I was surprised to hear and see media reports on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning of coverage of Prime Minister Christie’s remarks to senior public officers. He reportedly acknowledged that our country is now “in the midst of one of the most difficult and challenging fiscal periods in the nation’s history.” In his Budget Communication last month also, he admitted that the Bahamian economy was inextricably linked to that of the United States and that recovery in our economy was dependent on recovery in the US economy.
On Thursday, the Minister of Labour, Shane Gibson, also advised the media, following the execution of new agreements with the BUT and the BPSU providing for the payment of increments to public officers concluded by the FNM Government, that “the financial conditions of the country remain the same” – presumably, the same as reported by the FNM Government prior to May 7th.
When the FNM Government advised of the serious threats to the Bahamian economy resulting from the worst international financial and economic world crisis, we were scoffed at by Mr. Christie and his colleagues. They claimed that the weak Bahamian economy was the result of FNM policies. Indeed, they seem to have convinced themselves to believe their own brand of voodoo economics. Ignoring all of the warnings and advice on the economy given by the previous FNM government in the House of Assembly, in annual Budget presentations and in nationally broadcast addresses to the nation on the state of the economy, the PLP made all manner of promises to the Bahamian people claiming that they could do a better job on the economy than the FNM.
Now, the Prime Minister and his colleagues want to use the conditions prevailing in the Bahamian economy as an excuse for their inability to deliver on the outlandish promises made during the recent election campaign: promises for dramatic levels of new job creation, promises of the introduction of national health insurance, promises of private home mortgage relief, and promises to double the education budget to list only a few.
The Bahamian public is not so silly as to believe that the true financial condition of the country was not known to the PLP before May 7th when they were dreaming up their “charter” for governance. They made campaign promises knowing fully that they could not deliver on them. Now, deliver they must.
Now, instead of delivering on their promises the PLP Government is busy trying to lower expectations among its supporters. And they are holding out FNM initiatives coming on stream as the best, if not only hope, for better in the weeks and months ahead. For example, the Prime Minister is now promising, with great passion, to maximize Bahamian employment at the Baha Mar project notwithstanding that he knows (and we know) that the requirements of the Government and the commitment of Baha Mar to do just that. He is also busy announcing new tourism related developments scheduled to commence shortly at Albany and in Bimini among others – all matters approved and in hand prior to the election.
In the closing days of the 2012 election campaign former Prime Minister Ingraham reported that the economic tide was no longer ebbing but rather beginning to rise. He promised that all would benefit from that rise. He also cautioned that the PLP were reapers not sowers. He was absolutely right on that score. Having defeated the FNM at the polls the PLP are now seeking to score points among their supporters with promises of fruits that are the product of FNM labour. And they are seeking to restrict the distribution of those fruits amongst their supporters only – as admitted by the Prime Minister in North Andros and as alluded to by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chairman of the PLP with regard to staffing in the Urban Renewal Programme.
Even internationally the PLP seek to bask in the glow of FNM accomplishments. It is a cruel irony that Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell travelled to Rio + 20 Conference in Brazil to boast of The Bahamas’ accomplishments on the environmental and conservation fronts protecting sharks and turtles and expanding the network of marine protected areas – all accomplishments of FNM administrations.
Then Minister of State for Investments Khallis Rolle travelled to London pursuing investments by pushing The Bahamas’ modern and efficient public infrastructure and welcoming investment climate – all the result of FNM policies and programmes. He subsequently met with owners of downtown Nassau properties to remind them of targeted concessions available to facilitate the repair, upgrade and expansion of their properties under provisions introduced via amendments to the Hotels Encouragement Act made under the FNM and under the City of Nassau Redevelopment Act, enacted under the FNM.
Most recently the Minister of Financial Services, Ryan Pinder returned to the capital following meetings in Geneva to proudly report that the World Trade Organization (WTO) had commended The Bahamas for the progress made in readying The Bahamas for entry into that global organization – work undertaken and implemented under the FNM and work which Mr. Pinder criticized as being insufficient while it was taking place and he sat in Opposition.
I do acknowledge that Mr. Christie in speaking with the press admitted that the work required to bring the illegal numbers/lottery within the framework of taxable businesses had been completed by the FNM and that the work for the adoption of the new tax system outlined in his Budget Communication was undertaken by the previous FNM Government. Indeed, the Prime Minister might have advised the media that the “White Paper” on Value Added Tax (VAT) to which he referred was left in place by the FNM. He might also have acknowledged that the Debt Management Committee in the Ministry of Finance was the creation of the FNM Administration which had already reached agreement on a joint arrangement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a plan for managing our national debt going forward. Finally, he might also have admitted that the reform and modernization of the Real Property Tax system had been in train for well over a year, that the Government was in receipt of recommendations on a way forward from tax consultants and that Cabinet had already accepted and given formal approval for the Ministry of Finance to move forward with the recommendations.
I look forward with great interest to a time when this PLP administration will begin to implement any of its elections promises. So far their single accomplishment after 7 weeks in office has been to fire Bahamians where they found them working and to feed seeds of doubt on whether any of the jobs and skills training and job creation initiatives in place on May 7th, 2012 will be continued. Prime Minister Christie must soon enough come to accept that the way to create jobs is not to fire employed persons and simply replace them but rather to grow the number of new and additional jobs over the number which he found in the economy.
The Prime Minister may, in the spirit of full disclosure, advise the Bahamian public of the sums of money being expended by his Government during these difficult economic times to expand his personal office at the Cecil Wallace Whitfield Centre, create new office spaces for Minister of State Khallis Rolle and Senior Advisor Sir Baltron Bethell at the Office of the Prime Minister; and create new luxury accommodation for the Ministry of Financial Services at West Bay Street. Perhaps a report on monies being dedicated to these ventures and the re-engagement of retired policemen and customs officers and other retirees should be disclosed so that public officers and the general public who are being advised to take fiscal responsibility seriously might be convinced that their new government intends to practice at least some of what it preaches.
Leader of the Free National Movement
June 30th, 2012