Row erupts over finances in HOA

Speaker of the House, Halson Moultrie.

Speaker orders Hansard staff to shut Davis’ mic off

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – A heated exchange erupted between Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest, over what the minister called the fiscal mismanagement of taxpayers’ dollars in The Bahamas under the previous administration, with Davis lashing back at Turnquest, insisting that he was misleading Parliament and the public to paint a rosier picture of the government.

At one point, Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie ordered that Davis’ microphone be turned off as he refused to yield to the request of the chair.

Debate on the budget began in the House of Assembly yesterday.

Leading off the debate, pointing to what he called the fiscal mismanagement of the Progressive Liberal Party, charging that during the party’s five-year term it registered an aggregate deficit of just under $2.4 billion, almost $500 million per year.

“To put that in perspective, no prior Bahamian government had even remotely come close to posting deficits on that scale,” Turnquest said.

He added, “Despite the disaster that was their fiscal record — the same record they never reference when speaking about this government — they are now feigning concern over the fiscal health of the country.

“Where was the opposition’s fiscal hawkishness when they were in government.

“They are… exposed Mr. Speaker, with much to say about fiscal rectitude when in opposition.”

Davis shot to his feet on a point of order and contended that the actual deficit, and not the “manufactured deficit” was $545.2 million in

There were objections from the governing side, but Davis continued.

“No Mr. Speaker, I am correcting him,” he said.

“I have asked for a point of order. In the year 2012/2013, the actual deficit was $545.2 million, which Mr. Speaker do not include all the unpaid bills that we met left in the draw. Point of order Mr. Speaker.

Moultrie pointed out that Turnquest made reference to the average deficit, while Davis was speaking to specifics.

He advised him to expound during his contribution.

Davis persisted, however, that Turnquest’s claims were “far from the truth” and could be evidenced.

He said, “No Mr. Speaker [because] by the time I speak people are going to forget, and I might forget, so I am correcting him now.

“If he is wrong now and is misleading us now, I am going to correct it now, and I have the right Mr. Speaker. I would hope you would allow that. The truth matters Mr. Speaker.”

As he continued to outline the budget deficits, ignoring the requests from the speaker to yield, Moultrie ordered, “In the Hansard booth, can you turn off the microphone of the member for Cat Island, Rum Cay and San San Salvador.”

St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette chimed that Davis’ intervention was not a point of order and if could not remember the point during his contribution “that’s his problem”.

Turnquest insisted the public should not be confused by misinformation spewed by the opposition.

Pointing at Davis, the minister said, “Nobody comes in here to call anybody a liar because if you want to go that route, I can say some things about you; yes you.”

 

Willing partner

 

Turnquest said the decisions made in the 2019/2020 budget demonstrate to the Bahamian people have a “willing partner” in the government, which he noted was in the early stages of implementing critical and long-overdue structural reforms.

He said while this may not be glamorous or lend itself to “easy slogans” used by the opposition’s “propaganda machine”, they are important to The Bahamas’ success in an ultracompetitive global marketplace.

The minister underscored the projected deficit of $137 million in the upcoming budget, the lowest deficit to GDP ratio in The Bahamas, if achieved, in a decade.

“Unfortunately, the opposition would not know about these kinds of standards,” he said.

“They are more used to setting records like recording four consecutive credit downgrades and leading The Bahamas to junk bond status on the international credit market.

“Their track record includes $920 million in unrecorded bills to Bahamian and international vendors, running up unprecedented deficits and destroying the country’s fiscal health, and reputation.”

He said the 2019/2020 budget reflects the government’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, a holistic approach to taxation to reduce the burden on the poor, citizen empowerment and a sustainable approach to economic growth.

According to the minister, the Minnis administration has continued to improve the business process in The Bahamas to incentivize more entrepreneurship, execute sound management of the country’s fiscal affairs, while expanding its socio-economic agenda to “break the cycle of government dependency”.

Between July 2018 and April 2019, the government secured approximately $1.9 billion in total revenue, with value-added tax collections totaling around $69.3 million for the period — an increase of 21.5 percent over the previous fiscal period and around 66 percent of the budgeted amount.

The government anticipates a revenue shortfall of $240 million of its projected revenue target.

This was largely attributed to the new agreement with the gaming operators, the delayed implementation of the Revenue Enhancement Unit and the concessions granted to hotels and contractors with respect to the introduction of the VAT hike last July, from 7.5 percent to 12 percent.

Despite the shortfall, revenue increased by $373 million in 2018/2019, while on the expenditure front, total outlays came in at $2.6 billion, $259.1 million below the budgeted amount of the year.

 

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