May 7, 2020 - Bahamas

Bahamas Summary - Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (No. 2) Order 2020

To contain the spread of COVID-19, the Office of the Prime Minister of The Bahamas (“the Competent Authority”) has extended the state of public emergency to the 31st May, 2020.  New regulations have been introduced to minimize spread of the virus while allowing for a phased re-opening of the economy. This update summarizes those measures to date.

Suspension of Filing Obligations – During the state of public emergency and for an additional 30 days after, the obligation to make filings with a government agency or regulatory authority has been suspended.

Obligations to file declarations or documents under the Companies Act, International Business Company Act (“IBC Act”), and domestic intellectual property laws have also been suspended during the state of emergency and for an additional 14 days after.

Note, however, the Registrar General’s Department has indicated it will facilitate electronic filings for the registration of Foundations, Investment Condominiums, Executive Entities, and Segregated Accounts Companies, changes in registered agents and offices, requests for Certificates of Good Standing (that may not be made through the online portal) and continuations and dissolutions of international business companies.

Suspension of Statutory Limitations– Timeframes under the Limitation Act are suspended during the state of public emergency and for an additional 30 days after.

Register of Beneficial Ownership Act –The obligation to comply with the provisions of the Register of Beneficial Ownership Act has been suspended during the state of public emergency and for an additional 60 days after.

Suspension of Payment of Government Fees – Obligations to pay fees to the Registrar under the IBC Act, Companies Act, and intellectual property laws, are suspended during the state of public emergency and for an additional 14 days after.

Suspension of Renewal of Licenses Visas & Permits – The obligation to renew a license, visa, or permit, is suspended during the state of public emergency and for an additional 14 days after.

However, it should be noted that the obligation to file a document, renew a license, visa, permit and pay fees under the following laws is not suspended and must therefore be adhered to notwithstanding the state of emergency: –

  1. The Customs Management Act
  2. The Value Added Tax Act
  3. The Real Property Tax Act
  4. The National Insurance Act
  5. Payment into court for child support and maintenance
  6. Any civil payment ordered to be paid into court

Deeds & Documents – The sealing of documents as deeds is dispensed with during the state of public emergency and for an additional 14 days after. As long as it appears on the face of the document that it is intended to operate as if a seal had been affixed, that will be sufficient without any need to physically affix a seal. It should be noted, however, that this does not affect the continuing need to actually (rather than electronically) sign a deed.

The presumptive sealing mentioned above also applies to any sealing requirements for corporate documents (for example, resolutions and the like); again, no physical sealing is required during the period mentioned above.

Payment of Medical and Life Insurance Premiums – Given the controversy of the emergency powers order suspending the obligation to pay medical and life insurance premiums; the Competent Authority has clarified that the order did not waive the obligation for persons to pay their insurance premiums but allows for payment of any group, general, medical and life insurance to be deferred until the state of public emergency has ended.  Persons who lost their jobs or were unable to access electronic payments during the state of emergency have a 60-day period once the state of public emergency has ended to pay their deferred premiums or make other arrangements for payment with their insurer.

It should be noted, that insurers remain obligated to honor any claim arising during the deferral period and may only subtract renewal fees and deductibles from the claim payment.

Tax Credit & Deferral Relief Employee Retention Programme

As a part of its fiscal policy response to COVID-19, the Competent Authority has provided a non-reimbursable tax credit and interest free tax deferral of maximum $200,000 per month to medium and large businesses. To qualify, a business must: (i) be in good standing in VAT or Business License (“BL”) payments as at February 2020 (this does not include BL due for current 2020 cycle), (ii) have annual sales of $3 million or more (note businesses with annual sales under $3 million can access support through the Small Business Continuity Loan programme), (iii) have a minimum of 25 employees and (iv) commit to retaining at least 80% of their workforce. The partial credit and partial deferral must be used for non-executive payroll and may be applied to either BL fees or VAT during April, May, and June 2020.

Lockdown Protocols and Restrictions  

The Competent Authority has recently implemented complete lockdown periods. Under Lockdown, essential travel to the grocery store, gas stations, and pharmacies normally allowed under the 24-hour Curfew is prohibited. Persons must stay in their homes unless they require urgent medical care at the hospital or are essential workers of the following exempted businesses, travelling to and from work:

  1. The Princess Margaret Hospital and Doctors
  2. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force
  3. The Royal Bahamas Police Force
  4. Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos (“OPBAT”)
  5. The Department of Correctional Services
  6. The Department of Immigration
  7. The Media
  8. The Customs Department
  9. The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (air traffic controllers)
  10. The Ministry of the Environment and Housing
  11. Waste disposal and sanitation services
  12. Wholesale bakeries, wholesale food suppliers and water production companies
  13. Businesses for home delivery of emergency food and medical supplies
  14. Licensed security guard businesses
  15. Hotels with guests
  16. Utility providers (including contractors and subcontractors)
  17. Ports of entry, container ports, freight forwarders and private terminals for basic port maintenance services, domestic trade, import and export of containerized freight and oil products.
  18. Wholesale petroleum import services, inclusive of ancillary and support services; and privately-owned terminals.
  19. Approved healthcare workers conducting home visits for medical or therapeutic care. Healthcare workers without written approval are strictly prohibited from conducting home visits and providing medical or therapeutic care.

In addition to (1) to (19) above, the following businesses in Grand Bahama are also exempt from closure during Lockdown periods: –

  1. The Rand Memorial Hospital (including the construction of the hospital’s COVID- 19 Treatment Unit)
  2. PharmChem Technologies G.B. Ltd
  3. Private water production and provision companies
  4. Waste disposal and sanitation services
  5. Gas stations, between 6:00am and 7:00pm
  6. Well drilling by Waugh Construction

The following businesses in Abaco, are exempted from closure during Lockdown periods as well: –

  1. Gas stations between 6:00am and 7:00pm for refueling generators only
  2. Private water production and provision companies

Exempted businesses are required to provide all employees with proper protective face masks which cover their nose and mouth or risk paying heavy fines. Businesses must also ensure all customers are wearing face masks and deny entry to any customer not wearing a face mask. This is in addition to other physical distancing protocols.

The Competent Authority has indicated Lockdown periods will occur every weekend until the end of May starting at 9pm on Fridays and ending at 5am on Mondays and further Lockdown periods may be imposed as necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19 by asymptomatic carriers.

In the event of an emergency which requires persons to leave their homes during a Lockdown period, persons must obtain prior permission from the Commissioner of Police by calling 311 and wear protective masks before leaving their homes.

24- Hour Curfew   

At the end of each Lockdown period, from Monday at 5am to Friday at 9pm (the “Curfew period”) the 24-hour Curfew imposed under the Emergency Powers (Covid-19) (No. 2 Order), 2020 (the “Order”) will resume. During Curfew periods, persons must stay in their homes except for travel to doctor’s offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, or gas stations (“Essential Travel”).

Certain types of business are exempted or partly exempted from the Curfew requirements and are permitted to operate during the Curfew. A regularly updated List of Exempted Businesses & Undertakings is available via this link, Exempted Businesses & Undertakings [As at April 30, 2020].

The Competent Authority has recently increased penalties for non-compliance with the Emergency Powers Regulations and Orders. Failure to comply may result in fines up to $20,000.00 or five (5) years imprisonment or both.

It is a criminal offence to post false information intended to incite fear, panic or prejudice on any platform including social media. Persons found circulating false information face heavy fines and or imprisonment.

Working Remotely – Businesses, where capable, and non-essential public service workers are required to work remotely until otherwise approved by the Competent Authority. Where businesses are unable to support remote work, business operations must stop.

Travel Restrictions – Airports will remain closed to incoming visitors. However, this restriction does not apply to outgoing flights evacuating visitors, and commercial cargo/courier flights. All ports of entry have been closed to incoming international vessels that have not received prior written permission to berth by The Bahamas Maritime Authority. Domestic travel excepting the transport of freight, or medical emergency flights is not permitted without prior written permission from the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority.

The Competent Authority has recently issued a plan for the gradual re-opening of the economy in 5 phases. In the first phases, essential and exempted businesses will be allowed limited operation along with delivery and curbside businesses. This will be followed by limited operation of home and auto, nursery and construction businesses.  Once directed by the Competent Authority, Family Island businesses unaffected by the COVID-19 virus will be allowed to resume normal business operations along with approved service, healthcare and manufacturing industries.

Eventually, it is expected non-essential storefront businesses will be allowed restricted operations.    Schools will reopen with new health protocols like face mask requirements and restrictions on public gatherings will be relaxed. In the final phases, offices, entertainment businesses and beauty services will be allowed to open under strict guidelines. Domestic travel restrictions will also be relaxed. International travel and public transportation will resume in addition to tourism and transportation businesses.

The above update does not constitute legal advice. Should you require assistance with electronic filings, or require further information on how your business or organization may be affected, employment related matters or any measures under the Emergency Powers Regulations and Orders please feel free to contact our offices at [email protected].

For more information, contact:

Renee Farquharson, Associate – [email protected]

Gabriel Brown, Pupil – [email protected]

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