PLP RESPONSE TO 2019/2020 BUDGET COMMUNICATION
CHESTER COOPER, PLP DEPUTY LEADER, EXUMAS AND RAGGED ISLAND MP
MAY 29, 2019
This administration is an unmitigated and abysmal failure.
What we can categorically say about this latest budget is that the FNM’s strategy of taxing, borrowing and focusing on putting numbers over people has inflicted untold pain and suffering on the Bahamian people.
Today we heard a lot of gibberish. We heard nothing to uplift the Bahamian people. There has been no announcement of growth opportunities or relief to the Bahamian people as their quality of life diminished. The poor continues to catch eternal hell at the hands of this uncaring government. It’s no wonder the level of union unrest is unprecedented.
As expected, this administration has not met its own flawed revenue projections. In the face of their almost $240m shortfall, their reckless abandonment of the Revenue Enhancement Unit amplifies the colossal failure of this administration. For the love of country, we hate to say that we told them so, but we did tell them.
This administration has starved capital spending that could have benefitted thousands of Bahamians to attempt, and ultimately fail, to meet a deficit target that made little empirical sense.
And what is sadder still, is that this administration seeks to stay this nonsensical course in the hope that some magic may happen.
Whilst they boast of meeting their deficit target, we note vendors and contractors across the country who complain of not being paid. We therefore look forward to comparing year over year when the books close in October / November as the minister did in prior years.
Further, in the face of the minister’s transparency soap box, we question how the Minister will collect an average of $250m per month in the last two months when it only received an average of $190m over the first ten months.
We see more of the same from this administration, particularly the absence of any plan to grow the economy.
Perhaps if this government had bothered to consult with key stakeholders at any point over the past two years, it would not find itself and the Bahamian people in this position.
The poor and the middle class have suffered over this past year, while this administration catered to special interests.
Perhaps had his administration not reduced taxes for those special interests and gave VAT refund to special interests on Grand Bahama, the revenue targets would have been met.
Perhaps had this administration not mishandled BPL, the cost of living would have eased, not increase substantially.
The minister of finance made great fanfare last year about the Fiscal Responsibility Act, but judging from today’s numbers, we will examine in due course whether this administration will violate its own requirements it foolishly built into legislation.
Despite the pandering to the IMF, the government has still outspent its recurrent expenditure estimates.
One wonders what happened to the 10 percent cut across the board.
It was likely just more talk by this administration, to make themselves seem competent.
To try and come close to its deficit target, capital expenditure has suffered.
Schools, hospitals, roads, docks, bridges, major infrastructure have been neglected because of the arrogance of this administration.
The government purchases fleets of cars and buys failed hotels and takes lavish trips abroad when it promised only to travel when necessary.
Vendors go unpaid while the government hires private law firms of the donor class to fight lawsuits.
Police cannot get raises, nurses cannot get sorted, teachers go without the tool necessary to do their jobs, all while the government fiddles and boasts about moving a post office that enriched a member of Cabinet.
This government talks of fiscal responsibility and transparency, but we wish for them to inform us of the status of the overdraft facility at the Royal Bank of Canada.
What limit is it now at?
What interest rate is it charging the Bahamian people?
The tourism minister boasts of record arrival numbers while unemployment remains in double digits.
The government believes that somehow its reckless course on the VAT increase will correct itself, when it is apparent the VAT increase has dampened economic growth. They increased VAT by 60% but only collected 21% more VAT revenue. This budget is a tale of epic failure. The modelling and implementation was simply disastrous.
Where are the prognosticators of a rebounded economy now that growth expectations have not been met? GDP growth of 1.6% fell significantly short of the touted 2.5% projection.
With a robust U.S. economy that led to improved tourism numbers, a booming Baha Mar thanks to PLP policies, no hurricanes, increased borrowing and taxes, this administration still could not meet its growth projections.
How pitiful; what a failure.
Where is the government to boast about the private sector stimulating job growth now that thousands of students leave school this month?
What are they to do?
Who will employ them?
Will it be the gaming industry?
That was one of the few sectors that had positive growth in the last year, according to the Department of Statistics.
And it is the one black-owned industry in this country that the government has openly admitted it wants to cripple.
This government should be ashamed.
Not only has it done nothing of positive note, but it has enacted an assault on the livelihood of the Bahamian people and has brought little if any relief for the poor.
What is true is that no matter what the FNM professes, debt is still increasing, borrowing is still increasing, spending on things that don’t benefit the people is still happening.
This government, despite all its talk of old bills, borrowed like a drunken sailor, increased recurrent expenditure by $246m, increased the debt to GDP ratio from 54.4% in 2016/2017 to 58.2% in 2018/2019 and the national debt increased to $8.2bn.
But the bottom line is this – the Bahamian people don’t care about numbers and charts and comedy sketches to try and explain away our fiscal situation.
The people know they don’t have money in their pockets.
The people know their children can’t find jobs.
The people know they still struggle to pay their bills, and sometimes they can’t.
The people know their quality of life diminishes and the VAT increase has driven inflation up dramatically.
This administration has abandoned the most basic duty of good governance – to care for the citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas; to not inflict harm.
It is a tragedy, no matter the spin.
And where in all of this failure is the prime minister?
Has he abdicated his responsibility to steer the course of this nation?
Is he busy cooking up a fresh pot of stew fish while his minister of finance doubles down on a proven course of neglect of the Bahamian people?
We had warned this administration that we would not support this budget unless there was a dramatic shift in direction.
They consistently put numbers before people.
We see more of the same, no relief for the poor.
The people deserve better.
But I think now that it is apparent to all that this administration no longer governs for the people, but for the select few who believe it is their right to be fattened at the government trough.
In summary, we listened to three hours of words, more of the same, nothing to uplift the Bahamian people. It is devoid of hope. This administration continues its folly of putting numbers before the people. What about the people? When will it be the people’s time?