DPM: $18.9 million travel budget inflated due to reporting error

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The increase in the allocation in the upcoming budget for travel and subsistence from $8.95 million to $18.93 — an increase of $5.4 million — was partly the result of a “reporting error”, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said yesterday.

As he led-off the budget debate in the House of Assembly, Turnquest said the increase in the line item was mostly the result of the salaries for Urban Renewal, which should have been captured under the Department of Social Services, was “mistakenly added to the air transport line item under travel and subsistence”.

The error accounted for $3.5 million of the total increase in air transport for domestic travel, the minister explained.

He continued, “Apart from that, the overall increase in ‘travel & subsistence’ is not due to an immense increase in any one item, but instead reflects incremental increases across all ministries, and in some cases, right budgeting.

“For example, the Royal Bahamas Police Force had budgeted $350,000 for air transportation for domestic travel, but had spent $393,180 in the nine months to March.

“This clearly shows that what they had budgeted was not sufficient to meet their needs and as a result of employing right budgeting for 2019/2020, their allocation for air transportation has increased to $509,200.

Turnquest said similarly the allocation for domestic air travel for the Royal Bahamas Defense Force — $112,000 — was used up by the end of March.

Up to that point, the RBDF has already spent $170,000, “representing a mismatch of provisions with real needs”.

The government has allocated $190,000 for domestic air travel for the RBDF in the upcoming budget.

“This is right and proper budgeting; making realistic estimates based on the actual needs of any one department,” Turnquest said.

“In addition, some ministries may have reflected a large increase in travel allocations due to the fact that under the new chart of accounts, some line items would have been grouped together, that may have been recorded separately in previous budgets.

“For example, in the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture all of the travel for the National Arts Festival, National Youth Month, the National Cultural Festival, and a number of other cultural festivals were consolidated under air transportation for domestic travel under this ministry.

“Thus, the increase in their travel and subsistence figures would look substantial, but in actuality does not reflect a real increase in the allocation.”

The ministry will receive $541,975 for domestic travel in the upcoming budget, up from the $21,000 in the current fiscal year.

The allocation for international travel also increased from $7,600 to $17,100, the budget reflects.

Turnquest added, “In fact, this was the case for a number of line items in this budget, apart from travel allocations.

“So, when you see a huge increase from year-to-year, it may not necessarily indicate that more money is being spent on that line item, but simply that a number of initiatives, projects, programs, and departments are now included under said line item.”

In the Office of the Prime Minister for example, the allocation for domestic travel is expected to rise from $74,000 to $256,000, and international travel to increase by $50,000 – $350,000 to $400,000.

Travel in the Department of Local Government for 2019/2020 is forecasted at $328,700, up from $157,000 budget this fiscal period.

According to the budget, domestic travel in the Ministry of Finance for the upcoming budget is $159,505, up from the $97,700. International travel in the ministry, however, is expected to decline from $682,000 to $639,540.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force is projected to spend $1.25 million on ‘travel and subsistence’ in the upcoming budget, up from the $1.08 budgeted during this period.