STATEMENT BY THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION – THE HON. PHILIP BRAVE DAVIS MP, QC – MONTHLY PRESS CONFERENCE
4TH SEPTEMBER 2018
Good morning media and good morning to all. Thank you for coming and participating in this morning’s media briefing.
A special welcome to all students to the new school year and it is our hope that you will make this an academically productive year.
I also had the pleasure of welcoming the students to the new primary school in San Salvador constructed under our administration, the finishing of which was slowed by this administration. Our plan was to move next to constructing a high school which is much needed and I implore the government to move with dispatch with this construction.
GAMING TAX HIKE CHALLENGE
The Progressive Liberal Party finds it both comical and silly that sixteen months into office, the FNM still refuses to accept responsibility for their failed tax policy. The Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Peter Turnquest blamed the PLP for the government’s challenges in enforcing their new gaming tax regime.
The unilateral imposition of this tax hike stands at the root of the government’s problems and it must now deal with the collateral legal challenges. Further, the tax hike was ill-advised and wrong for two principal reasons.
Firstly, the imposition of the new taxes was politically motivated with the harmful intentions of crippling a legitimate, highly regulated and Bahamian owned industry, displacing the current principals and making it possible for their favoured friends and supporters to take over the sector over.
Their attacks on the gaming sector were personal in nature and their approach reeked of cronyism. With their track record of turning over the container port to their friends and political donors, how else can they explain these draconian tax measures.
Secondly, the policy was inherently discriminatory in that while the government offered generous tax concessions to various other sectors and groupings such as the Grand Bahama industrial sector and the residents of Lyford Cay, it sought to first demonize, then crush the gaming sector.
In the meantime, the empirical research findings that between $400 million and $600 million within the tax system remain uncollected were ignored and set aside by this government. Why would the FNM not want to collect delinquent taxes duly owed to the government? Do the wrong people owe these taxes in the eyes of the FNM?
The record would show that as a priority, Mr. Turnquest dismantled the Revenue Enhancement Unit of the Ministry of Finance. The government later and erroneously concluded that it was illegal for private law firms to collect delinquent taxes on behalf of the government so that tax collection program was also cancelled.
During the 2018/2019 budget debate, the Labour Minister promised the Bahamian people that the proper legal framework would be put in place to “legalize” this program but to date, nothing has been done. I do not think the FNM intends to collect taxes from these individuals. Is it because of politics we ask?
To forecast massive budgetary changes and adjustments in light of an $8 million gaming tax revenue shortfall suggest deeper budgetary challenges than the government is letting on. The government must come clean to the Bahamian people on whether it will meet any of its revenue and expenditure targets as projected in the current fiscal year. Blaming the opposition PLP is just a smokescreen, a distraction and another lie but no lie lasts forever.
$7.5 MILLION PUBLIC SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY CONTRACT
The Minister of Education has announced a $7.5 million contract with BTC for internet and technology upgrades within the public school system. This is a continuation of the PLP government’s project to upgrade public schools, but given an increase in the budget from $2 million to $7.5 million, we need to see the agreement and publicly request a copy of the contract to determine how the value of the scope of work increased by $5.5 million.
I am advised that before we left office, the Cabinet agreed that Cable Bahamas would install fibre optic cable to 100 public schools at $2,500 per school at a cost of $250,000. Additionally, the contractor would provide 2,500 tablets for a grand total of $2 million. The contract this government signed is valued at more than three times the original scope of work so it’s in the public’s interest for the government to make this contract available for public scrutiny.
Further, under the BTC agreement, the PLP questions whether or not the government issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the additional $5m.
I wish to point out that Sandilands Primary has internet capability and a popular online reading program. The government has failed to pay the licensing fee, effectively terminating this important reading program that has yielded positive results to date. This is setting Sandilands Primary back when the government should be taking the lead in strengthening the basic skills capacity among our primary school students. This bad decision should be revisited.
I also wish to note that the latest BJC and BGCSE results reportedly showed no improvement over last year and overall there was a decline in performance. This means that instead of attacking and threatening the media, the Education Minister must get to work and improve the country’s education outcomes.
READINESS OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO RECEIVE STUDENTS
On the opening of schools, there is a big difference between opening the schools and the readiness of schools to receive students on the designated opening day. We know that $6 million was initially requested for summer repairs but only half that amount was made available. This raises the issue of short cuts. Additionally, contractor mobilization was generally late across the board.
Eye witnesses have reported late arrivals of material on job sites. Students reported having their uniforms soiled with wet paint at Eva Hilton and shared the same on social media. Materials arrived at T. G. Glover just this past Saturday therefore painting and other repairs are ongoing as I speak.
Work at A.F. Adderley is ongoing with erected scaffolding in plain view and in the path of students. Needless to say, this is an unsafe learning environment.
Work at the Black Point School has not begun as a result of interference by the government to direct work to FNM cronies.
Our Deputy Leader, Chester Cooper, is doing a second day of school visits in Exuma today as pre-planned. I offer apologies for his absence.
The repairs to the High School in San Salvador were limited to 10% of the works identified as priority out of the works scoped.
The fire at the All Aged School in Rum Cay was confined to the stand alone Tuck Shop building but the classrooms which suffered minimal water damage are generally usable.
The state of school repairs I described are the cases at numerous public schools across the country so the public schools were not ready to receive students on Monday the 3rd September, but in my view, to save face and avoid public criticism and embarrassment, the government simply opened the schools and negligently placed the health, safety and wellbeing of thousands of students at risk.
These are the critical issues of governance the Prime Minister should be focusing on rather than playing politics and engaging in Public relations and photo ops in Exuma and San Salvador. I point out that the Prime Minister failed to extend the courtesy of inviting me, the representative, on an official visit to my constituency. I cry shame on the Prime Minister. This whole affair is inexcusable.
THE PURCHASE OF THE GRAND LUCAYAN
The Opposition again calls on the government to outline and explain to the Bahamian people their strategy for the completion, the opening and the successful operation of the Grand Lucayan Hotel. A full and frank disclosure should at the very least include the following:
1. A structural engineering and a quantity surveyor’s report before committing the Bahamian people to a 65M dollar debt.
2. We understand that there was an appraisal done on the property and we ask the government to make the document available as it is clear that the government is paying far more than the appraised value.
3. What is the status of the business plan? This is the blueprint and the exit strategy as this hotel is NOT a going concern and all business efforts have not been very successful. What is different and special this time around?
4. Who is the financier and what are the detailed terms of the loan?
5. Of the potential buyers whose proposals Michael Scott claim to be reviewing, why is the government refusing to simply put the proposed buyer and seller together since this is a private commercial transaction?
6. Who is the casino operator and the terms? Usually this is in place before any agreement is made or any money changes hand.
7. Who will have control of the Grand Bahama International Airport and what provisions have been made to secure adequate airlift into Grand Bahama?
8. How will the property and tourism product be branded? I point out that the government has already committed some $20 million in marketing support for the Grand Bahama tourism product in the current fiscal year.
On tourism arrivals, the PLP takes full credit for the increase in tourist arrivals due mainly to the success of Baha Mar, a project the FNM vehemently opposed and threatened to nationalize and sell the property to a person of their choice at the first opportunity.
THE BASEBALL STADIUM
I want to take note of the comments of the Minister of Works on a TV interview programme last night in which he continues to parrot the misinformation about the baseball stadium which has been stalled since they came to office. He continues to say that the project was not well thought out. He has obviously not read the records because we have gone through chapter and verse with all the stakeholders and what you see there is an agreed position.
Sixteen months into governance and this government cannot point to one substantial program or policy designed to create jobs, to grow this economy or to revitalize the tourism product in our number one industry. Their incompetence is glaring and public confidence in this government is rapidly waning by the day.