similar.

I know several months ago, the Government announced a $15million initiative, however, I don’t think anyone is seeing any impact. The main reason this initiative is not impactful is because the price of the goods has increased significantly higher than the initiative.  Therefore, I think the Government should review that initiative and replace it with something else. Perhaps they can remove the Customs Processing Fee for the summer and remove the taxes on the fuel that are imported for the summer months. The residents cannot have a great life if they are spending all their income and savings to accommodate the rising costs of fuel, groceries, electricity, and interest rates.

The Government needs to say something to people and assure them that there is no price gouging and that the fuel factor rates are reviewed and approved by the Energy and Utilities Commission.

Conclusion

Whether or not we want to accept this, the Russia/Ukraine war is having an impact on the supply chain and the price of products such as fuel. I don’t know why people are experiencing an increase in consumption when their activities were the same or less in the prior months. This is something that you as consumers need to check immediately. In fact, go to Fortis and let them review and investigate your consumption. Alternatively, get an electrician to examine your place and check your breakers and meters. Fortis, say they do not estimate consumption and the consumption is based on the actual readings displayed on the meters. In the meanwhile, though, I think the Government holds the key for a reduction in our bills by providing relief for the residents.

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Community Articles, Finances,

Valid Business Licence holders need more incentives

They should not have to compete with individuals or businesses that do not have a valid TCI business licence

Introduction

Like most countries, for a business to operate legally in the Turks and Caicos, that business is required to have a valid business licence. The business licence period runs from April 1st to March 31st and is renewable each year. There are fifteen (15) major categories of the business licence and within each category, there are many subcategories.  There are also quite several business licences categories that are reserved for Turks and Caicos Islanders only.

While some businesses in the Turks and Caicos have progressed well, there are many other businesses that are struggling. There are many factors that are causing these businesses to struggle but one factor is due because of the competition from others who do not have a valid business licence to operate in the Turks and Caicos.

The Procurement Ordinance

The current procurement ordinance allows any business anywhere to bid on a government tender. As a result, locally registered businesses must compete with their own suppliers because their suppliers are allowed to bid. If the suppliers are allowed to bid, then the suppliers of course will be able to offer a better price and as a result the local business has no chance in winning the bid.

I do not think this should continue as it is now. Only businesses that have a valid business licence and have been operating in the Turks and Caicos for at least a year should be allowed to bid on jobs. The reason I say a year is because some people are aware of some of the available tenders, and they form a company just to bid on the tender.

I know when the Ordinance was implemented, it was probably felt that the Government was not getting value for its money. While it is true that some businesses inflate their prices when it comes to government, the Government however, can get around this by setting a maximum price on the tenders.

How do we expect local businesses to thrive if they have to compete with their own suppliers?

The Procurement Ordinance needs to be reviewed and amended to allow only a valid Turks and Caicos business holder to bid on a job.  It is fine if the local companies are competing among one another, but they should not have to compete with a non-registered local business.

Businesses operating illegally in TCI

There are several businesses operating illegally in TCI. They are illegal because they do not have a business licence. Some of these business owners are very bold while some are clandestine. However, the country is small, and the compliance departments should be able identify these illegal businesses. If they are unable to find them, but if you are aware of businesses operating without a valid business licence, you should report them. It is unfair to legitimate business owners who are paying so much in taxes to operate a business while others are not paying anything.

Reserved Categories

There are businesses that are reserved for Turks and Caicos Islanders only. Now there are some individuals who apparently were able to get a business licence in that category without a Turks and Caicos Islander status. Somehow, it is alleged that some individuals with the BOTC status and PRC status can get a business licence in the reserved category. I am not sure if this is true but if it is true, there is a significant difference between Turks and Caicos Islander status and BOTC and PRC status. Only persons with TCI Status should be permitted to obtain that reserved category licence. Of course, there were some exceptions whereby some individuals and companies were grandfathered in since some of them were already operating a business when some of the reserved categories were implemented. However, there should be no new business licences given to individuals in the reserved categories if they do not have a Turks and Caicos Islander status.

Incentives

There are some companies in the Turks and Caicos Islands that do not support the local businesses. They import their products from overseas on a regular basis and they do so because they are cheaper.  I know we cannot force any company to purchase locally but we can provide incentives to those businesses that have a valid business licence. Perhaps, we can have a different import rate for businesses that have a valid business licence to discourage others from importing overseas. I know this may seem farfetched, but it is possible.

Conclusion

I am aware that businesses face other obstacles in growing their business but if we can address some of these shortcomings, many businesses will be able to be successful. If we want our economy to grow, then we need to stop allowing most of the money to flow out. Support the local economy by supporting the business. We want people to support our business but yet we are going overseas supporting their businesses.

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Community Articles, Finances,

Misunderstanding, mistreatment, misuse of power and miscommunication can be costly – Ask TCIG

These mistakes do not have to reoccur if we learn our lessons

Introduction

Everybody makes mistakes but mistakes can be costly especially if the issues become legal matters. Some mistakes can be avoided though if there is an effective communication and proper understanding of the processes. Another thing that can cost you is the mistreatment of individuals be it physical or medical.

The Turks and Caicos Islands Government will be paying out thousands of dollars to individuals due to misunderstanding, mistreatment, and miscommunication. Hopefully though we will learn our lessons and mistakes like these will not be repeated.

Mistreatment cost us $45,000

During a police and immigration round up, a couple was stopped, and it was alleged that the couple did not have proof of status on them. I noticed in the ruling, the judge said that the police officer should have allowed one of them to go home to collect their documents. The truth is everybody is required to have in their possession proof of their status. However, my understanding is that the issue is not these individuals were detained but rather the treatment they received after being at the detention center. It is alleged that these individuals were the detention center for several hours without being fed and even though someone brought proof to show that these individuals have valid status in the country, they were still detained. Because of this, it cost us almost $50,000. Shouldn’t someone or somebodies be held accountable? I understand that some of the officers were humiliated because of the name calling and insults, however, one wrong does not make another wrong right. If someone insulted you and mistreated you, I am quite sure you can also find ways to take them to court and sue them, the same way the other parties sued the Government. However, do not let what people say to you interfere in doing your jobs. Be always professional and do not misuse your power, otherwise it will cost us thousands of dollars.

Misunderstanding and Miscommunication cost us $532,500

Several Sri Lankans came to the Turks and Caicos illegally on a sloop from Haiti. Some left the country but seven remained in the country and were held at the detention center for a very lengthy period.  Normally we do not keep people in the detention center for long, they are normally processed within a couple of days of arrival and then repatriated to their country

The Sri Lankans could have been transported home too within a couple of days on a private charter but that was not done and then they ended up being stuck in the country due to travel restrictions because of COVID.  Why did we not repatriate the Sri Lankans earlier? Why did the relevant individuals not use their power to approve the charter? Why did they remain in the detention center so long if we knew it was a violation? Why did no one advise the relevant departments? Why did we have to wait until the Sri Lankans sue us to discover we should have not retained them for too long in the detention center? Who was advising these Sri Lankans? How did they arrive at $350 a day? These individuals were treated well and given what they wanted while in the detention center and yet we settled for $200 a day?

I understand that two of the reasons why we did not send them back earlier is due to the high cost of the charter and they were needed as witnesses for a court hearing. It is also alleged that there was a breakdown in communication between the Police Department and the Immigration Department. One department said they will take care of this issue and the other department thinking it was being taken care of when it was not.

As a result of misunderstanding, miscommunication, it has the cost the country $532,500. Honestly, it has cost us more than this as we were paying $59,000 a month for accommodation and meals after they were removed from the Detention Center. I understand we will still have to pay this while they seek asylum. Shouldn’t we have sent these individuals home a long time ago but because of hardheadedness and miscommunication, they remained in the country.

Conclusion

All the above matters need further investigation as this is unacceptable to be paying out large sum of moneys like this. The Government should not have to be doing this and individuals need to be held accountable for their actions no matter who they are.

I doubt there will be any further investigation, but I do hope that we have learn from this. These are hard lessons to learn, and I do know hope that there were sessions with the entire Police Department and the Immigration Department to review what went wrong with these cases so that these mistakes are not repeated.

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