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‘Hurricane money used to buy election’

Turnquest ‘suspects’ missing $42 million went to PLP cronies
Peter Turnquest.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest yesterday suggested that the Christie administration diverted more than $40 million of the $150 million borrowed for hurricane relief last year, to “buy an election win”.

Turnquest was responding to comments by Shadow Minister of Finance Chester Cooper who, on Monday, charged that Turnquest’s revelation in Parliament that the government cannot locate $42 million of the money borrowed by the former administration is “shocking and unacceptable”.

In a statement to the press yesterday, Turnquest charged, “What is true is that the bills for the expenditures committed by the former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) administration had continued to pour in long after the last budget year ended.

“And even now, more bills continue to trickle in.

“The PLP government, we suspect, obtained a resolution to borrow $150 million on hurricane relief, but instead diverted $40 million plus of that sum for unauthorized expenditure on any number of things in an ultimately vain effort to buy an election win.

“And while that money most likely went to their cronies and other wasteful spending, it is the Bahamian people who are now stuck with the bill.”

Cooper yesterday said Turnquest’s statement is “basic deflection”.

“Either he knows where the $42 million is or he doesn’t,” Cooper said.

“His irresponsible suspicions are of no material use at this point.

“As minister, he has a duty to account.

“I remind the minister that elections are over. I invite his government to focus on economic growth, job creation, foreign direct investments and spurring domestic entrepreneurship.”

In the House of Assembly last week, Turnquest said that the government has only been able to trace $108 million of the $150 million borrowed by the Christie administration in the wake of Hurricane Matthew last year.

Turnquest yesterday accused Cooper of allowing himself “to be led by rejected politicians, who obviously scripted a narrative intended to tie him to their failed administration rather than to offer constructive criticisms”.

“It is a simple fact that the Ministry of Finance was able to tie approximately $108 million directly to hurricane expenses but we were unable to say at that date, how the balance of $42 million was spent or, if those funds were simply absorbed into the consolidated fund and spent to cover usual bills as suggested by the opposition, which was not the stated purpose of the borrowing,” the deputy prime minister added.

Fiscal deficit
Turnquest also revealed last week that the country’s GFS deficit for the 2016/2017 fiscal year now stands at $695 million.

Turnquest noted that the government spent $381 million on bills for the month of June alone. He said the debt was racked up by the Christie administration.

Cooper, on Monday, cautioned Turnquest that “sensationalizing and playing politics with the economy does not serve the national interest”.

He also questioned how the government spent $381 million during the month of June, “if the proverbial cupboard was bare” and demanded that Turnquest reconcile and explain his new deficit figures.

Once again defending the government’s accounting of the fiscal deficit, Turnquest yesterday insisted that, “I have explained the difference between actual cash basis reporting and a projection, which is inherently based upon judgement considering known fact.

“If this concept is unclear to the opposition then they will have bigger problems going forward.

“As to where the money came from to pay those bills, the opposition should recall the borrowing resolution they helped pass just a few short months ago to cover these expenses.”

It should be noted that the government passed a resolution to borrow $400 million to cover a then projected $500 million deficit in June. It is unclear when any extra borrowing to cover the additional deficit spending for the previous fiscal year would have occurred, though the government tabled a resolution to borrow an additional $320 million for the projected deficit this fiscal year.

Turnquest added that he too has “no interest in playing political football” and challenged Cooper to “acquaint himself with the Financial Administration and Audit Act and the rules governing the Public Accounts Committee” to inform his commentary.

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