Monthly Press Conference

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

STATEMENT BY THE OPPOSITION LEADER

HON. PHILIP BRAVE DAVIS QC, MP

MONTHLY PRESS CONFERENCE

PLP HEADQUARTERS

For immediate release

4th June 2019

PLEASE CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

THE PLP SALUTES THE LABOUR MOVEMENT

This week is a week when we salute Labour and the working men and women of our country.

I do so this morning without qualification.

I say without fear of contradiction that the PLP and Labour are one. We are joined at the hip.

The history and the legacy are clear.

Labour and the PLP worked together to bring about the legal changes which we enjoy today which provide a greater measure of social justice in our country. 

Further, the economic gains that we have made were made because of the work of the PLP and Labour together.

We remember today the workers who struck a blow for freedom on 1st June 1942 which the late Sir Randol Fawkes described as the seminal event in the history of Labour rights in the country. 

It was because of that proverbial blow struck on 1st June 1942, called the Burma Road Riots, that we have Labour Day on this weekend.

I recall specifically our work together with Labour on the general strike of 1958 that provided the immediate impetus for constitutional change in our country.

I recall the historic Memorandum of Understanding between the Labour movement and the PLP in 1977 that led to the current changes in the Industrial Relations Act including

agency shop.

I call today for the PLP and Labour to sit and negotiate a new Memorandum of Understanding as we plot the way forward for the rights of working men and women in our country.

I am open to sitting with Labour and my colleagues to begin working on such a memorandum.

I shall be marching with Labour in Nassau on Friday as will PLP supporters. The Deputy Leader Chester Cooper will be marching with Labour in Freeport on Friday.

I urge all supporters to join us.

Solidarity forever – the union makes us strong.

THE BUDGET COMMUNICATION

The 2019 Budget has sealed the fate of this FNM Administration as the most dishonest in the history of an independent Bahamas and of this Minister of Finance as the worst Minister of Finance in our history.

Last year, I predicted that this arrogant and heartless Government would make ordinary and vulnerable Bahamians pay for their unrealistic campaign promises by increasing the VAT rate.  

This prediction was correct, and the effects were as I had predicted.  

At 1.6%, this is well short of the economic growth predicted at 2%.

The government has failed to achieve its revenue and deficit targets.

They spent $216 million more than they spent during the last fiscal year.

They borrowed more than $2 billion since coming to office.

They borrowed four times in this current fiscal year to pay salaries.

They begged RBC to extend the overdraft facility to pay salaries.

So, where did all the borrowed money go?

Where did the 60% VAT money go?

Bahamians are asking Mr. Turnquest.

They will miss their deficit target by a mile.

They will miss their revenue target by hundreds of millions.

No Mr. Turnquest, there will be no financial windfall in the last quarter. 

But things could have been worse had it not been for three external forces:

  1. The opening of Baha Mar and the Pointe development,
  • A robust and buoyant United States economy; and
  • No natural disasters, such a devastating Hurricanes. 

Despite the repeated deceitful assurances of the Minister of Finance in Parliament and everywhere else, there was no study or mathematical modelling around the VAT increase – an unbelievably poor decision.

Let’s briefly look inside the numbers. The Finance Minister said that revenue collection this fiscal year ending June 2019 would be $2.4 billion or 42% more than the Government reported as collected in March 2018. 

This is not likely as the Government as of March 2019 collected $1,689 million or an average of $187.6 million per month.  

Over 12 months, this translates to $2.25 billion and a revenue shortfall of $397 million in comparison to the original budget. 

This 15% revenue shortfall without any external shock to the Bahamian economy, is catastrophic and speaks to the high degree of incompetence of the Minister of Finance. 

The Minister’s request for roughly $72 million in new funding or an average of $6 million per month, is also unrealistic.

The true figure, we estimate, is closer to $20 million per month. 

The Minister, with no plausible explanation, has increased the tax collection trajectory of the Government by $161 million in the last three months.  

As I stated previously for this to go unchallenged would make The Bahamas the laughingstock of the fiscal world. 

I call on Peter Turnquest to either withdraw that estimate or provide the evidence to support the estimate. 

This is a serious matter, one in which every Bahamian is impacted.  

I recently predicted that the government would either borrow more money or increase taxes as the revenue performance from the first quarter of this fiscal year has been consistently poor. 

What is scary is that the Minister of Finance has chosen to double down on last year’s lie about the expected yield from the VAT rate increase.  

Proper revenue and economic projections and estimates are important as they have consequences.    

Parliament must make informed decisions about whether the Government has enough funds to operate otherwise our people will suffer.

Royal Bank, CIBC and Scotiabank, our primary creditors, must use that information to make decisions about whether they can further extend credit, something the Government desperately needs.

These bad decisions also affect ordinary Bahamians as they do business with these same banks. 

The evidence available to me suggests that the Government currently does not have and in the next fiscal year, will not have enough funds to operate.  

This means the following:

  1. Many businesses and contractors will have to endure long waits for payments. This imposes an invisible tax on them.
  • Ordinary Bahamians and the vulnerable would suffer because of the lack of resources.  We have seen further cuts to the Ministry of Social Services totaling some $1.5 million and in the Ministry of Youth totaling some $4 million.
  • The net result of the fiscal policy of this Government is a recession and an increase in the economic pain of the Bahamian people.

My Parliamentary colleagues and I will have more to say on this budget during the debate.

We ask Bahamians to tune in on Wednesday at or around 3pm to hear our lead speaker, I. Chester Cooper, deliver his contribution, where he will dissect the budget and tell the Bahamian people what’s in it for them.

HOTEL UNION STRIKE VOTE

Simply put, if the Labour Minister was doing his job, labour relations in our premier industry should not have soured to the point where the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union felt the need to take a strike vote.

They voted almost unanimously to strike.

This labour situation is now at a critical stage.

So, while the luckiest Tourism Minister ever is prancing around and boasting about the tourism arrival numbers, it appears that the financial windfall enjoyed by the hotels is not being shared equitably with the thousands of workers who drive the industry.

Our understanding is that the Government is not taking this matter seriously and is not moving aggressively enough to get the parties to the table and have this matter settled.

Our position is that the 15% gratuity must remain as part of the contractual negotiations.

Bahamians need to earn a livable wage and we stand with the hotel workers.

We call on the Minister of Labour to do more to settle this impasse. 

We call for mutual respect at all levels between employers and workers.

Nothing should be done in these ongoing negotiations to harm The Bahamas.

THE PREMATURE ANNOUNCEMENT BY CORNELIUS SMITH

Many of you no doubt have seen the video that went viral on social media. C. A. Smith, former MP, Cabinet Minister and of late Ambassador to six Latin American countries, announced his resignation and advised that he would be the next Governor General.

We point again the rank disregard and disrespect for proper protocol that seems endemic in the FNM. The Prime Minister does not know what to say in church.

C. A. Smith also said that his appointment was approved by Buckingham Palace. This is untrue and is therefore of great concern to us.

I now note that he has, in fact, apologized.

APPOINTMENT OF RUTH BOWE-DARVILLE TO THE SUPREME COURT

In his latest mockery of our Constitution, the Prime Minister has appointed Ruth Bowe-Darville as a Supreme Court Justice – literally four days before her 65th birthday, the maximum age for appointment. 

While I bear no ill-will toward Mrs. Bowe-Darville, it simply cannot be right to appoint someone to high constitutional office knowing full well that their appointment will run out in exactly four days time.

Moreover, it makes a complete travesty of the constitutional procedure that must now unfold to extend the appointment beyond the retirement age.

It shows that the Prime Minister never had any plan to seriously consult with me, as Leader of the Opposition.

On the contrary, he appointed Mrs. Bowe-Darville at the proverbial 11th Hour with the pre-conceived determination to immediately extend her appointment for two years without any real regard for any views that I, as Leader of the Opposition, might have on the matter of her extension.

This is not what our Constitution calls for.

Any consultation would therefore be bogus.

This is playing games with our Constitution and trampling it underfoot. 

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has a very bad habit of doing these things. It is getting worse. It is high-handed. It is unprincipled. It is arrogant.  And it calls for unqualified condemnation. 

The Prime Minnis really needs to check this increasingly dictatorial attitude.

He is behaving like an Emperor who is accountable to no one. 

MINISTER ROLLE’S PROTOCOL BREACH

It is bad enough that the government has slashed the budget of the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture by $4 million, the Minister, Lanisha Rolle, has reportedly refused to meet with local sports federations led by the Bahamas Olympic Association (BOA) on the way forward.

I am reliably advised that of particular concern by the BOA, is the Minister’s breach of protocol in traveling to Tokyo to the IAAF World Relays, the same event that was stopped by the FNM government.

While the Minister is well within her rights to attend international sporting events, she must seek the approval of local federations, in this case the BAAAs, in order to secure accreditation if she is on official government business. We are advised that this was not done.

The federations are asking for a meeting or they’ll take a stronger stand, one of which will be the removal of the Minister or the athletes and federations will shut down.

The PLP has repeatedly said that the FNM, by their actions, do not support our youth, culture or sports.

It is bad enough that many major unions are unhappy with current labour relations, it is unnecessary and foolhardy for Minister Rolle to pick what would become a public fight with local sporting organizations and the BOA.

The government should be about supporting these organizations and strengthening our international brand as a sports powerhouse.

This is highly unfortunate, and the Minister’s behavior is unseemly and inappropriate, and the Prime Minister must intervene and correct this.

We have a government that believes the rules apply to other people, not to themselves.  

How else to explain the appointment of a judge four days before the Constitution says her term expires?

We have a government that is completely disconnected from the people.  

How else to explain a budget that ignores the serious cost-of-living burdens facing Bahamians today?  

For too many working Bahamians, their wages are not enough to get by, let alone get ahead.

We have a government that believes Bahamians should shut up and deal with the economic pain in the name of reducing deficits, even as they fail to reduce those deficits, and even as they cut special deals for members of Cabinet, who – believe me — are not being asked to share these same burdens.

Thank you, and with that, I am happy to take questions.