The Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee of Bahrain’s Parliament has recommended implementing a draft law limiting the property ownership rights of foreigners. If approved, it will only allow foreigners to own properties in tourism and investment areas. It will replace Article 1 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 2/2001 on the ownership of land by non-Bahrainis. It is intended to limit the rise in real estate prices in some areas by concentrating non-Bahraini ownership in others. The Government had requested the Committee review the draft law, which will also require adjustments to other Government policies.
This week the spotlight is on tax and finance developments in Bahrain, where VAT came into force on 1 January 2019. Elsewhere, a Bahraini lawyer brought a claim against the Electricity and Water Authority before the High Civil Court requesting the annulment of a VAT decision issued by the Authority.
The lawyer benefits from water and power services for non-commercial purposes who sent a utility bill requesting payment of 5% VAT on these services. He cited Article 9 of Bahrain Decree Law No. 48/2018 on VAT which says the Authority cannot charge VAT if it was offering the service as a sovereign body. They can only charge VAT if it is offering commercial activities like those offered by the private sector.
The court accepted the lawyer’s arguments and said the Authority didn’t have the right to charge nationals VAT for power and water if it is for non-commercial activities. The court requested the Authority cancel the decision and pay legal costs.
Bahrain’s Central Bank has launched a consultation on draft crypto-asset platform operator rules. The consultation ends on 31 December 2018. The proposed framework will cover licensing requirements, financial resources and measures to safeguard client or customer interests, technology standards and cyber security risk management measures, reporting and other requirements. The aim is to provide a regulatory framework for licensing and supervising crypto-asset services including those provided by a platform operator as a principal, agent and as a custodian, in or from the Kingdom.
Bahrain’s Real Estate Regulatory Authority has urged property managers and owner association managers to apply for a license from the Authority ahead of the 4 January 2019 deadline. Real estate brokers, sales agent and developers have already had to apply for licenses. Property managers and owner association managers are the latest categories to be regulated by the Authority. From 5 January 2019, property managers and owner association managers who operate without a license will be breaking the regulatory regime and will have the penalties outlined in Bahrain Law No. 27/2017 imposed on them.
This week the spotlight is on tax developments in Bahrain, where the Kingdom’s Parliament has voted to approve a Decree-Law to impose 5% VAT on goods and services in a special joint session. They will become the third GCC member to join the GCC-wide VAT agreement. It will potentially come into effect on 1 January 2019, according to a schedule laid out by the Finance Minister in February. However, the Finance and Economic Committee of Bahrain’s Parliament had reportedly recommended the law be rejected.
In addition, a Bahraini newspaper has published the list of products to be zero-rated for VAT. Customers will not be charged VAT on the goods although they will still be VAT taxable for accounting purposes. The list includes 34 types of meat and fish, including tuna, lamb, camel and chicken. It includes 37 types of fruit and vegetables, including potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, peas, zucchini, okra, parsley, apples, oranges, pomegranates and apricots. Eight types of coffee and tea are also included as well as grains, sugars, dairy products, water, oil and other foodstuffs. The Implementing Regulations for the VAT Law are expected to be published next week.
Bahrain’s King has issued four new laws aimed at improving the country’s investment environment including the Competition Law. The Competition Law is aimed at tackling monopolies and anti-competitive behaviour. In addition, a new Health Insurance Law granting the Supreme Council of Health responsibility to implement the system and establishing a national health insurance fund was approved. The King also approved the Bankruptcy Law which will introduce reorganisation procedures, allow management to stay in place and business operations to continue. It also covers cross-border insolvency and insolvencies of SMEs. Finally the King approved the Personal Data Protection Law which covers big data for commercial use and includes guidelines on cross-border data transfers.
Bahrain’s Cabinet has approved amendments to allow some foreign companies to open branches without needing a Bahraini partner. The moves would be based on Article 345 of Bahrain Decree-Law No. 28/2015 which amended some of the provisions of the Commercial Companies Law promulgated by Bahrain Decree-Law No. 21/2001. The Industry, Trade and Tourism Ministry has submitted a memorandum to facilitate this. The exemptions would apply to industries with strategic economic importance to the Kingdom.
Bahrain’s King has issued a Law adding a new Article 6 Bis to Bahrain Decree-Law No 1/1996 regarding electricity and water. The new article imposes fines up to 1,000 Dinars on those who erect electrical wiring extensions without the appropriate licenses or who don’t comply with the relevant safety requirements. Repeat violators will be jailed for up to three months and/or fined up to 2,000 Dinars. The Prime Minister and other Ministers will implement the Law and it will come into force on the day following its published date in the Official Gazette.
New Decree Amending Bahrain Law No 21/1989 – on Associations, Social and Cultural Clubs, Special Committees Working in the Field of Youth and Sports and Private Institutions
Bahrain’s King has issued a Decree amending Article 43 of the Law of Associations, Social and Cultural Clubs, Special Committees Working in the Field of Youth and Sports and Private Institutions (Bahrain Law No. 21/1989). The amendment reverses a previous amendment to the Law by allowing a member of the board of directors to enjoy all civil and political rights. The Decree amends the law to state no candidate for the Board of Directors of these organisations may belong to any political association. It also prohibits membership of more than one club or sports association. The changes will come into effect from the date of publication in the Official Gazette.
The Bahraini Government has issued a new law mandating health insurance coverage must be provided to all citizens, residents and visitors in the country. Proof of insurance is expected to be compulsory for the issuing and renewal of employment and residence permits in January 2019, when the law will come into force. The mandatory health insurance will be funded through the payment of an insurance subscription, covering benefits which are set out in a package relevant to each category of an insured person (e.g.: citizens’ package, residents’ package, etc). Subscriptions for citizens will be paid by the Bahraini Government. Employers will need to enrol foreign national workers (and their dependents, if this is stated in the employment contract). Enrolment for visitors will be covered by the visitors themselves. A list of approved health insurance providers is yet to be published.