THE PLP LEADER LAYS OUT THE CASE AGAINST THE FNM

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Leader of The Opposition Philip Davis spoke in the House of Assembly on 16 June 2020 on the Budget Debate.  He said: “At a time when we desperately need to create jobs, this government has failed again to invest in a bold new infrastructure plan, one that could make us safer and stronger while providing millions in income to Bahamian families. That’s a choice they made.”  

CONTRIBUTION TO THE DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
ON THE PROPOSED BUDGET 2020-2021

BY HON PHIILIP ‘BRAVE’ DAVIS QC, MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TUESDAY 16 JUNE 2020

INTRODUCTION 

Mr. Speaker, 

I rise in the name of the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.

And I rise on behalf of Bahamians across our islands.

This is a very serious time for our country.

We are facing not one crisis, but several.  People are hurting. There is a lot of fear out there – fear about this month, and the next, and the one after — How will I feed my family? How will I pay rent? How can I keep my business alive? How can we stay safe from the virus when visitors return? — and longer-term fears, too:  What kind of future can my children have in The Bahamas?  Where are the jobs going to come from? How can we survive rising seas and more powerful storms?

This is a serious time, Mr. Speaker, but this is not a serious budget.

This budget doesn’t even pretend to answer the questions Bahamians are asking.

These are hard questions, it’s true. But this government has made a habit of responding to hard questions with hostility rather than ingenuity. 

Mr. Speaker, 

I expect that the members across the aisle will not like much of what I say today. I’m not here to make them happy; I’m here to represent the Bahamians they’ve ignored or forgotten.  

Likewise, I’m not worried about whatever interruptions or foolishness they’re planning here. Bahamians know that making noise isn’t the same thing as making an argument.

The truth is – and no amount of commotion can obscure this – the truth is that this budget does not prepare our country for the road to come. 

Mr. Speaker:

This budget represents a series of choices made by the government. 

At a time of growing concerns about interruptions to the global supply chain, this government has chosen to invest less in BAMSI, not more. That’s a choice they made.

At a time when we desperately need to create jobs, this government has failed again to invest in a bold new infrastructure plan, one that could make us safer and stronger while providing millions in income to Bahamian families. That’s a choice they made.

And at a time when we cannot yet count on visitors returning to our shores in big numbers, this government has failed to acknowledge the scale of the economic crisis we face and therefore failed to budget adequately for food and rental and social assistance. 

These are choices, too.

These are all the same kind of failure – the failure to make meaningful contact with reality, the failure to look forward, the failure to be a government of solutions. 

The result is we are not, as a nation, prepared for what’s next. 

Mr. Speaker, there is no nation in the world that is not confronting serious fallout from this pandemic. Yet in many countries, trust in incumbent heads of state has actually grown, due to steady leadership and a perception that decisions are being guided by science and data rather than special interests.  

No one is making that argument here.  Instead, the government’s handling of the lockdowns and curfews made Bahamians more worried, not less, about the role FNM insiders play. 

This crisis in trust now extends to the budget, for good reason. 

The figures in this budget do not match the story the government is telling.  

Their account of their revenue, expenditure and borrowing over the past three years is more fantasy than fact.

And I’m not the only one who’s noticed.  

This government’s budget has been rejected by the Government’s lenders as a failure. Just before their budget presentation, the government paid 12% in foreign currency borrowing costs. Just after the budget presentation, those costs were hiked up to 15%. 

All those graphs and charts, all that propaganda and political spin – the country’s lenders were not buying it.

Mr. Speaker,

We don’t just have a Dorian crisis, and a COVID-19 crisis, and an economic crisis. We have a governing crisis, too. 

Even as blue tarps are still a common sight in Abaco, even as salt water is still coming out of the taps in Grand Bahama, we are not ready for the next hurricane season, already underway, which is forecast to be an active one.

Even as we face not just the possibility but the probability that the virus will return with visitors, the government is not prepared to protect the Bahamian people. 

Even as the government promises “no new taxes”, they allow for new user fees for state-owned enterprises. 

Even as they promise accountability, in the same breath they deny responsibility.  

Even as they talk up transparency, they have failed to table in Parliament no fewer than seven heads of agreement. And I add the lease for the Town Centre Mall. 

Think about the Grand Lucayan deal, or Oban. No one feels confident in this government’s ability to negotiate on behalf of the Bahamian people. The government signed those deals on behalf of the people, and now is too ashamed to show us the terms they agreed to. 

Mr. Speaker, these are all very serious issues. 

And I haven’t even come yet to what was said by their own former Minister of Health, the member for Elizabeth.

Just days ago, he described how hundreds of names have been removed from the list of people missing after Hurricane Dorian. 

I know many of you recall that the former Prime Minister, the former member from North Abaco, went on the record to say that hundreds were dead. 

Yet the official toll still stands at 74. 

This sickens me. Haven’t the families of the missing suffered enough? 

Whatever is at the heart of this disgrace, whether the scheme was intended to cover for incompetence or worse, anyone who knows more must come forward.  

Don’t wait, like the former Minister of Health. 

Don’t wait until your crisis of conscience darkens every moment.  Whatever light you can shed, come forward. Put the country on a path out of this nightmare. That much is owed to the people we’ve lost and to their families.

Mr. Speaker,

What I’ve been describing is what happens when a government loses its way. The failure to protect, the failure to plan, the failure to be direct and truthful, these are all failures to see every Bahamian as inherently worthy of dignity and respect.  

This government has presented a budget that will, in the best case scenario, see our nation stand still. There is no vision, no sense of shared national purpose — nothing to unite a nation in the face of a crisis. 

Where Has The People’s Money Gone? 

Mr. Speaker: 

It is the government’s poor management of the people’s money that has made this moment so much worse than it had to be.

Last year, we warned them they were heading over a fiscal cliff. 

And that was before Dorian, before the virus. 

Never before in the history of our country has a government spent so much for so little.

In fact, since coming into office in 2017, this government has spent approximately TWO BILLION DOLLARS ($2 billion) each year. 

That makes for a total of SIX BILLION DOLLARS ($6 billion) to date.

And on top of that, they have also borrowed THREE BILLION DOLLARS ($3 billion) over the three years.

Mr. Speaker:

Where has all the money gone?

The Bahamas still has the highest debt and deficit in Bahamian history.

Where has all the money gone?

This government has nothing to show for it.

There are no significant investments in anything. 

The PLP government spent far less and purchased more boats for the Defence Force, built schools and roads, improved hospitals and clinics, raised the minimum wage and lowered the price of electricity,  and still dealt with two major hurricanes.

Where all the money gone?

Mr. Speaker:

My Deputy, the Member for Exuma and Ragged Island and Shadow Minister of Finance, has already offered a technical assessment of the budget.

He did an excellent job, especially when he explained how short-sighted it is to borrow unprecedented sums to tread water, rather than to do the big things that could transform our economy. 

Budget Makes No Sense 

Mr. Speaker:

Despite their declarations, to the contrary, the government’s budget is essentially a pre-Covid-19 document.

Although there is some attempt to concede the need for expanded social welfare assistance in the immediate future, it essentially proposes business-as-usual.

The problem is, the same old same old isn’t good enough.

Not even close. 

This absence of vision is compounded by a lack of transparency, and common sense.

The increases and decreases on various budget lines lack explanations, and in far too many cases, make no sense.

A few examples:

In the ‘Ministry of Public Service’, there is an increase of $3 MILLION, from $340,000 to $3,340,000, to pay the salaries of contract workers.

But the government has announced a freeze on hiring.

So who are they paying, and for what?

The same Ministry is cutting their rent payments by some $4 MILLION.

Which building or buildings is the government presently renting that it will be giving up in the forthcoming budget?

‘Fees and Other Charges’ are increased by a whopping 280% and insurance premiums decreased by $10 MILLION. 

A cynical person might think that unexplained ‘Fees and Other Charges’ represent some kind of slush fund.

And a sceptical person might worry that the government is simply planning on not paying its insurance premiums.

What is the truth of the matter?

Mr. Speaker:

In the ‘Office of The Attorney-General’, the budget for ‘Operation of Facilities or Other Services’ is increased by 700% from $200,000 to $1.6 MILLION.

What on earth are they doing there? 

At the very least, aren’t Bahamians owed an explanation?

The ‘Office Of The Prime Minister’ also seems to have gone on a financial joyride.

A completely new budget item, called ‘Communications Unit’, has appeared for the first time, with an allocation of $2.5 MILLION.

Surely it would be a lot cheaper if the Prime Minister simply faced the media, and answered their questions sensibly and directly.

What is B.I.S. doing?

What are his Press Secretaries doing?

The allocation for the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit has been slashed from $73,000 to $45,000, even though less than $4,000 has been spent in the first nine months of the fiscal year.

We must ask: what is the purpose of this Delivery Unit? 

And does the slashing of its budget indicate that the Prime Minister has given up trying to deliver anything meaningful for the Bahamian people?

Mr. Speaker:

There is a new line item in the budget for $68,800,000 for ‘Special Economic Assistance Measures’.

There is no explanation.

$68 MILLION Mr. Speaker.

What is this for?

What are the measures?

Mr. Speaker:

It is these kind of budget allocations, offered with no explanation, that undermine confidence in the budget.

Mr. Speaker:

This budget contains no strategy for growth.

There is also complete silence on the economic development of the Family Islands.

Given the very strong economy in the United States in recent years, the Baha Mar development which the last PLP government left in place, and the hits to the economies of our regional neighbours, this government had so much in their favour.

They have squandered it all.

Forecasts Not Credible

Mr. Speaker I turn now to the subject of Government Revenue.

This budget shows that the government forecasted revenue for the 2019/2020 budget of some $2.4 BILLION.

However, as of March 2020, they had collected only $1.76 BILLION for the year.

This means that over the nine month period, the government only collected an average revenue of $195 MILLION per month.

This was before the pandemic hit.

This means they knew they were going to fall far short.

At this point, the government’s finances were already not credible, as they had over-budgeted by some $50 MILLION.

This was after they had revised their figures for Hurricane Dorian.

Those figures are now impossible, given the lockdown and the most disruptive economic period ever.

The target of $2.4 BILLION cannot be achieved.

They ought to have known for many months that these figures could not be right.

So why have they not amended them to reflect the truth?

Mr. Speaker:

The government’s present predicament goes back to 2017. That was when they made a series of decisions which have resulted in significant decreases in revenue.

Tax Cuts  

Almost the first thing they did was to shamelessly cut taxes for themselves and their wealthy supporters, and gave multi-million dollar tax rebates.

At least one person in that cohort expressed elation in a newspaper article over saving $500,000.

The rest of them enjoyed the cuts in duties for their airlines and wash-houses.

Well, the treasury could certainly use those millions now.

Disbanding The Revenue Enhancement Unit

That decision was followed by the disbanding of the Revenue Enhancement Unit. 

The Minister of Finance presented this as a ‘Money-Saving Initiative’. 

He thought it was not a good investment to spend a $1 million a month, in order to get $30 million a month in additional revenue, 

Fast-forward, and now the Minister brags about receiving a mere $39 million over the course of an entire year, from his reconstructed ‘Revenue Task Force’.

Of course, the results of disbanding the Revenue Enhancement Unit were predictable. 

Actual revenue in 2017/2018, the first full year of this administration in office was LESS than 2016/2017, when revenue was impacted by Hurricane Matthew.

Property Tax Register 

The Minister of Finance made matters worse by stopping the work on updating the property tax register.  This meant that 2,000 commercial buildings which were taxable, were not added to the register.  

The growth in property tax revenue has since stagnated. The Minister has now —  seemingly without shame — re-engaged the same firm he fired, at a cost of millions of dollars more in fees to Bahamian taxpayers.

VAT Increase 

Mr. Speaker:

In his second budget the Minister of Finance doubled down on his bet that reckless fiscal management has no consequences.  

He increased the VAT rate by 60% based on studies apparently seen only by him.

According to him this was the only tax increase necessary to bring about a balanced budget.  

Of course the reality was different. 

The Government missed its revenue target by $211 million and was only able to achieve its deficit target by not meeting its commitments, slashing both capital and recurrent expenditure by a combined $222 million, as well as withholding millions more dollars in VAT refunds.

Let me make the point clear: 

The government dramatically increased the cost of living for Bahamians with that shock increase in VAT. It continues to cause great hardship.

People were forced to spend less, and so the economy slowed down.

But the Minister went further. In perhaps the most questionable decision he sanctioned VAT refunds for foreign entities, which now generates ZERO VAT income for the Government. 

Why? 

This alone is costing the country millions of dollars every year.

Licence Fees for Banks  

But the attacks on the public revenue didn’t stop there.

Last year, the government abolished all licence fees for banks, including commercial banks, and all the banks in which members of the government hold shares.  

This is $50 million revenue lost from a sector which can easily afford it, being remitted back to their mostly non-Bahamian shareholders. 

The promise of an alternative form of taxation for banks has yet to materialize.  

Reinstate Tax Breaks 

If the government were serious about trying to improve the public finances, they would first look to the revenue side.

They would reinstate the tax breaks which they have foolishly given away to their wealthy friends.

They would immediately implement the kind of effective structures which the PLP government left in place.

This would ensure that companies and individuals paid their fair share of taxes.

EXPENDITURE   

Mr. Speaker:

I move now to the subject of the government’s expenditure.

Mr. Speaker:

The government’s history on public expenditure is a sorry tale, one featuring poor choices and poor judgment at every turn.

Errors  

In previous budgets, we have pointed out a number of errors in line items.

They seem unable to correct them; these past errors seem to just carry forward.

They concern significant sums of money.

The Ministry of Social Services, for example, has a current allocation of $130,400 for electricity. This is clearly an error.

This kind of sloppiness increases anxiety among the business community and lenders.

Firing Of Public Servants  

From the beginning, so intent were they on punishing Bahamians that they did not care about the cost.

They fired thousands of public servants, often in the most brutal and humiliating ways. 

They then had to pay millions of dollars in severance pay, more in lawsuits, and for the costs of legal fees.

What an unnecessary toll in human misery.

Hotel in Grand Bahama 

Looming large of course, is the utter wasteful spend of over $100 million on a run-down hotel in Grand Bahama.

The government ignored counsel from all sectors of society, including the former leader of their own party, and went ahead anyway.

And they were so incompetent in doing so, they forgot to have the golf course and furniture included in the sale.

And the cost keeps rising.

The government is still paying over $1 million per month funding the losses incurred by the hotel.

Imagine how that money could be helping Bahamians now?

So far, they boast that they have spent just $400,000 in total, providing food for those currently in need because of the pandemic.

And yet they spend more than twice as much every month, JUST on payments and losses on that empty hotel.

Then they made a desperate deal to sell the hotel.

As well as cutting down the future value of the tourism industry in the process, they were prepared to lose $30 MILLION on the sale, $30 MILLION of the Bahamian people’s money.

And the Minister of Tourism had the nerve to turn around and ask Bahamians: “Y’all worried about $30 MILLION”?

Well yes – the Bahamian people are worried about their $30 MILLION, Minister.

That $30 MILLION could have been used to cushion the impact of the current economic crisis for thousands of Bahamians.

The $100 MILLION and rising that was spent on that hotel is just under half of what the government is borrowing from the IMF.

BPL 

The chaotic mismanagement of BPL is another example of this government’s incompetence. It is tempting to recite some of the lowest moments of this whole sorry saga, but in the interests of time, Mr. Speaker, I will say just this for now:

The service from BPL remains the worst it has ever been.

The price of electricity has never been higher for Bahamian consumers.

The lawsuits, the accusations of impropriety, the vindictiveness, the secret deals: the full story remains untold.

The expensive voluntary separation packages cost BPL $70 MILLION, and the loss of years of accumulated expertise and experience.

This week, Bahamians were once again left sweating in the dark, as BPL once again failed to deliver on their promises.

They are three years into their term, yet we know they’ll blame the PLP again for their failures. The blame game is this government’s specialty, the one area in which they show creativity and imagination.

In his budget statement of some 47 pages, the Minister of Finance referred to the PLP 49 times.

His colleagues have adopted a similar approach.

To hear them speak, a stranger would be forgiven for thinking that they have just arrived in government.

Mr. Speaker:

The only enthusiasm this government shows for saving money comes in those areas of the budget that benefit ordinary Bahamians.

They swiftly cut government programmes designed to help with school uniforms, food and household expenditure.

The savings were tiny for the public purse, but the cost in human suffering very high.

And in the current budget allocation, the Ministry of Youth has just given up pretending, and has spent NOTHING for the first nine months of this fiscal year on its National Youth Policy.

BORROWING  

Mr. Speaker:

All of the graphics and charts and slick documents and fancy memes cannot disguise a basic fact: this government has spent and borrowed more than any other government in the history of The Bahamas.

That is sobering.

It is likely to produce an economic hangover that the country will take years to recover from.

The IMF Loan: It’s Minnis’ Fault  

The government has taken the dramatic step of securing a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

This is a decision that rightly concerns many Bahamians. 

The government owes us full transparency, so that the people know what is being agreed to in our name.

The government must also clarify how the $250 million loan is to be accounted for.

The Minister of Finance indicated it is to go in the budget for 2019/2020, in which case, should it not be added to the $1.3 BILLION deficit already reported?

The Minister should at the earliest possible time table the ‘Letter of Request’ signed by him and sent to the IMF.

The Government has agreed for the IMF to publish this letter and for the accompanying analysis to be published, but has neglected to bring these documents to the House.  

The Government has made several policy commitments to the IMF. 

Not meeting these commitments would have serious implications for the country.

It is vital that Bahamians understand how the Government plans to meet these obligations.

Remember the IMF:  It’s – Minnis’ – Fault!

BPL Borrowing  

Mr. Speaker, 

It is indicated that this year’s fiscal deficit would be $1.327 BILLION. 

The very next day the Prime Minister announced that, the Government will convert a Government Guaranteed facility for BPL to a direct Government obligation. 

This conversion adds another $246 MILILION to the deficit.  

On your own admission, what is the real deficit?

$1.327 BILLION as stated, plus the $250 MILLION from the IMF, plus the $246 

MILLION bailout of BPL?

That total is $1.8 BILLION.

It’s even worse than you said!

We also need to know what will be the implications of this conversion on other Government-Guaranteed Debts?

The Threat to State-Owned Enterprises 

Mr. Speaker:

The State-Owned Enterprises are referenced in the IMF documents.

They are owned by the state because they have a primary duty to provide essential services that Bahamians need.

We want to make sure that they are efficient, and effective and as well-run as possible, but even when they are, they are unlikely to make a profit.

That is not what they are there for.

That is the difference between a company making profits for its shareholders, and a state-owned enterprise providing an essential service to its people.

Bahamasair is a case in point.

It will never be profitable for Bahamasair to fly to our less–populated islands. But as an archipelago we need to connect our islands, otherwise we abandon our fellow Bahamians to second and third class status in our country.

This is unconscionable, and will forever prevent sustainable development for those communities.

The government needs to be straight with the Bahamian people.

They forecast earnings for the year to be $1.762 BILLION.

And they forecast their expenses at $2.574 BILLION.

We are not able to discern from this budget, how the government is going to finance this shortfall.

Managing Development Bank Funding  

Your management of Development Bank funding is inept at best.

You would see from this budget Development Bank loans, with no disbursements, for the first nine months of this year. 

This is not inspiring to lenders.

Why pay commitment fees on undisbursed funds?

The perfect example is the loan to convert streetlight bulbs to LED bulbs.  This 

loan was approved by the CDB in December 2018, and yet to date there has been no disbursement.  

For development banks to be a credible funding source in this crisis, disbursement must be timely.  In any event, no development institution offers budget support loans; that is the domain of the IMF.  

Recurrent Revenue in this upcoming budget only accounts for 57% of total expenditure, so the Government would need funds to pay salaries, buy medicine, pay for gas, and support the state-owned enterprises.

HURRICANE DORIAN & COVID-19: FNM FAILURE VS PLP APPROACH

Mr. Speaker:

The government has yet to give a full account of the circumstances surrounding their handling of Hurricane Dorian.

They have an obligation to do so.

Our system also requires them to give a full account for their handling of the 

Covid-19 pandemic, including the use of the Emergency Orders.

We will not allow the government to escape these obligations.

Mr. Speaker:

After Hurricane Dorian, this administration abandoned the existing framework for hurricane response, which has been in place since Hurricane Andrew, and replaced it with confusion. 

For example, in the past there was a Hurricane Recovery Committee which was traditionally comprised of representatives of the private sector.  This Committee oversaw the fundraising for and disbursements from the Disaster Relief Fund, including the full rebuilding of homes. 

In addition, all assistance to the public from the Treasury was overseen by independent accounting firms. 

Disbursements for any material or funding for labour contracts were approved and prepared for by an accounting firm. The firm — for example, KPMG in the case of Grand Bahama after Hurricane Matthew — prepared the voucher and payment. 

So when the Minister of Finance says the PLP administration did not account for funds used after Hurricane Matthew, he is entirely wrong.

He is also denigrating the efforts of the many Bahamians in the private sector who worked with the PLP to rebuild this country after Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew.

HURRICANE DORIAN

Mr. Speaker,

This budget does not include a plan to rebuild Grand Bahama and Abaco.

What is the government thinking?

Do they intend for people to continue suffering?

The Prime Minister’s current budget for Hurricane Dorian restoration has an allocation of $1.9 million. 

Through the end of March 2020, only $191,000 has been spent.

Why are they holding up the money?

Hurricane season is already here, and many of the places designated as Official Shelters cannot withstand any storm, let alone a hurricane. 

What if there are new virus cases, and at the same time, people need to seek shelter – will they be able to do so safely, or will they be jammed close together in shelters? 

It is the government’s responsibility to plan for such scenarios.

Instead we see mismanagement on a colossal scale.

International agencies have complained about the government’s ineptitude.

This is a moral failure as well as a governing failure.

We still don’t know how many lives were lost in Dorian.

Looking forward, we have agencies with overlapping responsibility and an absence of independent and professional oversight of the use of public and private funds.

The next time that we are hit by a hurricane, will the world be as eager to come to our assistance?

This government has recklessly squandered the nation’s reputation.

COVID-19

Mr. Speaker:

It is true that this pandemic represents a very difficult challenge.  It is also true that the member from Killarney, has at nearly every opportunity, made a terrible situation worse. 

Bahamians will not forget the chaotic rollout of the Emergency Orders, or the special treatment for foreigners and insiders, or the neglect of the Family Islands. 

Given the extraordinary sacrifices made by Bahamians during months of lockdowns and curfews, at the very least, they deserved to know that government policies were being made and enforced fairly and without favour.

Yet nearly from the start, Bahamians came to believe that there was one set of rules for FNM insiders and another set of rules for everyone else.

Mr. Speaker,

The advice of the experts on the PLP Task Force has not changed since the start of the crisis: Test. Trace. Isolate. 

Months later, we still lack the ability to conduct widespread testing.

We still don’t have a robust national system for contact tracing.

If there is a surge of positive test results, we still don’t have the ability to isolate everyone who tests positive.

The government still hasn’t taken steps to protect Bahamians who are most vulnerable to the virus.

Nor have they provided sufficient additional resources to our doctors and nurses and clinics.

The people of The Bahamas paid a very steep price in order to give the government the gift of time. Yet the government has not prepared to re-open safely.

In many parts of the United States, including in nearby Florida, cases are surging, rather than diminishing.

What will happen if visitors bring the virus inside our country?

COVID can be spread by people without fever or other symptoms.

It is easy to imagine how a visitor with the virus could transmit it to a hotel employee, who could then bring it home to their family.

It could spread undetected in our communities for days before the first warning signs appear.  

What happens then?

How many Bahamians would become sick?

How many first responders put at risk?

What would be the human toll?

And what would that scenario mean for our reputation and economy? 

Mr. Speaker: I don’t see anything in this budget that acknowledges this possibility, let alone plans for it. 

I have been in favour of reopening – but in favour of doing it right.

I want to know, in particular, what is this government planning to do in the next two weeks, ahead of July 1st, to increase our ability to test for the virus?

The clock is ticking. 

It is the government’s responsibility to prevent us from facing the worst of all worlds.

We may only receive a small number of visitors, so we may only benefit from only a small positive impact on our economy.

This small benefit could then translate into a potentially large increase in risk and exposure to the virus. 

Mr. Speaker:

There is no funding in the budget for a rental assistance programme. 

What is going to happen when the embargo for evictions is lifted? 

How many families will lose their homes because this government did not care and did not plan?

The tax deferment and credit programme was projected to provide $60 million in benefits for medium and large businesses over a three-month period to save jobs.

It has provided only $5.7 million in benefits to date, which is roughly $1,000 per job according to the Minister’s statistics. 

The programme may have saved some minimum wage jobs, but what about middle-class jobs?  Instead of rethinking this programme, the Minister of Finance continues to claim the Government is providing sufficient relief through this programme.

FAVOURITISM & SPECIAL INTERESTS

Mr. Speaker:

Three years in, this government still has no vision, no policies, and no plans for how to make life better for Bahamians. 

Many Bahamians are sitting at home right now who are unemployed, not due to the current pandemic or the hurricane, but because of this government’s heartless firing of Bahamian workers over the past three years.

The government claimed that it needed to cut costs, yet during that same period, government contracts were doled out left and right to political cronies.

During Hurricane Dorian, the entire country watched as this administration dragged its feet when it came to rescuing and providing vital support to the people of Abaco and Grand Bahama immediately following the hurricane.

But who could forget how quick they were to assign their politically-tainted henchmen to key positions in the recovery efforts?

Even in the middle of a natural disaster, this government focused on handing out political rewards.

This is the bureaucratic mess that the Member for Elizabeth referred to in his budget contribution.

It is a shame that his conscience was not activated while he was serving as Minister of Health.

Then, he was in a position  to influence the decision, or at the very least bring it to public attention by resigning because of it.

COMPASSION

Mr. Speaker:

We have lost track of the number of times during this debate, that members of the government have triumphantly proclaimed that they are ‘a caring government’.

They seem to think that, if they keep repeating it, somehow this will make it true. 

Mr. Speaker this is what their compassion looks like:

55 dead bodies in a trailer in Abaco for 8 months.

55 coffins in the first mass burial in living memory in The Bahamas, with the 

Prime Minister not even bothering to attend to pay his respects.

With mourners, possibly family members of the 55 victims forced to stand out in the hot sun in the street, well away from the last rites, while the dignitaries sat under a tent.

That is not what a compassionate government does.

CONCLUSION

Mr. Speaker:

As I bring this contribution to a close, I note that in just three years’ time, we will be celebrating fifty years of Independence.

The promise of Independence was more than just freedom from colonial rule.

It was also the promise of self-determination, the right to lead lives of dignity and purpose.

It was the promise of unlocking, for the first time, real economic opportunity for the majority of the people of The Bahamas.

As we approach this 50th Anniversary of our independent nation, we must not allow the clock to be turned back.

As I said at the beginning of my contribution, this is a very serious time for our country. And the many crises we now face deserve to be met with competence and compassion.

Sadly, the choices made in this present budget do not provide evidence of either.

This budget falls far, far short, in meeting the expectations of the business community, the government’s lenders and the Bahamian people.

And the biggest moral failure of this government is not in what they say, but in what they neglect to do: They offer the same old same old when innovation is required. They think small instead of planning big. They offer a description of what’s wrong instead of a prescription to make it better.

Mr. Speaker:

In the Progressive Liberal Party’s very first platform, we pledged to be a party that “dedicated itself to the service of all Bahamians, not a privileged few.”

That remains our mission today.

The Progressive Liberal Party will not allow this FNM government to mortgage our futures: not for the mistakes of this government, not to the wealthy backers of this government, and not to those special interests who have for too long kept the power of their economic knees on the necks of the people of this country.

The government must tread carefully and wisely.

If they act beyond the mandate they have on loan from the people, they will very quickly find that they may be in government, but not in power.

The government should know that, ultimately, they must bend to the will of the Bahamian people, otherwise they will break.

Our party will continue to stand with all Bahamians of goodwill to defend our prize of Independence.

Mr. Speaker:

This budget is a mess.

It is light on truth, and heavy on spin.

It does not speak to the present crisis.

It offers no vision, no credible policies and no plans for the way forward. 

When all is said and done, it is not the people’s time.

I offer this contribution in the name of the noble people of Cat Island, Rum Cay & San Salvador, and on behalf of Bahamians everywhere.

END