Minnis rejects criticisms of traveling on public purse

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis.

PM: I will continue to travel to Family Islands

 

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – While rejecting the assertion from the opposition that his travels to the Family Islands have been “political campaigning on the public purse”, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said he will continue to travel to the various islands of The Bahamas as part of his administration’s commitment to engage, advise and empower the residents of those communities.

“When we came in, I made a solemn commitment to the Bahamian populous that when there are national events, after budget or any matters that are of concern, especially to The Bahamas, we are not Nassau centric,” Minnis advised the media during a press conference Saturday at the Lynden Pindling International Airport.

“It is essential that the Family Islanders know too and I will go through the various different islands explaining those particular national issues; how we came to those decisions; how we spend their money, etc.

“…We live in a bubble in insolation and many believe Nassau is The Bahamas, very Nassau centric, and we believe when I speak here that Andros is listening, [and] Cat Island is listening [for example].

“We are wrong. When we go through [the islands] you would be surprised that people don’t have the proper communication.

“You’d be surprised that Cable Bahamas is not shown in that particular area of the settlement or island.

“You would be surprised that they don’t have ZNS, so going through they are more than happy to welcome their prime minister who comes through… showing an interest and explaining what is happening throughout The Bahamas.

“They are now understanding that The Bahamas is not Nassau. It is not Nassau, and that is a commitment we made, and I will continue.

“The opposition is not accustomed to it.

“Now, when they talk about election, whenever we call election, then you will see what campaigning is all about.”

The opposition has been highly critical of the prime minister’s town meetings in various Family Islands since the last general election, accusing him of campaigning on the taxpayers’ dollars.

Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis said the prime minister ought to bring certain matters and announcements to the House of Assembly.

The prime minister recently travelled to South Eleuthera for a town meeting where he announced that the government had signed a heads of agreement with Disney Cruise Lines for the planned development of a cruise port at Lighthouse Point.

The media was not invited nor advised of the signing on March 7.

The agreement was tabled in Parliament last Wednesday.

At the time, Minnis said he will not apologize for breaking the news first to Eleutherans, adding that it was done that way “out of respect” for those residents who will be impacted by the development.

 

Travel

Dr. Minnis has committed to disclose ministers’ travel costs, but to date, the government has yet to provide that a report on travel for 2017 or 2018.

The prime minister first made the pledge following a three-day trip to Texas last January.

Press Secretary Anthony Newbold previously said the government was looking into travel expenses of government officials under the former administration with a view to providing a report on it.

No such report or update on the report has been made available.

The Minnis administration increased the allocation for “Travel and Subsistence” in the 2018/2019 budget and the following two fiscal periods, according to the budget.

The government budgeted $8.88 million for travel and subsistence in 2018/2019, $220,000 more than in the previously fiscal year.

The allocation for this fiscal period is also $1.26 million more than the Christie administration allocated in 2016/2017.

The government expects to allocate $8.95 million in 2019/2019 and another $9.09 million in 2020/2021.

However, the government has said the increased allocations reflect proper budgeting of the expenses, rather than actual increases of travel by the government.

The budget also shows that In the Office of the Prime Minister, the allocation for travel and subsistence more than tripled, from $100,000 in 2017/2-18 to $424,000 in 2018/2019.

Last year, the prime minister also led delegations to Peru to attend the Summit of the Americas, and England to attend the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

In January, Minnis led a delegation on a two-date trip to Brussels, Belgium to meet with high-ranking officials of the European Commission to express the government’s commitment to the financial services sector.

It is unclear how much the government has spent travelling to the Family Islands.