Senator, The Honourable Dr. Michael R. Darville
Contribution to the 2017 – 2018 Budget
Honourable Senate of the Commonwealth of the Bahama
Friday, 23rd June, 2017
Thank you, Madam President, and once again congratulations to you, and all Honourable Senators around the table.
Madam President, today I rise to make my contribution to the 2017 – 2018 Budget debate.
Madam President, after experiencing a major defeat at the polls a few weeks ago, and having an opportunity to reflect on our successes and mistakes, I remain resolute that Progressive Liberal Party is still the only political organization that can effectively navigate our country though the turbulent waters that lie ahead; and I remain confident that time will prove this statement to be true.
Madam President, upon coming to office in 2012, we met an economy riddled with debt.
Yes, Madam President, the previous FNM administration left behind close to a billion dollar in debt, which forced the PLP to put many of our capital works projects on hold during our first year in office. As minister, I felt the frustration of knowing very well that without real financial resources to drive our capital works projects, the construction industry would remain stagnant and the economic stimulus that was so desperately needed for Grand Bahama would have to be put on hold.
Madam President, the Minister of Finance and the people of this country must be reminded that in 2012, the FNM indeed left our economy in a wheel chair. But unlike this administration, we executed fiscal discipline as a cabinet, and opted to stay away from excessive borrowing.
Furthermore, Madam President, despite the political risks associated with the implementation of VAT, we made the tough decision, and took the necessary steps to do so. After three (3) years in office, and much consultation and technical support, The Ministry of Finance launched one of the well-structured Value Added Tax systems in the region, along with other transformative tax reform measures. To ease the burden on our people, duty on many imported goods, including food items, was reduced simultaneously across the board in some instances up to 15 percent.
Madam President, unfortunately, VAT was used as a tool for the FNM during the campaign, as they accused the PLP of stealing the funds derived from the VAT, and promised that they would repeal VAT on bread basket items, utilities, education and medical services. Resultantly, the people gobbled up these lies and promises and voted against the PLP.
Madam President, through you, I would like to remind the general public that the Free National Movement voted in favour of the implementation of Value Added Tax, and they understood its importance in rebuilding the country’s economy. Now that the campaign is over, the back peddling on their promises to the people has begun, as confirmed in the budget.
But, Madam President, what I find most troubling is after opting not to repeal VAT from bread basket items, this administration saw it fit to reduce business license fees, not for SME’s; but for businesses that make more than fifty million dollars a year, reduce duty on washing machines and aircraft parts, salmon, caviar, and other items, which would assist special interest groups and not the poor.
Madam President, it doesn’t matter how you try to sugar coat it even a blind man can see the play … it’s payback time!
Madam President, during our term in office, we made many of the tough, unpopular decisions, and laid a solid foundation for the new government to build upon.
I am therefore grateful to the Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Philip Brave Davis, and party officials, for affording me this wonderful opportunity to serve once again in this upper chamber. This is serious business, Madam President, and I assure Progressive Liberal Party supporters throughout the country that I remain committed to the cause, and I would carry out my duties as an opposition Senator to the best of my ability.
Madam President, my mother always told me that those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Additionally, the late Dr. Myles Monroe, in one of his lecture series on Grand Bahama stated, “Be prepared so when opportunity knock at your door, you will be well positioned to succeed.” Both of these statements have proven true throughout my professional and public life. For the past few weeks, however, these statements have taken on new life, as I watched with great concern; this unprepared administration prove to the Bahamian people, and the world, that they are truly not ready to govern.
In fact, Madam President, during the budget debate, many ministers seemed unfamiliar with their constitutional and collective responsibilities, and failed miserably, in their contributions to demonstrate to the Bahamian people, their plans to move, their ministries and our country forward. I was pleased, nonetheless to learn that the FNM will build upon the majority of the plans and programs put in place by our administration.
Madam President, as an opposition Senator and shadow Minister of Grand Bahama Affairs, Education, Health and NHI, I assure you that I fully understand my constitutional responsibilities, and I will continue to defend the Progressive Liberal Party’s accomplishments, inside and outside of this honourable place. I also intend to support meaningful legislation, programs and plans brought forth by the current FNM administration, which would bring relief to the poor and ultimately improve the quality of life of all Bahamians irrespective of ethnicity, socioeconomic status or political affiliation.
On the other hand, Madam President, I will vigorously oppose policies and legislation that I believe will favour only special interest groups, and are not in the best interest of the Bahamian people, and specifically, the people of Grand Bahama, as I have done for the past decade.
Madam President, I will conduct myself in an honourable fashion, but I must warn you that I have strong convictions, and I intend to voice the concerns of Bahamians, particularly as it relates to the violation of their constitutional rights, and political victimization.
Madam President, the 2017 – 2018 budget, which was presented by the Honourable Member for East Grand Bahama. Let me say from the onset that I was extremely disappointed that the Members in the lower house used this budget debate, as well as their parliamentary privilege to vilify former cabinet ministers and the PLP, and continue the FNM’s political campaign in the honourable house of assembly.
Madam President, the budget communication was a golden opportunity for this inexperienced administration to rise above all the propaganda, accusations, and lies that they levied on the PLP during the campaign leading to the 2017 general elections, and take the high road. But instead of giving an accurate account of the financial affairs of the country, the budget communication was skewed, heavily political, and indicated little about the FNM’s plan for good fiscal stewardship.
In fact, Madam President, the majority of their contributions were about alleged PLP corruption, and who got what for government contracts. I believe the Bahamian people are saturated with all this political posturing and are ready for this government to plans in place that would bring relief to the poor create jobs.
Madam President, in an interview on the evening news last night, the Attorney General admitted that no formal complaint has been filed by any government official, or citizen, that would substantiate the claims made in the lower house.
It is my sincere belief, Madame President, that if the Free National Movement can proven acts of criminality by any former minister or public servant, they should forward the information to the police and allow the authorities to take legal action or make the allegations outside of these honourable chambers.
Madam President, the cabinet, supervised by the our Prime Minister who apparently says he cares about the people, somehow forgot about the tax cuts for the poor, which he promised on the campaign trail; because this budget proved to have nothing to do with “the people” whose time they said had come, but more to do with payback time for “their” people. This budget includes tax breaks for big business, and reductions in duties which would increase the bottom line of many who sit in cabinet; with a few crumbs falling from the cabinet table for “the people.” As Catherine Kelly, concluded in her column a few weeks ago, Dollars and Sense, “The FNM should be fired for the budget they are proposing to the people.”
Madam President, the budget communication sets the wrong precedence in the financial community; and if not corrected will come back to bite us all. It’s potentially damaging, and could impact local and international investment opportunities throughout the country, but more specifically on the island of Grand Bahama. As far as I am concerned, Madam President, this budget sends the wrong message to the business community and the rating agencies, who by the way, will be back at our door steps in a matter of months.
Madam President, at one point during his contribution, The Minister of Finance seemed unfamiliar with certain aspects of his own budget! This is evidence of preparing to fail and shows how out of touch the Free National Movement was, and still is, concerning the micro and macroeconomic indicators in the country, and their effect on the Bahamian economy. In hopes that the Bahamian people would give them a free pass to borrow close to a billion dollars within their first hundred (100) days in office, The member for East Grand Bahama presented a budget that unfairly blamed the PLP, and because of his political agenda, intentionally painted an overly grim picture of our economy.
Madam President, my question to this administration is what is the real reason behind borrowing a whopping seven hundred and twenty-two million dollars ($722,000,000.00) during your first year in office?
Madam President, this voodoo style economics of trying to borrow their way out of debt appears to be the first part of the FNM’s plan to turn the Bahamian economy around.
What is ironic Madam President, is that this same scenario was predicted by many local prophets during the election campaign, who clearly articulated that should the Free National Movement win the general election, the first thing they would do is increase borrowing. It appears now that these prophecies have come to pass.
Madam President, in contrast to our administration, who borrowed just over two billion ($2,000,000,000.00) dollars in our entire five (5) years in office, this inexperienced FNM administration could not resist the temptation, and with the passing of this budget, would have committed the Bahamian people to close to one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000.00) of debt in their first hundred (100) days in office. This is record breaking, and if continued throughout their term of office, could have serious implications to our local economy.
Madam President, when we move all of the drama around about alleged corruption with no proof form the budget debate and sum it all up, a blind man can see straight through the FNM’s game plan; which is to borrow excessively in their first year in office, use this borrowed capital to create a false perception that the economy is rebounding; then ride on the projected economic growth trajectory, while blaming the PLP for everything negative in the economy, all the way to 2022.
Madam President, the IMF projected that the Bahamian economy will expand by 1.4% this year followed by 2.2% in 2018. These projections proved that despite the challenges we faced with revenue collection and the economic impact of Hurricanes Joaquin and Mathew had on the country’s economy, we were able to do all the heavy lifting, and modernize the country’s tax structure. We were on the right track, and moving in the right direction; under the direction of the Former Minister, and Minister of State for Finance.
You know what is so sad, though, Madam President, the member for East Grand Bahama missed a great moment in history to demonstrate political maturity. However, at no point in his contribution did he give any credit to our team for the transformational work done on the country’s new tax structure, and our ingenuity in holding the fragile economy together, despite the devastating effects of two (2) Category 4 hurricanes in five (5) years.
But God don’t like ugly, Madam President; and after all the PLP bashing and accusations of corruption without any factual proof, He allowed the truth about the devastating effects that Hurricanes Joaquin and Mathew had on our local economy, and the 2017 projected deficit to finally be revealed. The issue with the projected deficit was clearly outlined by the Former Minister of Finance, during his last midterm budget communication, but if my memory serves me right, both the present Prime Minister, and his Deputy were absent from the house that day.
Therefore, Madam President, the fact that the 2016 – 2017 projected deficit would increase was no new revelation; and the evidence supported that this increase has nothing to do with the mismanagement of public finances. In fact, Madam President no administration could budget for major hurricanes, their effects on government infrastructure, and the social ramifications associated with the devastation.
I now turn my attention to the economy of Grand Bahama.
Madam President, Grand Bahama is the sleeping giant in the north, and is filled with great potential. I remain optimistic about its future, its economic recovery and wish the Minister of State, and the government well, as they tackle the complex issues surrounding the island’s recovery. But I must warn the Minister of State that the outdated economic template currently in place in Freeport must change in order to bring about sustainable development. In fact, research, prior to the 2012 general election by the Progressive Liberal Party, confirmed that the success of Grand Bahama required bold and aggressive policy changes; centred around a shift in the management of the free trade zone, and the increase in the presence of a well-funded central governmental leadership team who must operate side by side stakeholders, guided by international business best practices in order to prevent the boom and bust syndrome.
Madam President, our plan for Grand Bahama was simple in principle, but challenging to implement on the ground because of all the stakeholders involved. We knew that the plan would require a lot of transformative work and strong government leadership. So, upon coming to office we established the Ministry for Grand Bahama in our first 100 days of governance.
Madame President, we hired both local and foreign consultants with global experience, advised us on policy changes necessary to receive maximum economic benefits from our strategic location, and free trade zones. As Minister, one of my main mandates was to drive these transformative policies around the cabinet table, thus creating both a short and long-term strategy that would promote the resurgence of the Grand Bahama economy.
Madame President, because of the unique legal structure of Freeport, these necessary changes required buy in from the Grand Bahama Port Authority, port licensees, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce and other major stakeholders on the island. As a result of our research, we clearly understood that the recovery of Grand Bahama would take more than five years, but focused on the advancement of the industrial and tourism sectors, in order to create jobs.
Madam President, after listening to the budget communication, and the contributions from the five Members of Parliament from Grand Bahama including the Minister of Finance, I am still waiting to hear about any meaningful government plan for the island of Grand Bahama. All I am heard from the Free National Movement camp is the sudden revelation that the economic recovery of Grand Bahama is “no quick fix” and “will take time and collaborative effort.”
Additionally, Madam President, I was hoping that the Minister of Finance, in his substantive contribution, would have been eager to share something about the FNM’s strategic plan for Grand Bahama. On the contrary, it seems that the new template alluded to in the speech from the throne does not exist; and a workable one must be developed.
Well, Madam President, that’s not good enough because during the political campaign, the FNM told the residents of Grand Bahama that they would bring immediate change to the island, jump start our economy, and get people in the tourism sector back to work.
My question is, Madam President, will the FNM fail Grand Bahama again?
Madam President, the FNM also pledged to repeal the Grand Bahama Investment Incentive Bill, which they said would level the playing field for business owners in Freeport.
Madam President, I strongly suggest that this administration moves with caution to review the evidence research, look carefully at the MOU and Heads of Agreement signed by the major stakeholders, before potentially pushing the economy of Grand Bahama back another ten (10) years. Although I concede that the bill is not a perfect one; all bills brought to this honourable place are subjected to amendments along the way. Many of the issues the Chamber and the Grand Bahama Port Authority had with the bill were brought to our attention, and we were addressing them via some amendments, and with the regulations. However, Madam President, I believe that to repeal the bill will go contrary to the evidence based research, and possibly derail almost three (3) years of hard work by the government. A few days ago, during a press conference in Freeport, the Prime Minister spoke about the government plans for extending the requirements necessary under the Grand Bahama investment bill for another six months, which I fully support. Going forward, Madam President, I would be willing to give my input as the former Minister for Grand Bahama, a licensee of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, and a citizen in the community who is deeply concerned about moving the economy of Grand Bahama.
Yes, Madam President, the Grand Bahama Port Authority would have issues with any changes to their current mode of operations. But this is the 21st century, and they must come to grips with the reality that some aspects of Hawksbill Creek Agreement are proving to be counter-productive to national development, and as a sovereign nation we must address then for the common good of all Bahamians.
Madam President, the FNM touts that their focus for Grand Bahama is investments. This was on top of our agenda as well. In fact, Madam President, our administration, along with the McKenzie Group, did a lot of work on the modelling of the new Grand Bahama Investment Promotion Board, and the one stop shop, as recommended by stakeholders.
Nevertheless, Madam President, to accomplish this requires funding, policy changes and reform. So, the big question to the side opposite is, other than a two hundred thousand dollar ($200,000.00) increase for investment promotion on Grand Bahama, where is the funding to support the establishment and maintenance of the operations of the much-needed investment promotion board for Grand Bahama, and the one stop shop, which was mentioned in the speech from the throne??
Madame President, it will take significant budgetary allocations to successfully improve the ease of doing business in the country, and by extension the island of Grand Bahama. In fact, Jamaica was able to accomplish this important milestone with the help of a substantial IDB loan.
Madam President, the Grand Bahama Investment Promotion Board, and the one stop shop must be a priority for the government, because once properly implemented and competently staffed, they can play a significant role in the resurgence of the Grand Bahama economy.
Madam President, with so very little funding allotted in the budget for this very important mandate, I ask this FNM administration once more, are you planning to fail Grand Bahama again?
Madam President, Grand Bahama is in need of an immediate economic injection. We left a plan in place for grant funding for small businesses impacted by Hurricane Mathew, and a low interest loan facility for existing SME’s. Sadly, this much-needed economic injection is not evident from the allocations in the budget for the Ministry for Grand Bahama, Office of the Prime Minister or the Ministry of Finance.
On the other hand, Madam President, I am pleased that one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) is allocated in the budget, under Head 74, line item 791270, under SME’s, for what is apparently the reactivation of the FNM’s Jump Start Program.
Madame President, while I agree that this can certainly help small businesses in East and West Grand Bahama; I find it hard to ignore that during the former FNM administration, this same program was poorly managed.
Madam President, a review of the former Jump Start Program would verify that it turned out to be a political slush fund; and as a result, many of the so-called businesses never existed, or failed, leaving only a hand full of functioning businesses after wasting millions of dollars of tax payers’ money.
So, Madame President, the Honourable Minister of State will certainly have his hands full managing this line item. I wish to inform him, through you, that we will be following this very closely during your entire term in office. Remember it’s the people’s time, and accountability and transparency must be the order of the day.
Madam President, in the speech from the throne, the challenges Grand Bahama faced over the last fifteen to twenty (15 – 20) years were recognized. But if the truth be told, the local economy was on a downward spiral for a much longer time. Yes, natural disasters contributed to the economic downturn of Grand Bahama’ but poor planning, government neglect and yes, the dinosaur on the ground, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, all contributed to where we are today.
Madam President, historic examination of Freeport and the workings of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement confirmed that the government’s policies of duty free concessions were, and still are the engine behind Freeport’s success over the years. But a study done in December 2015, by Oxford Economics proved that even though concessions are truly the catalyst for economic growth and development, they should no longer be blanketed. Rather, they should be properly incentivised with a penalty clause in place for protection against land speculation or rogue investors. Otherwise, these concessions could become counterproductive and instead of facilitating, could hinder growth and development in the free trade zone. This principle was incorporated into the drafting of the Grand Bahama Investment Incentive Bill, 2016 and that is why we must move with caution before repealing it.
Madam President, the stark difference between East and West Grand Bahama, and the city of Freeport, substantiates our hypothesis that concessions stimulate economic growth.
As a result, Madam President, in June 2014, by way on an amendment to the Tariff Act, our administration honoured our promise, outlined in our Charter of Governance to extend duty free concession for new and existing businesses in East and West Grand Bahama; thus levelling the playing field, after sixty (60) years, for all business owners on the island of Grand Bahama. The entrepreneurial and employment opportunities created as a result are notable.
Madam President, the aging government infrastructure throughout Grand Bahama was also a top priority on our administration’s transformative agenda, and shortly after being named Minister, I spoke specifically about the five major government funded capital works projects air marked for Grand Bahama.
Firstly, The Fishing Hole Road, which has been a vexing problem for the people of West Grand Bahama for decades, as during adverse weather conditions, many are cut off from essential service, due to flooding. According to the Minister of Works, this project is now on hold because of budget restraints. I implore the government to complete this project hastily, as the hurricane season is upon us.
Secondly, the Freeport Fire Station, an essential facility which was destroyed in 2004.
Thirdly, The Smith’s Point Sea Wall, to address coastal erosion in that residential and touristic area. However, on Thursday, June 8th, 2017, it was reported that Smith’s Construction, a reputable company, who was awarded the contract to construct the sea wall in the coastal settlement of Smith’s Point, Grand Bahama, was ordered off the construction site by representatives from the Ministry of Works and assisted by the Royal Bahamas Police Force. This incident was extremely unfortunate; and I am advised that the contractor is pursuing legal action concerning this matter, which I support 100% percent.
Madam President, we are asking the government to move swiftly to resolve this pressing situation, to protect the people of Smith’s Point, and prevent further coastal erosion in that community, especially since the hurricane season is once again upon us.
Additionally, the junior high school in West Grand Bahama. And finally, the Freeport Community Clinic, which is the first phase of the hospital for Grand Bahama.
Madam President, much has been said to try to discredit the Urban Renewal program on Grand Bahama. The member for East Grand Bahama spoke about victimization of Urban Renewal Workers on Grand Bahama by the PLP in 2012, but the truth of the matter is all who were willing, completed their contracts; a number of them reapplied, and some, including the wife of the former Member of Parliament for Eight Mile Rock, were rehired based on their past performance.
Speaking about victimization, Madam President, all government vehicles were taken from centre managers, and parked at the police headquarters in Freeport. Without transportation and support, all the centres are practically non-functional, and it is my understanding that many of the staff are merely waiting for ‘judgment day.’ This is typical of the FNM administration’s agenda of stop, review and cancel.
Madam President, many of the social initiatives in the communities, which were geared toward the youth, seniors and shut-ins in the communities were led by Urban Renewal centre managers and staff. Without transportation, continuing this essential outreach in the community is extremely difficult.
Additionally, Madame President, as part of the relief program in the aftermath of hurricane Mathew, Urban Renewal also played an intricate role in social assessment, clean-up, and rebuilding efforts; and worked closely with the restoration technical team, and KPMG, the accounting firm that was hired by the government to oversee the hurricane relief efforts on Grand Bahama. It is my understanding, and the Minister of State could correct me if I am wrong, that this initiative is almost at a standstill, and as a result, many residents, who are in need of roof repairs or building supplies, are experiencing great difficulty, as Grand Bahama has had rainy weather over the past few weeks. As an administration, we did our part, and I implore the new administration to stop procrastinating, pick the baton and continue the race. After all, it is “the people’s time!”
Madam President, Urban Renewal’s small home repair program impacted many lives, particularly those of the elderly. the indigent and unemployed; and because of the need in the family islands, Urban Renewal Grand Bahama eventually extended its operational responsibilities to Eleuthera, Bimini, Cat island, South Andros, Exuma and Abaco to meet those needs.
Madam President, if the new government wishes to dismantle or water down the people’s Urban Renewal Program, they should just go ahead and do so; but in doing so, they should refrain from demoralising the staff, and immediately create an alternative for those Bahamians who were beneficiaries of all the programs. After all, it’s the people’s time!
Madam President, I now turn my attention to Education
Madam President, during his budget contribution, the Minister of Education, indicated that he would adopt and improve upon the majority of policies implemented by the former Minister of Education the Honourable Jerome Fitzgerald who left behind the substantial blueprint for education in The Bahamas; which includes the introduction of The National High School Diploma, the doubling of investment in scholarships, and the chartering of The University of The Bahamas.
Madam President, I recognize Minister Lloyd’s enthusiasm for education, and his passion for the implementation of a preschool pilot program. Research has proven that a sound preschool education is critical to the development of a child; and for this reason, all countries serious about education, must put both financial and manpower resources behind developing programs that will address this level of instruction. I therefore support the government’s commitment to inject some two million dollars ($2,000,000.00) into this pilot program. It’s unfortunate, however, that the proposed program will be Nassau centric, and as a result, children in Grand Bahama and the family islands will be left behind. I am imploring the government to expand the pilot program to incorporate the rest of the country, especially Grand Bahama.
Madam President, the previous administration recognized the importance of technology in the classroom; and subsequently, spent a little over six million dollars ($6,000,000.00) to upgrade computer labs in schools throughout the country; the single largest investment in technology by any government in the history of The Bahamas. During my tenure as Member of Parliament for Pineridge, I purchased computers for the Hugh Campbell Primary School from my constituency allowance, which facilitated a digital program that was launched by the Ministry of Education, to assist students with reading problems. The private sector also assisted with donations of equipment, including smart boards for primary schools in East and West Grand Bahama, which assisted in deferring the cost for technological upgrades in many of our primary schools. The creation of these interactive 21st century classrooms has enhanced the education experience; the results of which are evident in the improvement in GLAT scores. For this reason, I fully support the use of Bahamian experts to develop new technology inclusive curricula, particularly in Bahamian history, art and culture; and we are looking forward for the complete implementation of the technological programs mentioned in the budget, which would create a digital platform for early childhood education.
Madam President, The Minister also referenced the employment of hundreds of personnel at The Ministry of Education, and the Department of Education on a contractual basis; some within the past year. I wish to admonish the Minister that persons were hired to address the gaps that were found in the system, including the need for support staff and teacher’s aids; and plead with him and the present administration not to terminate those hard working Bahamians, because of their perceived political affiliation.
Madam President, the Minister also referenced the scholarship loan program, and the government’s intent to go after those who defaulted on payments.
Madam President, this issue is a complicated one, which started with the FNM. It is my understanding that the former Minister of Education Alfred Sears brought some order to the problem, but it remains unresolved. I suggest the Minister of Education move with caution, and seek further legal advice before executing his plan.
Madam President, thanks to evidence based planning and the implementation of a number of policies to address learners of varying abilities by former Minister of Education, the educational system, although not perfect, seems to be on the right track. I wish the Education Minister well; but like all other ministers, I intend to hold his feet to the fire, and ensure that what was promised to the Bahamian people in Free National Movement’s 2017 Manifesto, is delivered.
Madam President, I now turn my attention to The Ministry of Health and NHI
Madam President, the journey to the launch of NHI began more than thirty (30) years ago with the Progressive Liberal Party. Plans for the implementation of this essential service were articulated in the speech from the throne in 1983; and in 1984, the first working team on NHI was established who later reported their findings to the then government in 1987. This was followed by the Manitoba Report, and in 2001 a feasibility report on a catastrophic health insurance fund was presented. In 2002, the Blue-Ribbon commission on NHI was established, and the report was submitted to the government in 2004, which resulted in the NHI steering committee presenting its final report. In 2006, the NHI Act was passed in parliament. Unfortunately we lost the 2007 election, and the Free National Movement, despite voting for the bill; opted to implement the National Drug Prescription plan, and spoke about the implementation of a catastrophic care plan.
Nevertheless, Madam President, in our 2012 Charter of Governance, we indicated that if elected we would launch NHI, and in 2013, guided by our consultants, we established the NHI framework, inclusive of healthcare strengthening; drafted and passed the National Health Insurance Bill, 2016, which laid the necessary legal framework for the establishment of the National Health Insurance Authority’s functions and powers, and the regulatory criteria for health care administrators and providers.
Madam President, according to printed media and during the budget debate, the Minister of Health, created the impression that the Bahamian people did not get value for money from our consultants before and after the implementation of NHI.
Yes, Madam President, The Minister of Health is entitled to his opinion, but I was a member of the cabinet steering committee for NHI, and I beg to disagree. I am keenly aware of the extensive amount of work put in place by the competent team at the NHI secretariat, who were supported by both local and foreign consultants; and I stand by these competent professionals, who made their contributions to the successful launch of universal primary care, by way of NHI. I state unequivocally that we did not waste the taxpayers’ money.
I must remind the Honourable Member for Elizabeth, that hind sight is always 20/20 vision, and that much of the complications and delays we experienced were due to external factors that were completely out of our control, including Hurricanes Joaquin and Mathew, the damages to clinics in the South and Central Bahamas, Grand Bahama, North Andros and New Providence in their aftermath, and the general economic impact they had on the country. These and other factors played a part in the postponement of the launch of NHI, which resulted in the extension of the consultancy with the KPMG Health Group.
Madam President, understanding the need for more quality secondary and tertiary care services in the country, our administration proceeded with the recommendations from our global healthcare consultants, with the launch of Universal Primary healthcare services first, followed by the phasing in of selective catastrophic care, and finally the full benefit coverage.
Madam President, much of the work for selective catastrophic care was completed during our administration. In fact, our discussions with the key Bahamian consultant physicians from both the public and private sectors, including the present Minister of Health, were completed before leaving offices. A final report on the way forward for selective catastrophic care was presented to cabinet for final approval.
Nevertheless, we opted not to execute our selective catastrophic plan or put the authority in place until after the general elections.
Madam President, history would reflect that Universal healthcare coverage by way of National Health Insurance will be one of the greatest social initiative since NIB, in our country, once fully implemented. As I stated earlier, governance must be continuous. We launched NHI, and now it’s time for the FNM to continue the journey to full implementation.
Madam President, I must admit that I was disappointed that only forty million dollars ($40,000,000.00) was allocated in this year budget for National Health Insurance as compared to the one hundred and twenty plus million dollars ($120,000,000.00) proposed by our administration.
Madam President, with a mere fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000.00) allocated for primary healthcare, as well as catastrophic care, and ten million dollars ($10,000,000.00) for the full implementation of NHIA, it is obvious that the program has been watered down. This is unfortunate, Madam President, and goes against the government’s election promises to adequately fund NHI, and implement a full catastrophic care program. It is evident, by these figures that their priorities have obviously shifted!
Madam President, I now turn my attention to the disingenuous assertions of both Ministers of Finance and Health that our administration had no plan to pay for NHI, and that healthcare contracts issued by the Government months before the elections were deals to fix up our supporters. I take great exceptions to their remarks because they are absolutely untrue.
Madam President, the NHI secretariat made it very clear to the Bahamian people that the government’s plan was to launch universal primary healthcare services first free of charge, with no cash at point of service. Once it was fully up and running across the country, and the economic indicators in the country verified that our people could handle the additional tax burden; as a responsible government, we were committed to go back to the Bahamian people with a palatable plan to ensure that NHI would be sustainable. At no point did we mislead the general public in believing that NHI would be a free service on full implementation.
Madam President, post hurricane Mathew, the country’s focus was restoration, and many capital works initiatives around the country were put on hold, including our healthcare strengthening program, which was a vital component prior to the launch of NHI.
Madam President, it is public knowledge that on May 8th, 2017 a civil works contract for the Mini hospital in Eleuthera was issued, during the ground-breaking ceremony in Palmetto Point Eleuthera. This was a negotiated contract for land preparation, and the scope of work was overseen by a registered quantity surveyor, based on completed architectural drawings by Alvin Rolle and Associates. This work was in the making for over a year, and yes, we executed the contract on the eve of the general election, when the money became available. Although the contract for the vertical structure was never issued, I was pleased to learn that the current administration is committed to completing this much need mini hospital that would improve the delivery of quality of healthcare for the residents of Eleuthera.
Madam President, because of the urgency of the repairs needed at many of our outlying clinics across the country, cabinet agreed that the contracts would be negotiated based on amounts outlined in the architect and quantity surveyor’s reports. Of the forty-three (43) clinics identified, twenty-five (25) in the family islands and Grand Bahama were prioritized for immediate attention, along with the four (4) polyclinics in New Providence
Hence, Madam President, out of the twenty-five (25) priority clinics air marked by our consultants for repairs, in order to meet the NHI licensing requirements, contracts were executed for the following clinics:
- The Inagua Clinic
- Landrail Point and Colonel Hill clinics, Crooked Island
- Abraham’s Bay clinic, Mayaguana
- Deadman’s Cay clinic, Long Island
- Smith’s Bay clinic, Cat Island
- Spanish Wells and Harbour Island clinics Eleuthera
- Nichols Town and Mangrove Cay clinics, Andros
- Marsh Harbour mini hospital
- Spring Pint and Salina Point clinics Acklins
- West End, Eight Mile Rock clinics and the Freeport Community Clinic
- Fleming Street, Elizabeth Estate, Flamingo Gardens and the South Beach clinic
Madame President, I am proud of the steps we took to ensure that Bahamians across the country would finally experience equity in the delivery of essential quality primary healthcare services in all our family islands.
Madame President, I wish to reiterate that the workings of these negotiated contacts, which were approved by cabinet, were fully transparent; and all the signed contracts are at the Ministry of Finance and the PHA. The workmanship was professional, and fully supported by technical teams from the Ministry of Works, the PHA’s capital works unit, the Department of Public Health, The Ministry of Finance, our consultants from KPMG, the NHI secretariat, and the Minister for NHI.
Madam President, contrary to what is being said, no deals were cut; we did nothing wrong; and the public records are there to prove it. In fact, most of the work throughout the Family Islands is near completion, and work is still ongoing at the polyclinics in Nassau, Cat Island and Grand Bahama.
Additionally, Madam President, a negotiated civil works contract was issued, and work was started at Freeport Community Clinic site. The tender process of the actual clinic and the quantity surveyor’s report for this new sixty-two thousand (62,000) sq. ft. clinic was completed in our term in office. Funding was in place from the private sector, as arranged through the Ministry of Finance. During the budget communication, however, nothing was said about this important clinic; and I don’t see any allocation in the PHA or the Ministry of Works capital budget for its construction in this budget year. So, I am asking the Minister, through you, Madam President, to please follow through with this essential healthcare facility for the people of Grand Bahama.
Madam President, I now turn my attention to the remarks made by the Minister of Health in the honourable lower chamber, concerning an alleged tens of millions of dollar worth of healthcare contracts that were issued weeks before the general election. He further went on to imply that we did this at the expense of compromising the country’s immunization supplies, and the health and well-being of the Bahamian people.
Madam President, these statements are misleading and investigations into the allegations confirmed that at no point was the health and wellbeing of the general public ever intentionally compromised.
First and foremost, Madam President, the government never issued ninety million dollars ($90,000,000.00) worth of healthcare contracts weeks before the general election.
Secondly, Madam President, no contract in the sum of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00) per month was ever issued for the maintenance of the Marsh Harbour mini hospital.
Thirdly, Madam President, no monthly contract in the sum of four hundred and fifty six thousand dollars ($424,000.00) was ever issued for the Exuma mini hospital.
Madam President, these false statements were reported in the print media and went viral on social media, sending the wrong message to the Bahamian people. Although the Minister did the honourable thing in the lower chamber by withdrawing the statement, much of the damage was already done.
Madam President, as I wrap up my contribution to this budget debate, I do so by restating that as an administration, we did some heavy lifting and made the unpopular decisions that brought us back on the road to recovery.
Yes, Madam President, the people of the country rejected us on Election Day. Nevertheless, we have accepted our loss at the polls, and have begun the rebuilding process. Although the opposition forces may be small, we will continue to fight to ensure that this government, who spoke a lot about transparency, and accountability on the campaign, put words into action.
Madam President, the FNM promised the Bahamian people the world, thus creating unrealistic expectations; while painting the picture that those of us in the former administration were dishonest and crooked.
However, Madam President, the campaign is over and it is time to govern; and you can rest assured that we will hold this FNM administration’s feet to the fire; beginning with this budget, which clearly demonstrates their priority, which is to support the rich, and put the small man on the back burner.
Madam President, I end with admonishing this new administration; it’s prime time now, so stop making excuses, stop blaming the PLP for your short comings and start governing!
After all, it’s the people’s time!