NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Just moments after Finance Minister K. Peter Turnquest delivered the government’s 2019/2020 Budget Communication in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, Chester Cooper, the deputy leader of the Opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), said Turnquest did not give budget to uplift the Bahamian people or shift the economy.
In fact, Cooper questioned how was it that the government missed its fiscal targets, with no increase in value added tax and a 10 per cent cut across the board for all government agencies.
“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,” said Cooper at a press conference held in the Minority Room at the House of Assembly.
Cooper said the budget is a tale of epic failure as the government increased VAT by 60 percent, but only collected 21 percent more in VAT revenue.
“The modelling and implementation [of VAT] was simply disastrous,” said Cooper, who also serves at the Opposition’s shadow minister of Finance.
Cooper also noted that with a robust U.S. economy that led to improved tourism numbers, a booming Baha Mar Resort – thanks to PLP policies- no hurricanes, increased borrowing and no taxes, the FNM administration still could not meet its growth projections.
“How pitiful; what a failure,” Cooper said, adding that in an effort to reach its target, the country has suffered.
He noted that despite the government’s “pandering to the IMF,” the government has still outspent its recurrent expenditure estimates.
He said one wonders what happened to the 10 percent cut across the board, adding that 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,” Cooper said.
“Schools, hospitals, roads, docks, bridges, major infrastructure have been neglected because of the arrogance of this administration.”
According to Cooper, the government has purchased fleets of cars, bought failed hotels and took lavish trips abroad when it promised only to travel when necessary.
“Police cannot get raises, nurses cannot get sorted, teachers go without the tools necessary to do their jobs, all while the government fiddles and boasts about moving a post office that enriched a member of Cabinet.”
Cooper said the government continues to put numbers before people and the 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,” Cooper said.
“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.”