The Bahamas: Clearly Focused
Globally, there is a commitment to tax cooperation and transparency. Governments across the world are working with their international partners to address the issue of global inequality.
This is being achieved largely through the exchange of information. The risks to the financial services industry have never been higher as clients report their offshore accounts via voluntary disclosure programs, whistleblower claims are increasing exponentially, massive data leaks are becoming more prevalent, and governments are sharing voluminous data through automatic and specific exchanges of information.
This spirit of cooperation is coupled with the teeth of enforcement, as the enactment of the UK Criminal Finances Act, extends extraterritorial reach to individuals and entities that fail to implement policies and procedures to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion.
Against this global backdrop, The Bahamas has joined more than 108 countries in the OECD’s Global Forum in formally acceding to The Multilateral Convention on the Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (“The Multilateral Convention”).
Arriving at this point required much collaboration between the government and industry stakeholders in The Bahamas in order to. address the risks to tax compliance posed by non-cooperative jurisdictions.
The legislative framework for implementation of The Common Reporting Standard was initially put in place by The Bahamas in 2016 to facilitate the automatic exchange of information, with most recent amendments being made to reflect the change from a bilateral to multilateral approach.
The Bahamas will implement CRS using the “wider approach” which means that FIs will need to collect and retain the CRS information for all account holders. This approach requires FIs to collect and retain the information, ready to report, in relation to all non-residents.
The CRS information will not be transmitted to The Competent Authority until FIs are notified to do so by the Competent Authority. Financial institutions will therefore carry out due diligence procedures in relation to all financial accounts even if the account holder (and any controlling person of the account holder) is a tax resident of an overseas jurisdiction that is not a reportable jurisdiction.
However, FIs are only required to submit the mandatory information regarding reportable accounts to The Competent Authority when requested to do so.This Bahamas has also signed the Multilateral Competent Agreement (MCAA).
The Bahamas has also entered the Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS). Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) has been defined by the OECD as tax avoidance strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax locations.
Under the inclusive framework, over 100 countries and jurisdictions are collaborating to implement the BEPS measures and tackle BEPS. The Bahamas indication of a a definitive position on BEPS December 2017 demonstrates its proactive enagement with international stakeholders as a means of strengthening the positioning of the jurisdiction.
In commenting on these recent developments Tanya McCartney, CEO and Executive Director of the Bahamas Financial Services Board, said: “We support the government taking the necessary steps to avoid any adverse impact to The Bahamas as an international financial centre and to pursue initiatives that position this jurisdiction for sustainable growth and development.”
In addition to CRS implementation, signing MCAA and entering BEPS the integrity of the jurisdiction is evidenced by the following:
(a) A Strong anti-money laundering, counter financing of terrorism regime; and
(c) Effective implementation of The US Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act implemented (FATCA Compliance);and
A Strong Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter-financing of terrorism (CFT) Regime:
The Bahamas has always been committed to complying with international best practice and has fared well in its phase two ‘Peer Reviews’ by the OECD’s Global Forum.
In fact, The Bahamas has been deemed “largely compliant” with the OECD’s existing standard of exchange of information on request. The jurisdiction has gone on record with its intention of attaining and maintaining “the very highest levels of conduct as a clean jurisdiction, complying with the highest standards to prevent the abuse of its financial system by money launderers and criminal elements”.
It has committed to satisfying recommendations coming out of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in relation to simplifying and making more efficient The Bahamas’ cooperation with foreign jurisdictions in legal proceedings. Some of the key elements from the rounds of the Bahamas’ regulatory reform are as follows:
1. In 2000 The Bahamas eliminated bearer shares;
2. Since 2001: There is the filing of a register of directors and officers;
3. The law mandates that financial institutions have Known Your Client/Client Due Diligence as well as Counter Financing of terrorism processes. Further, regulators have issued guidelines to industry outlining best practices for verifying customer identity and for developing anti-money laundering procedures and measures to prevent terrorist financing.
4. There is a regulatory framework for the reporting and investigation of suspicious transactions;
5. Independent inspections and regulatory examinations of financial service providers including corporate service providers for compliance with AML/CFT laws;
6. The 2000 legislative restructuring included the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act and the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Act. The former regulates cooperation by Bahamian courts in civil matters while the latter regulates such cooperation in criminal matters. The 2000 legislative restructuring included the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act and the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Act. The former regulates cooperation by Bahamian courts in civil matters while the latter regulates such cooperation in criminal matters.
The Bahamas is FATCA Compliant:
On 3 November 2014, the Bahamas and the US signed their Agreement to Improve International Tax Compliance (the Agreement) and to Implement FATCA based on the Model I IGA. To accommodate the non-direct tax system in the Bahamas, the IGA is a model 1B (non-reciprocal) IGA. As an IGA partner jurisdiction, Bahamas based Financial Institutions will not be subject to a 30 percent withholding tax on US source income, unless they fail to meet the requirements set out in the IGA and in Bahamas domestic implementing legislation.
Under the terms of the Agreement, Bahamas Financial Institutions will provide the Bahamas Competent Authority with the required information. The Bahamas Competent Authority will forward that information to the Competent Authority in the US. The Agreement is an international instrument for exchange of information for tax purposes between the Bahamas and the US.
Our Legacy in Financial Services
Historically The Bahamas has always sought to provide superior financial products and services and a world class client experience. It has proven itself to be nimble and responsive to global changes – always mindful of the need to adhere to international standards with respect to compliance, cooperation and transparency.
As a sovereign nation for more than 40 years, successive governments have consistently demonstrated the country’s commitment to international best practices, cooperation in the administration of justice, international tax transparency, anti-money laundering and the countering of financial terrorism initiatives. Bahamian regulators are well regarded and active partners with international peer groups and agencies.
There is collaboration between government and private sector to ensure that the Bahamas remains a well regulated, blue chip international financial centre. In fact, BFSB was established in 1997 to create a public-private partnership and forum for open dialogue about the challenges and opportunities facing the country’s second most important economic sector.
While The Bahamas was not included on the EU’s recently releases blacklist, BFSB’s CEO said, “We have to be in a state of continuous improvement, and ensure that we remain aligned with international standards. The work doesn’t stop. We know what the focus is. The focus is on tax transparency and co-operation, and the need for jurisdictions such as ours to shed the perception of being an ‘offshore tax haven’. She went on to state that, “We are working to ensure that policy actions are taken to secure this.”
The Clear Choice
The Bahamas’ strong regulatory regime and its historic determination to ensure its integrity as an international financial centre as evidenced by its most recent commitments reflect the mindset of a jurisdiction focused on protecting and cultivating one of key assets.
Regulation in fact as it relates to international initiatives is the canvas upon which The Bahamas wealth management expertise, innovative client-centric products and services and unique geographic tropical location combine to make it an increasingly clear choice for those institutions and individuals seeking a premier provider of financial services.