||Last Updated: Jun 18, 2019 - 3:21:25 PM
2019/2020 BUDGET COMMUNICATION
THE HON. PHILIP BRAVE DAVIS QC, MP
MEMBER FOR CAT ISLAND, RUM CAY AND SAN SALVADOR
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
MONDAY, 17TH JUNE 2019
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Thank you for recognizing me, Mr. Speaker.
As you know, I stand in this Honourable House on behalf of the great and resilient people of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.
I also stand here today on behalf of all who care about building a better country and a better future, including the many Bahamians who feel left out and left behind by this government.
Mr. Speaker, it can be difficult to find agreement in this place. But I think we can all agree a government’s budget is a reflection of a government’s priorities.
So when a government CUTS millions from the budget for our young people and athletes – as this government has done – and at the same time INCREASES the budget for the Office of the Prime Minister -- it tells us something important about who this government is and whom they really care about.
I’ve been listening carefully to this budget debate, and one thing seems clear: a lot of my colleagues across the aisle have seriously lost touch. Maybe some of them never were in touch in the first place.
But what I see generally is stunning indifference to the pain their policies have caused and continue to cause.
This government is good at name-calling, good at misinformation and good at disinformation…but not good at governing. Not good at remembering the people they’re supposed to represent. And not good at moving this country forward.
Can you imagine the audacity of coming to this place and BRAGGING and BOASTING and PREENING, when your policies have caused genuine suffering?
Coming here full of self-congratulations, while the Bahamian middle class is barely holding on?
Coming here full of swagger, while your tax increases mean that working Bahamians are wondering how they will keep their heads above water one more day, one more week?
Like some young Bahamians told me the other day, when they see these members on television and social media laughing and carrying on and banging on tables, it makes them feel sick.
It underscores for them that this government doesn’t see them, doesn’t understand them, doesn’t care, and is not here to help.
Mr. Speaker, we have emphasized that this government cares about balance sheets at the expense of people. They care about the fiscal dficit rather than the social deficit. But even by their own metrics, they have failed, and failed badly.
It is an impressive feat of disrespect and disinformation to miss your own deficit target by $400 million and then try to sell yourself to the Bahamian people as a paragon of fiscal prudence and responsibility.
Mr. Speaker, I don’t think the people of The Bahamas are buying what this government is selling anymore.
This does not bring me any pleasure. I am praying that this government realizes its mistakes, recognizes the human costs of its policies, and reverses course. But first they will have to start paying attention to the people. Maybe even stop eating caviar at the Office of the Prime Minister – that must be on the menu, or how else can we understand the massive increase in that office’s food budget? I’m not sure how they can defend reaching into the people’s pockets for more VAT money when they spend it this way – perhaps they’ll enlighten us.
Mr. Speaker, as we move through the various parts of this budget, we will see that this is not “a people’s budget”, unless the “people” we’re talking about are the well-connected, the special interests, the people who can get into those caviar parties.
And that’s a shame, it really is.
1. CAT ISLAND, RUM CAY, SAN SALVADOR
Mr. Speaker, I’m going to begin where I myself began – in Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.
I thank the great people of my constituency for their trust, love and support. I don’t take any of it for granted. Every day when I wake up, I know it’s my job to earn it all over again.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to note the continuation of the construction of the docking facility in Rum Cay that was started during my tenure as Public Works Minister.
But I note that the people of Cat Island are waiting, like so many others, for this government to finish the construction of modern health facilities.
I wish to share with House members photos of the current state of the clinics started under the previous government.
You know, Mr. Speaker, when it is convenient, this government likes to extol the virtues of continuous government, but here we have a situation where progress has ground to a halt.
It’s not the buildings that are so important, it’s the people that need to receive treatment in those buildings.
Stop, Review and Cancel is a moral abomination – the idea that the government would waste funds already expended, and stop projects that help people, all because they are thinking about the politics first. Here, as elsewhere, Stop, Review and Cancel is selfish and short-sighted.
Everyone in The Bahamas deserves access to modern, functional medical facilities, and I call on the government to get a move on – in Cat Island and across the country.
Take credit for it, if that’s what’s needed to get things moving. Just MOVE.
We know it’s possible. I saw recently this government proudly sharing images of the newly refurbished dialysis unit as part of the Public Hospital Authority upgrades. Those upgrades were started by the PLP government. That’s how it should be. We on this side celebrate and support this upgrade initiative.
I hope this time next year we are celebrating together because the construction of modern health care amenities is complete in the communities of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.
2. THE GOVERNMENT IS FAILING TO MANAGE THE PEOPLE’S FINANCES EFFECTIVELY
I am sorry to report that, like many Bahamians, I do not have confidence in this government’s ability to manage our public finances. The government has missed critical fiscal targets for the last two budgetary cycles because it failed to present realistic budget estimates.
We know that just in the past year this government had to borrow four times to pay salaries.
We know that they had to extend the bank’s overdraft facility three times to meet the government’s payroll.
We know that these borrowings were despite claims by the Finance Minister that revenues of $2.6 billion are up by $215 million over the last fiscal year.
We know that this government will again miss its revenue and deficit targets and miss them badly.
Does this sound like a government who has our public finances under control?
And worse, this government is so invested in its own propaganda that it is not leveling with the Bahamian people about the true state of affairs. We have a Minister that collects just 55% of its projected VAT revenue after 9 months and says that things are going according to plan.
3. THE BLAME GAME
We have established that this government is not good at fiscal management. They stumble from one crisis to the next, borrowing to cover for their errors and missed targets.
But they are good at propaganda. You have to give them that. Different kinds of leaders might come forward, apologize for errors, and try to correct mistakes. But that’s a lot of work, and – crucially -- it requires humility.
So what we see instead is a concerted strategy to invent, to concoct, to fabricate, one excuse after another. It’s the signature move of this government – blame those who came before for your own missteps.
Remember the huge borrowings ahead of the 2017/2018 budget debate? At that time the Minister of Finance said the borrowing was to pay off old PLP bills.
Then the government failed to manage the nation’s finances correctly, but couldn’t just say so, so back they went to their first trick, blaming “old PLP bills”.
This year, once again, you guessed it, old bills once again – new, old bills, I guess? How convenient. The only thing transparent about this government is that their rhetoric is motivated by self-interest, not the facts.
Mr. Speaker, just how many ‘old PLP bills’ does the Finance Minister intend to discover?!
He has said there were mature or old liabilities that had to be paid off and the government gave itself a three-year window to do this. If this is so, then why keep referring to liabilities as old PLP bills, when the FNM governed for seventeen of the last twenty-seven years?
I refer also to the accusation made by the Finance Minister that the PLP government spent funds earmarked for Hurricane Repair on politics. Even though East Grand Bahama later corrected himself, this was an untruth that he never apologized for. False accusations of this sort are reckless and hurt our country.
This same Finance Minister blamed the PLP for what he called a “floundering” Revenue Enhancement Unit within his Ministry. This is a unit that was collecting $25 million per month. The Finance Minister proceeded to gut and dismantle it. Was this merely a ruse to forgive certain debts to certain special interests or political cronies before its re-establishment? The Minister must say unequivocally if this was the case. No excuses or propaganda, please
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