Roberts: Bahamas Budget charts course for a brighter future

PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts....

Bahamians everywhere who had every reason to look through a glass darkly just two years ago have reasons for optimism as the government’s budget charts a course for a brighter future through fiscal reform, economic growth and jobs creation.

On behalf of the Progressive Liberal Party, I thank the government under the leadership of the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie for its patience, focus and tenacity in navigating this country out of very treacherous waters and dire straits over the past two years. I share the optimism of the Prime Minister and thousands of Bahamians that the country has turned the corner and is in recovery mode.

The budgetary deficit which exceeded $500 million just two years ago has been cut by more than $200 million; the economy is finally adding net jobs after a protracted period of bleeding; the government’s fiscal consolidation and reform plans are bearing fruit as there is a clear and critical path to reducing the deficit and bring unsustainable borrowing under control. I applauded the work of the government in reversing years of tourism decline and economic stagnation in Grand Bahama; revitalizing the tourism product generally, especially sports, religious and wedding tourism; addressing the training needs of our workforce through the NTA and aggressively tackling the huge and vexing food import bill with BAMSI while diversifying the economy. The dark clouds of 2012 are now producing a silver lining as we move forward.

On the issue of tax reform, the record shows that as far back as 2001, the government of The Bahamas has participated in consultations on tax reform as a necessary component of the government’s sustained fiscal policy reform efforts. Institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Coalition for Responsible Taxation; consultants from the Bahamas Hotel Association and consultants from both New Zealand and the United States in arriving at its proposed tax reform model in the name of Value Added Tax.

The Prime Minister demonstrated extraordinary strength of leadership, patience, temperance and was very transparent as he listened to, consulted with and brought along the private sector every step of the way in this process.

I applaud the government for posting the results of the various tax studies on the government’s official website; this is consistent with the culture of transparency and accountability.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Ministry of National Security are to be commended for the myriad of programs implemented and vast resources allocated in their relentless fight against crime. However, the  scourge of violent crimes continue to claim the lives of too many of our young men, depriving the country of precious intellectual capital and always poses a threat to the economic growth and stability of our nation. To this end I call on the government to reintroduce the National Youth Restorative Program as far as current budgetary constraints would permit. The social partnership with the Catholic Church and Y.E.A.S.T. formed a workable intervention model and the government must leave no stone unturned in reaching out to our at-risk youth in the fight against crime and anti-social behavior.

In all of this, the leader of the opposition is on record conceding that the country’s tax policy is in need of reform – but notwithstanding this admission – he proudly proclaimed that he and his party are “not on the VAT train.” He later indicated to the media that if he ever became Prime Minister, he would reverse VAT. I wish to publicly challenge him on these two proclamations: Firstly, Hubert Minnis must publicly and categorically state on what proverbial train he and his party are riding and secondly, in the absence of VAT, he must present his plan to grow government revenue given the increased fiscal pressure and demands on government operations.

We all know that Minnis has a clear record on how to preside over job losses (some 15,000 between 2007 and 2012) and running up the national debt and deficits (by some $2 billion between 2007 and 2012 and a whopping $500 million in one fiscal year), but to date he remains clueless on how to grow the economy, create jobs, improve government revenue and draw down the out-of-control budgetary deficits that he and his party left behind in 2012. If Minnis has a plan, it is the best kept secret in The Bahamas because nobody knows where he stands on anything.

Under the leadership of Dr. Minnis, the FNM has distinguished itself for not only flip flopping on virtually every major policy issue, but has opposed the government’s proposed policies at every turn for the sake of opposing because Dr. Minnis and the hapless FNM have failed to craft and articulate one alternative policy position to the ones they are so quick to oppose. His basic message to the Bahamian people is to put him in charge of the country first and he will try to figure out the solutions after the fact. I’m afraid that’s not good enough because airlines and shipping companies do not hire pilots and captains who are both blind and lost.

In the end, the country’s economy was pulled from the fiscal cliff and many Key Performance Indicators are now projecting in the right direction, thanks to the determination and the tough, but necessary policy decisions of the Prime Minister and his government. Our best days are indeed ahead of us.