BY CHESTER COOPER, PLP DEPUTY LEADER, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER
The budget communication presented by the prime minister today demonstrates that the Minnis administration is living in an alternate reality.
This administration is clearly not equipped to provide the country with a path out of our crisis.
After our consistent advice, we had hoped that this budget communication would have begun the conversation on the type of reform and reset required for a new day in our country and our economy, but it has fallen short.
Instead, this is a budget which presents nothing to measurably confront the dire situation we are in. It frankly lacks credibility.
It appears to build upon the weak policy and a lack of strategy that undergirded the previous budget.
The reality on the ground is that unemployment is still sky-high and Bahamians are catching eternal hell.
In the face of the greatest fiscal crises in the modern Bahamas, this budget is weak on solutions.
There is a looming debt crisis because of the levels of borrowing, weak negotiations and the onerous terms of loans undertaken by this administration; with no plan articulated to address this with urgency.
What is incredibly disappointing, is that when you strip away the hypocritical boasting, taking credit for PLP projects like Bahamar, the Pointe, Air Space Management and the Family Island Development Act, and the long wordy presentation, there is no plan, no big new ideas, no strategy for economic growth, no bigger vision for our future.
We once again heard more short-term thinking – because the government is focused on its own short-term survival instead of changing the country.
As we grapple with a debt to GDP ratio of 100% and an economy that has contracted by 25 percent under this administration’s watch, we are asked to accept a wait and see budget.
Wait and see if the cruise ships come back soon and the tourism numbers return to 2019 levels.
Wait and see if the economy can grow faster than our debt.
Wait and see how the election turns out before administering any real medicine for what ails us.
Wait and see if another downgrade befalls us in short order.
The pandemic has only made the failures of the last four years of fiscal mismanagement by the Minnis administration clearer.
They began with no strategy other than blame the PLP.
Then they blamed Irma.
They were missing their own budget projections before Dorian, before COVID.
They were holding back on collecting taxes on the wealthy while raising VAT by 60 percent – this was terrible as a matter of fairness and it was bad for the economy, too.
We acknowledge that Dorian and COVID have had an adverse impact.
However, they blamed the pandemic for their failed policies that made matters worse.
The competent authority closed businesses in a non-scientific approach, harming sector of the economy that could have been generating revenue.
Their response was not robust enough and not swift enough.
The World Bank in its recent release noted that The Bahamas has suffered one of the most severe economic contraction in the Caribbean.
We agree; and it didn’t have to be this bad.
None of these external shocks prevented this government from orchestrating a growth or debt management strategy, which they have not.
It appears they have allowed the lessons of these crises to go to waste.
Now they will seek to be congratulated for borrowing to prop up reserves, to spend money during the pandemic and in the run-up to an election. In short, lots of borrowing with very little to show.
To date, we can only go off what the Minnis administration tells us about pandemic spending as they refuse to table anything that accounts for it.
They also missed the required report of the Fiscal Responsibility Council that was due by March 2021.
They are not transparent or accountable and they consistently break their own laws.
We have a very rough road ahead of us.
We are racking up foreign debt that will come due in a few years.
We note that the government has been granted a $100 million emergency loan from the World Bank.
We don’t trust the FNM, as they are desperately poor negotiators. We call on them to table the particulars of this and all other new loan agreements in the House of Assembly. The raft of policy-based loans to fund the budget will make it difficult for future administrations to implement strategic reforms.
What we learned today is that the Minnis administration still has no credible plan for actual economic resilience or acceleration, only more piecemeal approaches.As expected, there were a few tax exemptions, tax relief for the rich and other election promises; from an administration who has no credibility in keeping its promises.
Unfortunately, they are a day late and a billion dollars short.
The Economic Recovery Committee gave a wish list of ideas, but that does not constitute a plan and very little has been done by way of implementation.
This administration has failed to seize opportunity out of this crisis. And the Bahamian people will unfortunately bear the brunt of this administration’s lack of vision and political games.
What we really need in this country is big, transformative changes. We need to invest in our people and our communities, in new industries, and in our future.The PLP has a strong and innovative plan which can serve as a blueprint for economic recovery.
I hope everyone takes a look – go to plpbahamas.org. And you will see that there is a better way forward.