The recent debate on the midterm budget tabled in Parliament is the third time Parliament has debated various elements of this budget in the nine last months. While I welcome transparency and accountability in government, all of the information revealed during the debate could be easily gleaned from the Central Bank’s Quarterly Digest. Further, there is a view that those critical national issues such as crime, the fear of crime, the state of and prospects for the economy should occupy much of the Parliament’s time as legislators vigorously pursue solutions to these national issues.
On the issue of transparency, there still remain many questions surrounding the behavior of this government. In light of the much hyped Crown Agent audit report and continuous reference to the Financial Administration and Audit Act of 1988, why did the FNM award $23.5 million in no-bid negotiated contracts for the repair of public schools? A proper accounting of the monies, the scope of works, and whether the people received value for money were never publicly disclosed.
Mr. Laing’s refusal to clarify his role in the reduction of customs duties, contrary to law, to accrue unreasonable benefits to a family member suggest that the FNM has something to hide. The concept of collective responsibility places the reputation and credibility of the Prime Minister on the line. The apparent conflict of interest of the Deputy Prime Minister in the relocation of the container port also raises further questions about transparency and accountability in this government.
There still remain clouds and suspicion, cynicism and reasonable doubt regarding the Government’s expressed intent and general handling of the Urban Renewal workers in Grand Bahama, the suspended and canceled contracts totaling some $90 million, termination of duly hired workers, and the hiring of consultants at huge salaries. Perhaps more time could be spent clarifying these issues to the satisfaction of the general public.
Editor, I wish to comment on an incredible statement attributed to the Prime Minister during the budget debate concerning this much talked about surplus: “On the basis of the data for the first six months of the 2007/2008 fiscal year, that is for the period July to December 2007, expenditure was some $75 million less than forecast, whereas revenue was only $53 million less than forecast,” he said. “Thus, there is a surplus of revenue of expenditure emerging of $22 million.”
This is akin to Bahamians giving up their homes, cars, and withdrawing their children from private schools in order to save money. Since this not a viable option for individuals, it cannot be a viable option for running a country as it is not sustainable. The FNM must stop their grandstanding and start governing as nobody is impressed.
The record will show that the FNM inherited a strong economy that enjoyed over $700 million in foreign direct investment in 2006 (the highest ever) and they managed to reverse this economic momentum, downgrade our international credit rating, hurt our reputation by holding foreign investors hostage, and putting thousands of Bahamians out of work. This downward spiral was done in a record ten months. The social consequences are immeasurable as crime is out of control, the fear of crime is rising, and the country limps toward the status of, failed state. The Bahamas needs a government with the vision and political will to tackle these challenges facing our country, not one preoccupied with public relations and numerical shuffling. Debating a budget three times in nine months while Rome is burning is a case of overkill.