Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Credibility Crisis

Why it is hard to trust the FNM
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis (center), members of his Cabinet and aides walk to the House of Assembly in March. PETER RAMSAY

The Free National Movement (FNM), under the leadership of Dr. Hubert Alexander Minnis, has demonstrated that it is no longer a party with core beliefs.

It is led by a panderer who opposed just about anything brought by the Christie administration – as long as the mood of the people was against it.

When the mood of the country was against the constitutional referendum, Minnis withdrew the opposition’s support of the initiative and told Bahamians to vote their conscience.

Within months of coming to office, he announced that his administration will amend the law so that all children born to Bahamians – whether in or outside The Bahamas – would get an automatic right to citizenship.

When the mood of the country was that capital punishment should be reintroduced in response to a high murder rate, Minnis, the panderer, was on that bandwagon too, calling for the necks of “murderous scumbags” to be popped.

When the FNM came to power, we were told that this is not an issue the government intends to deal with as a priority item.

Murders are down, yes, but the carnage is still taking its toll on Bahamian communities. Yesterday, a young boy on his way to school died from a bullet.

When the mood of the country was an intense distrust of the Christie administration, Minnis and the FNM warned us that a ‘spy bill’ would be dangerous in The Bahamas. Some who are now in government even told us a spy bill was unconstitutional.

However, when the FNM came to power, as an early legislative priority, it introduced a spy bill, speaking to the urgency of the legislation in the crime-fighting arsenal. The bill has already passed in the House of Assembly.

In 2014, when a select committee of Parliament recommended the salaries of members of Parliament be reviewed, noting that MPs had not received an increase in nearly 30 years, Minnis railed against such a move.

He noted that too many Bahamians were suffering and said an FNM government would not agree to such a move as long as the poverty level remained so high.

Within months of coming to office, with the fiscal cupboard “bare”, the prime minister announced that MPs would get a raise in the 2018/2019 budget year.

He pulled back in the face of vociferous pushback from Bahamians, but caused further damage to his credibility.

Under the Christie administration, when there was great suspicion over the Chinese presence in The Bahamas, Minnis and the FNM demonized the Chinese and told the people that the opening of Baha Mar on April 21, 2017 was a “fake opening”.

Minnis vowed that an FNM government would execute a “real sale” of Baha Mar to a purchaser that has the Bahamian people’s interests at heart.

Minnis, the panderer, told us that only Bahamian labor would be used to complete the project.

When the FNM came to office, it had high praise for the Chinese owners of Baha Mar and The Pointe. It had no issue with Chinese workers completing Baha Mar and no issue with the fact that more Chinese than Bahamians are working on The Pointe in downtown Nassau.

Minnis, Tourism Minister D’Aguilar and the others gleefully participated in the opening of Baha Mar’s SLS and more recently Rosewood hotels, and are excited about the 1.4 percent economic growth recorded off the back of Baha Mar in 2017.

Unconscionable

When the Christie administration proposed value-added tax (VAT), Minnis and the FNM were against that too, warning that the poor would suffer – notwithstanding the fact that Minnis sat around the Cabinet table of Hubert Ingraham when plans were being made to introduce VAT.

“The vast majority of Bahamians – the business community, foreign investors, rank and file FNM and PLP supporters, throughout our country – are confused and terrified by the PLP government’s sudden lurch towards the imposition of the new VAT taxation system, a regressive taxation system which promises to subject the Bahamian people and economy to the immediate imposition of at least a 15 percent levy across the board, and which has the almost-certain potential to significantly and negatively increase the cost of living in every sphere upon the backs, particularly, of the poorest Bahamians, and the long-suffering and shrinking middle class,” said Minnis on November 14, 2013.

Minnis warned: “Because of callous disregard, the Christie government will stuff VAT down the throats of the Bahamian people, whether the people agree or not.”

He said VAT would decrease the spending power of families and called on the Christie administration to focus on collecting outstanding taxes owed, not on imposing more taxes.

After consultation, the Christie administration proposed VAT at 7.5 percent, and in August 2014, the FNM voted against the VAT Bill after intense debate.

The FNM knew that the public was not open to any further tax increase.

The FNM expressed alarm over the impact the tax burden would have on the poor.

In the House of Assembly in June 2015, Minnis, the panderer, said, “It is a crying shame that old age pensioners struggling financially in their golden years are forced to give back $7.50 out of every $100 that they receive monthly to pay VAT.”

Minnis said while the PLP government was praising itself for the smoothness at which VAT was implemented, it had no appreciation for the pain and suffering inflicted by VAT on our poor, the pain and suffering inflicted by VAT on our pensioners and the VAT burden inflicted on the middle class in our society.

“For the first time in our nation’s history and in the history of our Parliament, last year a political party voted against a national budget,” he said.

“This is what the FNM did then and we in the FNM feel even stronger now that it was wrong of this PLP government to cause our poor, our pensioners, our [dispossessed] and our middle class to suffer such a huge financial burden as VAT.”

Minnis accused the PLP of being “heartless” and “cruel” in introducing VAT at 7.5 percent.

“An FNM government will repeal VAT on breadbasket items, all baby and children’s clothing, electricity, water, all health coverage and insurance,” said Minnis.

In a dramatic announcement last week – and in a stunning about-face – Finance Minister Peter Turnquest, who voted against VAT under the Christie administration, revealed that the government intends to raise VAT from 7.5 percent to an unconscionable 12 percent.

Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest gives the 2018-2019 budget communication in the House of Assembly.

“This government was elected to do what is right for the welfare of the country, and not to do what is politically expedient or politically popular,” said Turnquest, the deputy leader of a party that made its mark in opposition by doing precisely what was politically expedient.

“Facing the situation that we have, we could do as governments have done before, and simply present a misleading budget with under-budgeted allocations and hidden obligations. We could have kicked the can down the road and borrowed some more – delaying the inevitable day of reckoning. By playing this game, we would have only made a bad situation worse.”

The minister’s argument for why VAT needs to be hiked is not unlike the argument made by the Christie administration in the lead-up to the implementation of VAT in 2015.

The Christie administration borrowed more than $2 billion in five years.

It collected more than $1 billion in VAT, which was introduced in January 2015.

The Minnis administration borrowed more than $1 billion in its first year.

It projects to collect more than $650 million by the end of the current fiscal year.

When it introduced VAT, the PLP said it could no longer “kick the can down the road”.

Government debt is now over $7 billion.

‘Cruel and heartless’

While the FNM accused the PLP of being “cruel” and “heartless” in implementing VAT, it pretends that there will be some protection for the poor in the coming fiscal year.

Turnquest’s announcement about the tax rise came after he outlined an elimination of VAT on certain items intended to benefit the poor.

He announced that effective August 1, the government is eliminating VAT on all breadbasket items and on prescription medicines.

The government is also eliminating VAT on residential electricity bills at or under $100, and water bills at or under $50.

It is increasing the customs personal travel exemption from $300 to $500 per person.

The concessions will amount to $40 million, according to the Ministry of Finance.

It expects to collect an extra $400 million in VAT in the coming fiscal year.

While VAT is being eliminated on medicines, medical procedures will now attract 12 percent VAT.

This is cruel and heartless, for sure – to borrow the FNM’s words in opposition.

As Turnquest announced the VAT reductions, MPs banged on their tables in approval. It was the ‘people’s budget’ after all.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest along with other cabinet ministers walk to from the Cabinet Office to the House of Assembly yesterday carrying the red briefcase containing the 2018-2019 budget communication.

Truth is, there is nothing in this budget for the people, outside of pain, suffering and shameless deception.

While they are busy patting themselves on the back for eliminating VAT from breadbasket items – a very limited list of items – the poor will suffer tremendously because they will have to pay 12 percent on just about everything else from day to day.

Those who are working will see stagnant salaries.

Whatever savings they get from purchasing breadbasket items will be quickly and easily erased by the 12 percent rate that is otherwise across the board.

The government has not delivered on the “annual tax-free day” it promised to put in place in August to help parents prepare their children to go back to school.

With the new increase, the cost of living will go up for everyone.

The poor will suffer most.

The government, meanwhile, is facing a credibility crisis.

On December 12, 2016, Minnis, who was working hard to win an election, declared, “I don’t believe in increasing taxes, I believe in decreasing taxes and increasing opportunities. Increasing taxes is a lazy way out. When you don’t want to think, you just tax.”

We can deduce from that then that the Minnis administration is taking a lazy way out; it does not want to think. Or we can conclude the FNM was straight out seeking to deceive Bahamians with such statements.

While suggesting that the Christie administration had squandered (and even stolen the VAT money through corruption), the FNM was also promising that it will not raise taxes.

Now in office, it says things are so bad that, in four weeks, Bahamians will be subjected to a 60 percent increase in VAT to prevent us from going over the fiscal cliff.

This is the same argument the Christie administration made when it initially proposed to introduce VAT at 15 percent.

But the FNM raised holy hell.

It accused the government of being uncreative and seeking to kill the middle class.

In recent days, as we have questioned and criticized the government’s decision to raise VAT at such a high rate, we have been confronted with a question from senior government officials: “What is it you would have us do? What is the alternative?”

Beside the fact that this government has yet to put forth an overarching vision for economic development, we point to an answer given by Peter Turnquest while he was in opposition, seeking, along with his colleagues, to score political brownie points.

In May 2014, when the FNM was slamming the PLP on its plan to implement VAT, it was proposing no alternative.

When asked to respond to criticisms that the FNM had not presented an alternative to VAT more than a year after the government released its white paper, Turnquest said the PLP was elected to govern, and the FNM is not “obligated to put forth an alternative” – although he said the FNM would later put forth its position.

Now the FNM seeks to ignore the alarm it sounded over the implementation of VAT.

It claims to have little choice than to hike the tax rate.

It claims it is doing so because the Christie administration squandered the more than $1 billion in VAT it raised and left over $400 million in unpaid bills.

It says it will balance the budget in three years and save the country.

But it has become difficult to believe anything they are saying anymore.

They have proven to be untrustworthy, shameless and “lazy” in their approach.

They give new meaning to that statement Minnis made in the months ahead of the last election: “When you don’t want to think, you just tax.”

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