<<< Hon. Kenyatta Gibson.
Today we present the excerpt form the Free National Movement MP for Kennedy.
Mr. Speaker Sir, a pleasant good morning to you and indeed to all of my colleagues on all sides of the political Divide. It is both a privilege and a pleasure for me to stand in this Honorable Assembly today, to second the motion of the Right Honorable Member for North Abaco and to support the Budget as presented by the Government of The Commonwealth of the Bahamas. This support is proffered on behalf of my people in my Constituency of Kennedy, at whose pleasure and by virtue of their love and encouragement I serve in this Place.
Mr. Speaker Sir, at the outset of the Budget Communication 2009/2010, the Right Honorable Minister of Finance reminded us of the Chinese curse to an enemy; that being, “May you live in interesting times”. The Right Honorable Member was therefore correct to deduce that these are extremely interesting times.
The late American President John F. Kennedy, much like the Right Honorable Member, also had an appreciation for the axioms and legendary wisdom that could be derived from a study of that erudite Eastern culture. It is said, that even in his darkest hours and most difficult times, such as ‘The Bay of Pigs’ debacle’ and ‘The Russian missile crisis’, President Kennedy could frequently be heard reminding and admonishing his Cabinet Members, advisors and oft times his Countrymen, that “the Chinese character for crisis is also the same character for opportunity”. Kennedy’s deduction was also correct, and it is still correct today; out of our present economic crisis, arises an opportunity for unprecedented success.
Mr. Speaker Sir, we live in a turbulent world. Things are not as they were previously. The leading world economies, which comprise the group of 20 nations, referred to as the G 20, have met at the highest levels: at the level of Heads of Central Banks; at the level of Finance Ministers; and indeed at the level of Presidents and Prime Ministers. These leaders have met in the wake of the greatest economic crisis since the World’s Great Depression which started in the year 1929. Some 80 years later, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the rest of the great economic powers of the European Union, India, Russia, Japan and even the impregnable and the irresistible economic juggernaut that is China, lie incredulous and almost impotent in the face of a new economic order. An economic order in which the wisest of economists and the most brilliant financiers and financial wizards, readily admit that they do not quite understand, and that they have little idea of when these present troubles will cease. A new economic order in which monetary masterminds such as Greenspan, Bernanke and Mervin King can offer too few solutions for the world’s financial malaise. Yes Sir, 80 years on, in the year of our Lord 2009, while the powerful and the mighty amongst the world’s wealthy and affluent nations struggle to keep their heads above water, our little Bahamas also struggles.
In a recent Between the Lines article, noted Bahamian columnist Nicki Kelly had an interesting evaluation of our present circumstances. Ms. Kelly who has had occasion to criticize and chastise many a Member in this Place, (including Mr. Speaker, in the interest of full and frank disclosure, myself!), stated that “Opposition Leader Perry Christie, responding to the Government’s much anticipated Budget Communication, described it as lacking vision, inspiration and hope.” Ms. Kelly further stated how Mr. Christie insisted that it was the policies of this Government that stopped the momentum of this economy and undermined internal and external investor confidence, thus helping “to put us into this situation.”
In the distinctive and direct manner which the writer has made legendary, she went on to opine that “either Mr. Christie is just plain ignorant, thinks the Bahamian people are jackasses or is playing the worse kind of politics”. She reminded readers that, “ When the FNM Government took office in May 2007, the real estate bubble in the U.S. had already started to show signs of strain.”
Ms. Kelly was correct in pointing out that the vast majority of projects approved by the Christie administration “were heavily dependant on credit”. We are all too aware that due to the sub-prime mortgage disaster, the near collapse of the international banking system and a general lack of credit and financing facilities, not only in the United States, but worldwide, credit and financing were hard to come by in the economic environment of the years 2007 to the present date. These are the economic realities Mr. Speaker Sir, and Members Opposite know it.
It is indeed the worst kind of politics when in the middle of a national emergency Members would seek to play silly mind games with the Bahamian public. I’ve described it before and I will repeat it here today Mr. Speaker Sir. The Opposition is practicing pure unmitigated SOPHISTRY. The subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning, a false argument designed to deceive, scam and manipulate the Bahamian people. It’s all smoke and mirrors Mr. Speaker Sir. Telling a lie over and over again does not make it true, but it might deceive a few unfortunate Bahamians.
Which professional person or group amongst us having inherited or received a file or project from a predecessor would not have taken time out to review all of the pertinent and relevant issues? Which professional person or group amongst us would not have become intimately familiar with every contractual instrument and detail of those projects, so as to safeguard the best interest of the Bahamian people? These arguments about ‘stop and start’ made by Members Opposite are injurious to the public interest, conceived out of perfidy and treachery and are blatantly designed to obfuscate the issues and muddy the proverbial waters.
Mr. Speaker Sir I am sick and tired of this Kind of “gottcha” politics. The politics of tarnished reputations and of pulling down for power’s sake. Power should not be sought or attained at any and all costs.
Where is the Opposition’s alternative Budget? In other modern democracies Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition would not just disagree for disagreement sake, but would have proposed and published a full and plenary alternative to the Budget Communication and the Draft Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure. That’s what responsible Oppositions do.
If this admonition brings us one step closer to living in a country where opposition parties present constructive and considered alternatives to positions put forward by Governing Parties then out of crisis some positive things may flow.
Indeed Oppositions would do well to heed the admonition given in the PLP’s much publicized report by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, commissioned in the aftermath of the last general election. Therein at page two of the document entitled Restoring the PLP’s Primacy, the party is admonished “as the Opposition, the PLP will spend most of its time airing criticism of the government and its policies. That is fine and appropriate. But the party also needs to be associated with an affirmative agenda.” Build something up! Stop knocking everything down!
Let us all in this place today pledge ourselves and vow anew to be agents of progress and not purveyors of defamation, smut and negativism. Let us be new age reformers for the sake of our Commonwealth.
The Leadership of the Party Opposite describes this as a hopeless budget. There is nothing hopeless about it! Indeed a better illustration of hopelessness is manifested in the continued efforts of the Opposition Leadership to reduce and devour the young men and women of his Party. To make them obscure and dependant for Power’s sake!
Both this budget and its sub-sequential Communication are judicious, considered and prudent in all of the circumstances. In an environment such as this, it would be preposterous and dangerous folly, to even suggest the possibility of system wide public sector salary increases. However, this stark reality is tempered and balanced by this party’s overreaching stance to always secure the employment prospect of Bahamians. As such, maximum effort is being expended to obviate the need for the loss of public sector jobs.
This budget also provides both reasoned and reasonable increases in recurrent expenditure allocations in the areas of pensions, and insurance for the uniformed services, to the Ministry of Health and the Public Hospitals Authority, and the Department of Environmental Services. This, along with a commitment to a sustained social services agenda evinces this government’s dedication to the advancement of those public officers who protect our property, person and borders. Further it evinces this government’s commitment to the first-class health for Bahamians, a clean environment for visitor and citizen alike, and an appropriate and complete adherence to the biblical admonition of being ones brother’s keeper and wiping away the tears from the eyes of every struggling and indigent Bahamian.
Certainly Mr. Speaker Sir, the introduction of the unemployment benefit scheme which was unanimously passed in both Chambers of Parliament and obviously supported by ladies and gentlemen opposite is proof positive that this Free National Movement government is the party for all Bahamians. There’s your help and hope delivered Mr. Speaker, Sir! This is the party that protects the rights and livelihood of the people of the Bahamas. Rich and poor alike are best covered under its tent. The Free National Movement has evolved into the ‘People’s Party’.
A goodly number of my people in Kennedy have been given assistance by this visionary social initiative. They have personally expressed to me their approval for this program, as we seek to ensure that no resident in our Community of Kennedy is left behind. We back up our words with action, hard work and honest endeavor on this side, in the interest of the People.
In the midst of it all, sound fiscal governance and discipline is the best and brightest hope for the future economic survival prospects of our people. This budget speaks to sacrifice. But this sacrifice is in the NATIONAL INTEREST. Newsweek magazine reports that in the year 2008, the United States Federal debt amounted to 41% of that country’s Gross Domestic Product, and if present spending levels were to continue, in ten years it could reach 70%. Here in our small Bahamas such numbers would be unsustainable. We are fully aware that the existing levels of borrowing are only possible because of the past prudent conduct and management of this economy by this government, which is best placed to lead at this time.
This government’s trademark is a sensible and far sighted balance of fiscally responsible administration of the economy, while being ever cognizant of the need to protect average Bahamians. The most recent example of this, is this administration’s decision to guarantee thirty million dollars in order to protect the funds of policy holders of CLICO Bahamas Ltd. Evidence again Mr. Speaker, Sir, of a government that cares about the people of the Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker Sir, I have noted the commentary of many pundits and commentators as regards the present budget. And suffice to say the comments are as varied as the ability of man to conceive new ideas. One commentator in particular spoke to the need for increased private sector participation in driving and steering the Bahamian economy. On this particular point I am entirely in agreement with his proposal. I believe that in a perfect world, (and we should strive for perfection in this world), private industry and not government subsidy should be the fuel which powers the Bahamian economic engine. And I am not only talking about foreign direct investment, but I speak of investment that is indigenous and domestic in nature. Bahamians must have the confidence to invest in the Bahamas. There is no greater economic duty than for one to invest in whatever form, great or small, large or petty, amongst ones own. But alas, too many of us are just comfortable be critics.
This of course leads me to recall Teddy Roosevelt’s powerful invective, “ It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Likewise, Mr. Speaker Sir, the time has come for financial institutions doing business in the Bahamas to demonstrate that they are willing to embrace and support on a more grandiose level domestic Bahamian entrepreneurship and business.
Experts who work in the financial institutions in this jurisdiction should have the discretion, in as much as possible, to approve or facilitate those projects which they deem financially sound not just based on numbers, but also factoring into account the cultural and environmental context in which we reside. It is only with this joint effort, this joint effort of the Bahamian entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness of the banks, that an effort of preserving the Bahamian standard of living, this way of life that we have become accustomed to, that we can ensure our children will inherit the same.
History Sir is always driven by the imperatives of the moment. Every generation in their successive times have been called upon to confront and deal with situations and circumstances which define and epitomizes that generation. This current economic crisis could well define this generation of Bahamians. I have every confidence in the ability of Bahamians to overcome any and every challenge which confronts us. We are the can do people who never resign ourselves to sustained failure.
Mr. Speaker Sir, undoubtedly these are trying economic times to say the least. These are times which continue to test the substance and essence of which Bahamian-kind is made. My now deceased father, a finish carpenter by trade, who like most Bahamians experienced his own share of worldly concerns in his own time, could oft times be heard saying in his typical reflective refrain, “that life is a grind stone, whether it wears you down or polishes you up, depends upon the metal that you are made of.” Collectively, our Commonwealth is now being called upon to demonstrate that we are made and fashioned of the most resilient and the strongest stuff! This is our opportunity, to lay waste to our challenges, to safely negotiate and to rise above our obstacles, and to transform crisis into triumph.