In the face of gratuitous criticism, the uncompromising and necessary work to effect internal reform and the deepening of our democracy continue as we prepare for governance. Our recent special one-day Constitutional Convention demonstrates that our organization understands the critical need for self-examination as we strengthen our democratic processes. Its qualified success through the adoption of the committee’s report is a clear indication of the party’s appreciation that its structure, function, policies and organizational processes must reflect and represent the collective will and desires of those we seek to represent.
I am a democrat therefore I reiterate my support for reform and invite new blood and fresh ideas as the PLP built the modern Bahamas on this model. I encourage party members and all Bahamians of good will to join us and contribute to the further development of the democratic process.
Governments have a solemn responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us as this is part and parcel of the unwritten social contract between the government and the people. It builds up the common good and the common life.
The recent cuts by this government on social assistance for school uniforms is unconscionable. This FNM government has turned its back on the very people whose time they claimed it is.
The Prime Minister and his government have unceremoniously abandoned the general principle of providing a social safety net for the poor. Their pattern of behaviour include mass terminations of mostly minimum wage earners, cut backs at Urban Renewal and the cancellation of the R.I.S.E. program.
The Over-the Hill economic rejuvenation project is a mere shift in some tax policies to benefit the rich with little to no consideration for the plight of the poor. Where is the social component of the program to protect the poor and avoid gentrification or mass displacement of the poor in those affected communities within these economic enterprise zones?
There are more people living in extreme poverty in our communities and they need help desperately. Both a recent IDB Study and the Central Bank have indicated that nearly 50 per cent of Bahamians are struggling to “make ends meet”. We remind the Prime Minister that facts are stubborn.
Gutting the functioning Empowerment Program the PLP left in place and terminating hundreds of workers because of reported funding challenges only to borrow an additional $50 million from the IDB for jobs training and placement is a waste of public resources because it is a duplication of efforts. Dr. Minnis is not helping the poor or the youth with this program – he is simply changing the name.
This new social services policy reduces educational opportunities and retards the social and economic mobility of the poor and vulnerable. The Prime Minister is oblivious to and callous and uncaring toward the plight of the poor given their challenging social and economic circumstances.
I join the Member for Englerston in demanding that the Prime Minister, a self-proclaimed friend of the poor, to reverse this harmful policy and stop paying lip service to the poor when his policies and actions betray his crocodile tears and pompous and condescending rhetoric.
The Progressive Liberal Party is equally dismayed by the lack of progress on school repairs this year. Our concerns are further exacerbated by the comments of the Minister of Education that the Ministry of Education has a school repair budgetary shortfall of around $3 million.
Of equal concern is the accusation of negligence levelled by the Education Minister against his cabinet colleagues, the Ministers of Works and Finance for their failure to mobilize the requisite resources in a timely manner.
Casting blame around the cabinet table smacks of confusion, dissonance, disorganization, incompetence and poor leadership. Is Dr. Minnis in charge of his Cabinet? He said that he would not take on a ministerial portfolio to allow him to effectively coordinate all ministries.
Here we are, with teachers reporting to schools on the 27th of August, and few repairs have begun. This is poor governance and inexcusable. Where is the focus and priorities of this administration?
I am advised that Family Island Administrators were provided with a list of contractors by the Ministry of Works to hire for school repair work in the Family Islands. Many of them are non-compliant with the government’s pre-qualification protocols (no valid business licenses, no tax compliance certificates etc.) and therefore not qualified to secure contracts for the repair of schools in the Family Islands. This creates further delays and it is very unlikely that any school repairs have commenced in the Family Islands.
I submit that the Education Minister is wilfully misleading the public in suggesting that at this late hour, the government can realistically complete all school repairs in time for an early September school opening. This government has failed to plan and organize and in so doing has planned to fail.
Without being overly redundant, Grand Bahama gave the FNM an overwhelming electoral mandate: five Members of Parliament; three Senators; three Ministers and a Parliamentary Secretary. The FNM has rewarded them with increased unemployment; increased taxes; a proposal to repeal of the Investment Incentive Act; the cancellation of the apprenticeship program at the Grand Bahama Shipyard; the botched and fraudulent Oban deal and now this botched Grand Lucayan Resort sales purchase deal.
The evidence suggests that the FNM government has neglected Grand Bahama.
As an encore, the government amended the VAT Regulations to permit the refund of half of the tax revenue generated in Grand Bahama to certain business entities in the industrial sector. Meanwhile, ordinary Bahamians are saddled with additional taxes, but with no economic or jobs prospects for the foreseeable the future.
This sorry state of affairs underscores a popularly held view that the FNM government had no plan to govern; no plan for Grand Bahama and no plan for The Bahamas.
We in the PLP know from experience that a project takes roughly three and one-half years from approval to shovel in the ground. With Oban 2.0 being redrafted and no hotel deal fifteen months into their term in office, it is unlikely that the FNM government will succeed in materializing any project of substance or consequence in Grand Bahama.
As for the recent gratuitous rhetoric attributed to Paul Wynn in the media, we simply say that the PLP government held productive negotiations with Mr. Wynn and agreed on a framework on the way forward for the purchase, repair and opening of the hotel. The unvarnished facts surrounding our negotiations are contained in the written framework so there is no need to chase salacious commentary.
This administration owes the people of Grand Bahama a full and frank explanation as to why it was unable to close the sale of the Grand Lucayan hotel in Grand Bahama. The lack of transparency and uncertainty due to misleading announcements surrounding the hotel’s future have irreversibly eroded both hope and confidence of Grand Bahamians in this FNM government.
The Prime Minister’s strategy for the Grand Lucayan Hotel is secretive, deceptive, incoherent and mired in confusion. The Prime Minister must explain to the country how he intends to finance the purchase of the Grand Lucayan Hotel, inclusive of the source of the funding. Additionally, he must provide the total cost inclusive of renovation, marketing and airlift, and management fees. What will be the new marketing subsidy as the current budget is some $20 million?
We say again that the Minnis government must quit its dithering and move with focus, urgency and alacrity to fix Grand Bahama.
Our Party notes with much interest a communication from the Chairman of the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance over their concerns regarding amendments to the Real Property Tax rates. We have indicated before that the self-proclaimed smartest Minister of Finance the country has ever had, pursued ill-advised tax policies. Had the government engaged stakeholders through industry consultation it would have avoided the negative impact and the public embarrassment resulting from its decision?
We admonish this government to be as consistent in its response to the concerns expressed by trade unions, small and large contractors, vendors, public servants and the average Bahamian as it was in responding to the concerns of rich residents in Lyford Cay.
It is never good when the concerns of ordinary Bahamians are ignored by the government and are made to feel by the actions of the government that they must carry a disproportionate tax load so that the wealthy can maintain their lifestyle of opulence at the expense of the poor.
I will now take your questions!