||Last Updated: Aug 27, 2019 - 11:39:47 AM
Statement by the Hon. Philip Brave Davis
Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party
Response to government's "frank" meeting with union leaders.
The so called 'frank' meeting between the government and labour unions on the 24th August achieved nothing and exposed the public to what the PLP had asserted and predicted over two budget cycles: the government's financial administration was wanting and the Finance Minister did not and still does not know what he was doing.
The PLP decried the $60 million lump sum payment to one vendor; the unsolicited tax breaks to companies with turnovers in excess of $50 million; the unbudgeted purchase and maintenance of the Grand Lucayan to the tune of $100 million; the unilateral decision to increase VAT by 60%; the mass firings in the public service; the unceremonious dismantling of the Revenue Enhancement Unit coupled with an assortment of tax breaks to the well connected and FNM donors were all bad policy decisions that hurt the economy and the country's public finances.
It turns out that the PLP was right. After borrowing over $2 billion in just two years, the government told public service unions that there was no money to pay them.
It is ironic that just two months ago during the 2019/2020 budget debate, the Finance Minister was in Parliament boasting about the increase in government revenue and growth in the economy. Further, the government has boasted about a decrease in the rate of unemployment and stated that the economy was turning the proverbial corner while Tourism Minister D'Aguilar was busy crowing from the rafters and rooftops in multiple quarters about record tourism numbers.
They engaged in unabashed self congratulations, complete with high fives and patting themselves on the back for a job well done.
The Finance Minister went as far as to question the competence of all former Finance Ministers and publicly declared himself as the first and only competent one.
Now that it is time to pay public service officers what's owed to them, the government has quickly changed the narrative. The new narrative is the government is broke and unable to meet its financial obligations.
So which story is true Prime Minister Minnnis? Your tall tale of fiscal health and plenty or the cold hard reality of precipitously deteriorating public fiscal performance due to poor fiscal management under your watch? You must come clean with Bahamian people.
During the recent budget debate, I reported to Parliamentarians and the nation that over a period of nine months in the previous fiscal year, this government borrowed money four times and extended the public overdraft facility three more times to meet the public payroll. I did so to draw public attention to what the Opposition believed to be the growing fiscal pressures and woes of the government.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Peter Turnquest, was smug and dismissive in his response as he defended those 'anomalies' as 'normal' practices in the course, cut and thrust of governance and in managing the daily operations of government.
We disagreed then and we disagree now.
The Opposition is of the view that the FNM government is not being forthright and transparent with the Bahamian people. They have missed all of their fiscal targets on both the revenue and expense sides of the balance sheet.
We have said this before and say it again today that their idea of fiscal responsibility is neglecting to pay certain bills, such as salary increases and or overtime due to civil servants. The government was forced to admit this past weekend that they neglected to budget for these commitments even though the salary increase was negotiated way back in 2016 so the FNM knew about this expense for twenty-eight months.
This is unacceptable and inexplicable.
The government must appraise the Bahamian people of the status of its overdraft facility and whether the bank is refusing to release additional funds to facilitate the government's short term expense needs. Does the bank have concerns about the government's overall financial administration?
Additionally, what is the current status of the negotiated oncall allowance equivalent to 25% of the salaries of the junior doctors?
There has to be an honest, full and frank discussion on the conduct of the government in its stubborn refusal to allocate funding for expenses they knew about for more than two years. They must also explain the state of the country's public finances in light of their public bombast if the government is to avoid a deepening of the trust deficit. The Bahamian people are owed and deserve that much respect.
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