Sunday, Dec 15, 2019
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Row erupts over state of finances

A sharp exchange has erupted between Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest over the management of fiscal affairs in The Bahamas, with Davis launching back at Turnquest, accusing him of being “the worst minister of finance because of his incompetence, ineptness and actions”.

“He has borrowed a breathtaking and unmatched sum of $1.7 billion in 10 months. Unfortunately for him and the country, worse days, not better, are ahead,” Davis said.

His statement yesterday was in response to a lengthy response issued by Turnquest on Wednesday to Davis, who had questioned what the Minnis administration is doing with the money it borrowed since coming to office.

Turnquest said: “Make no mistake about it, this last administration had oversight of millions of dollars in inflated contracts of questionable value, and should be the last to open their collective mouths with anything to do with financial matters or fiscal propriety.

“They ought to be embarrassed by their obvious confusion about simple matters of finance and customary government operations.”

He reiterated that the Parliament of The Bahamas approved a total borrowing authority of $1.4 billion.

“Of that amount, $323 million was to cover the current year’s budgeted deficit; $400 million was to pay off the estimated unpaid bills inherited from the previous PLP administration, and the $750 million bond issuance was used primarily to roll over existing short-term debt obligations as I have explained to Parliament before, and for which the details have been published publicly. These elements of public sector finance are unremarkable and are customary around the world.”

Yesterday, Davis accused Turnquest of making a “highly emotive” attack on him and the PLP for “holding the FNM government’s feet to the fire”.

The opposition leader said this smacks of arrogance and desperation.

“He must account for the government’s stewardship of the people’s scarce resources in pure policy terms. To date, the FNM government has not been forthright, transparent or accountable to the Bahamian people. This is unacceptable,” Davis said.

“The facts are that, since assuming office 10 months ago, the FNM has borrowed a staggering $1.7 billion. I simply asked where the money went and will continue to do so on behalf of the Bahamian people.”

Davis again suggested that the FNM administration wasted borrowed money.

“We in the PLP see that the human suffering index in The Bahamas has gone up exponentially,” he said.

“Social services payments cannot be made, and civil servants cannot get paid. The poor can get no relief; the minister of health proposes to tax poor people’s food while he can’t get sufficient medicine and beds in the public hospitals.

“The FNM has intentionally added to the rate of unemployment, and there is a steep deterioration in public infrastructure.

“Mosquitos are out of control, and road traffic accidents are killing our people with no programs in place to stop it.

“There are bloody murders of our young people every week without fail, while promising young minds are steadily leaving The Bahamas for the U.S., Canada and the U.K. because there is no support for them here. This is what we see.

“The FNM, as tone deaf as they are, has therefore lost credibility, as Bahamians do not listen or believe a word they say, because their lives are not being touched by all of this money borrowed and there is no clear policy to inspire hope and confidence.”

Davis said Grand Bahama remains mired in economic malaise.

“The government is trying to force an economically questionable and environmentally unsustainable project on the people there,” he said with an obvious reference to the controversial Oban oil refinery project deal.

“There is no economic or social policy for the Family Islands. The picture, by any measure, is pretty grim, and no amount of bombast and personal attacks of deflection can change those facts.”

Davis accused Turnquest of failing as minister of finance.

“He does not understand the sophisticated world of public finance administration; he is a dismal failure at cash flow management,” he said.

“In his short period in office, he has attempted to change the way the Central Bank reports its macro-economic information; the way the Department of Statistics calculates its data; and the way in which the Ministry of Finance accounts for its disbursements and receipts. He did this all in the name of politics.”

Davis and Turnquest have both accused each other of attempting to mislead and confuse the Bahamian people.

The exchange comes as finance officials continue their preparation of a new budget, which must be brought to Parliament by the end of next month.

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of the Nassau Guardian.

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