REMARKS BY HON. PHILIP “BRAVE” DAVIS M.P.
22nd SEPTEMBER, 2010
RESOLUTION TO BORROW $58,000,000 TO BUILD ‘SEGMENT ONE’ OF THE AIRPORT HIGHWAY
Mr. Speaker, the Member for North Abaco is famed for saying “I say what I mean and mean what I say!” He touts all around this country that he is a man of his word.
Against this backdrop I take this opportunity to remind this Honourable House of the words of the Honourable Member just three months ago during the 2010-2011 budget debate. He said and I quote:
“This is a Budget that contains the most significant structural fiscal action of any Budget in recent years, with the overriding objective of enhancing the nation’s economic prospects by putting its fiscal house in order on a sustained basis. I want to stress that the fiscal targets and budget strategy that will so engage us now have relevance and meaning because they are essential to the economic welfare of our people. Failure to act would jeopardize our solid reputation as an attractive destination for foreign investment, would subject us to much higher borrowing costs and would dampen prospects for stronger growth and higher standards of living. We cannot and we will not fail.
“Accordingly, this Budget begins to aggressively redress public finances now, by containing the growth of Government debt this coming year and beginning to move the debt-to-GDP ratio back to more prudent and desirable levels over the medium term. We are fully aware that it will now take some time to do this, given the extraordinary measures that we had to take in the crisis. This Budget sets explicit debt targets for the two succeeding years beyond 2010/11, clearly indicating reductions in the debt-to-GDP ratio over that period.” (Pages 3- 4)
These are the words of North Abaco. These are not our words or those of the economists. His words are clear. The meanings are precise. Yet today we are debating a resolution to approve a loan for $60 Million for road works. This is clearly another blatant case of this FNM Government saying one thing and doing another. It is their modus operandi.
Can the Government truly say that it is putting its fiscal house in order? Where is the containment of Government debt that North Abaco spoke about? Where is the economic miracle that occurred over the last three months to justify such borrowings? When will enough be enough!
If the government proceeds with this loan they will increase the national debt by another $58million. Perhaps Members will recall that the Government’s Department of Statistics has recently indicated that the debt to GDP ratio was closer to 55% and not the under 50% that the Government touted in the 2010- 2011 budget communication. With another $58million road building loan it goes even higher.
It is time to do away with the voodoo economics that serves to provide financial opportunities for a select handful of Bahamians well connected to the real powers that be in the FNM at the expense of generations to come. Even a blind man can see that this does not make sense! Not now! The haemorrhaging must stop! It must stop now!
It is very evident that the proposed borrowing will increase the national debt but do they care, Mr. Speaker? They clearly do not!
The fact is that the Government has already borrowed $120million for roads. When are we to see the $120 million worth of improvements? Traffic is still backed up all over town. It some cases its worse than before. The only people who have benefitted are the same one or two companies that sell most of the asphalt and raw materials in our market.
Mr. Speaker, they could find $26million to pay over to the twenty owners of the new port on Arawak Cay. This Government is all about lining the pockets of the wealthy. These are the persons receiving Government payouts and subsidies while the rest of us are being saddled with taxes taxes taxes. We pay they receive, spend and play!
By the way, would the Minister of Finance mind telling us how much of this $26million has already been passed on to the dock owners? Who are the benifical owners? We deserve to know! Bahamians need to know who is collecting as they suffer and catch hell!
Mr. Speaker, the Government could not find money in August and September of 2009 for student loans. They could not find money for the 2010- 2011 budget to provide earned increases for Civil Servants. They could not find money to continue assistance programmes for the elderly, the sick, the indigent and the young as it was last year- they had to reduce all. They have cut subsidies to schools. They have sent home Customs Officers, the entire staff of the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas and civil servants and now are preparing to send home roughly 100 members of staff from ZNS. They have cut salaries at the antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation. Their excuse is that the Government can not afford to carry these financial burdens any longer.
However they dare fix their mouths to ask us in this place to support a resolution to borrow money for roads. This cannot be right. Our people are suffering and they need jobs and our only answer is roads, roads and more roads!
They could find money to buy buildings owned by their supports and to construct roads! This Government is more concerned with things than people!
Neoclassical economists have encouraged us to govern with hard heads and soft hearts! This Government’s seem to be headless with hearts of stone. How can the Member for North Abaco, a man from humble beginnings like myself, look the Bahamian people in their eyes and send people home, cut scholarships and social assistance and justify such serious borrowing for roads in these times? Where is your conscience? Don’t you care? You must be ashamed of yourselves!
Mr. Speaker, I am of the belief that this entire exercise is a charade. It makes a mockery of our system of Government.
We have come to the House of Assembly to make real a rumour. We have all heard the rumour. Today we heard from the Minister of State, the Member for Marco City, that the government has decided to go ahead with a plan to borrow money from the Chinese Government and to employ large numbers of Chinese labour provided by the Chinese contractor. The Member for Marco City opined that the ratio would be two Chinese labourers for each Bahamian worker.
Isn’t it amazing that the ratio is almost identical to the ratio proposed by Baha Mar. Yet in the instance of Baha Mar the Prime Minister presented a doom and gloom project and now his Minister of State is the biggest cheerleader for this proposed development. Ironically it involves the exact same lender! What an erratic bunch indeed!
When it comes to this road project we are now supposed to say whoop-dee-doo and jump for joy because the government has so kindly arranged to provide for up to 100 jobs for Bahamians in possible sub-contracts to Bahamian contractors which might permit them to hire Bahamian workers. But, we should remember that only a short while ago his colleague, the Minister of Public Works and Transport said it was not the place of the government o interfere in what foreign contractors did on a day-to-day basis once the contract had been let. So, if the Chinese contractor chooses to only request the very minimum of work from Bahamian sub-contractors are we to once again get this explanation from the Minister of Public works and Transport?
In the minds of this Government we deserve the crumbs! And in some cases even the crumbs are too good for the majority of Bahamians! Their record and choices tell the tale
In planning for this project, and the pretty pictures brought to the House today, suggest that there was substantial planning, it is most apparent that the Government did not consider it important enough to suggest to the Bahamian people that there was a real consideration under way and seek to get their input. No, this is being treated the same way the traffic flow change on Blue Hill Road and Market Street was handled. They have probably paid a foreign company to so a study but not to bother to talk with citizens until after work begins.
Following recent form, the Minister of Public Works and Transport, dragging along one or two of his cabinet colleagues, will probably condescend to meet with the people in what they euphemistically like to call a “town meeting” at which they will probably say that no matter what people indicate, it is all a done deal and nothing would change.
The overwhelming belief is that the public is being asked to foot the bill today to meet the request of an one investor and hotel owner. It cannot be right that we must all collectively pay for the wishes of one and yet we have no say. We must ask, whether the Bahamian people even matter to this Government?
So much for transparency. So much for consultation. So much for respect. So much for caring.
There was no mention of this airport road plan in the 2010 Speech from the Throne in February, seven months ago.
There was no mention in the 2010- 2011 Budget Communication of June 2010, just four months ago.
They claim that the item was referred to in the 2002-2010 and 2010-2011 draft budget estimates. If truth be told there is a reference to $15 Million in the 2009-2010 budget and $10 Million concessionary borrowing. There is reference to $19 Million for capital expenditure for roads in New Providence, Abaco, Eleuthera, Andros, Exuma etc. To say that we should have known is nothing more than smokes and mirrors.
We are told now however that the government plans to borrow fifty-eight million dollars ($58,000,000) in order to fund the building of “Segment One” of a new airport highway. We are not told how many ‘segments’ there are to be in this project or how much the other, following segments are expected to cost.
We had not previously been provided with the details of the study which must have been done. This study has been a secret to the government and their special friends. The people generally and the People’s representatives on this side have not been among this number of favoured persons.
How do you expect responsible members to make this fifty-eight million dollar decision? The people have to be consulted and the people’s representatives must be afforded time and information in order to make a considered decision. They want all of us to remain in the dark and ignorant of the happenings in our own country!
Would not this money been better used on providing a much needed facelift to Bay Street and carrying out road works in that area. The downtown are receives over 3 million tourist annually yet it is a dump. There are huge benefits to be garnered for all Bahamians including surrey drivers, taxi drivers, straw vendors, hair braiders, souvenir producers and the like if we were to spend $60 Million on Bay Street. The Government ought to be thinking of what is in the greatest interest of all and not a few or any particular investor.
It is for this reason and the fact that it appears patently clear that the government’s focus again is on things and not on the people’s desperate needs.
Where is the responsibility in government that the Bahamian people so desperately need in these trying economic times? Where is the leadership required to enhance the desired recovery? Where is the sensitivity for the people and their ownership of the country?
When the government treats the people with respect then they could expect objectivity and support from the people’s representatives on this side of the House. When the government operates in the real transparency it so likes to tout then it can expect the members on this side to want to lend assistance.
Where is the underlying social-economic study on the impact of this loan and project to the Bahamian economy? How much is in fact being saved by the ‘preferential rates’ loan negotiated as it relates to how much a loan from other sources might have cost but would have allowed for greater participation of Bahamian interests, contractors and workers?
The savings in costs for the loan has to prove considerably more beneficial to the social economy of The Bahamas than it would be if a higher rate for loans from the IDB or another institution was accessed permitting the use of more Bahamian labour.
It is about time the FNM government begins to put the interests of the Bahamian people above things.
This is the Bahamas after-all! If there was ever a place and a time when Bahamians should be first – this is the place, The Commonwealth of The Bahamas and now is the time!