Halkitis to Johnson: Leave politics to the politicians
Former Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis has cautioned Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson to “leave the political talk to the politicians”, calling some of his recent posts on social media and his defense of the Minnis administration “inappropriate”.
Johnson has been making the rounds on the airwaves since the government announced the 60 percent increase in value-added tax (VAT), which will take effect July 1.
He has also been attempting to make the case for the increase on social media.
In one post, a Facebook user suggested the Free National Movement (FNM) won the election based on “misinformation”, noting that Johnson was doing “damage control” after the VAT hike announcement.
Johnson responded, “Misinformation? It has nothing to do with the actual performance of the previous administration? The four downgrades? The massive run up of debt after VAT? The inability to get Baha Mar open? The persistent scandals? In your view it was misinformation that caused the defeat of the former administration? Interesting.”
Halkitis said he has never seen such a senior civil servant display political statements.
“The minister of finance can go out and attack the PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) as much as he likes; he is a politician, but the civil servant has a separate role and he should not blur those lines,” Halkitis said.
“…I have never seen that. I have never, in all my time, seen such a level of involvement on social media. Civil servants have a role to play. Leave the politics to politicians.”
He continued, “That’s getting into the political part of it.
“We have to be careful because administrations come and go. Civil servants are supposed to serve the government of the day… That’s not the role of the civil servant. The financial secretary is a very senior position within the service. And so, all senior individuals, but particularly the financial secretary, should be neutral.
“You have to vet the budget and prepare the budget and advise the minister. Leave the political talk to the politicians. He should really leave the politics to the politicians. Do the analysis and give the advice.”
Halkitis opined that the Minnis administration may have guided Johnson to do so.
“Traditionally, someone in such a senior position would not be commenting on a lot of things I see the financial secretary doing in terms of social media and that sort of thing, even the radio rounds,” he said.
“… But, I imagine, you know, maybe this administration feels they want the public servants to go out and do more of the marketing. The role of the civil servant is to provide advice, and [in] this case, technical advice to the government.”
In a private Facebook group “Speak Up Bahamas”, which has over 20,000 members, Johnson posted, presumably in response to being previously removed, “I’m back. Which one of y’all had me kicked out? Special 25% VAT for y’all mummy.”
The post received more than 70 comments and 92 reactions, most of which were jovial.
Halkitis said given the widespread objection to the VAT hike, and the fact that Bahamians are still struggling to make ends meet in an environment where the cost of living is high, “no one wants to hear that joke”.
“Nobody is laughing at this 12 percent,” Halkitis said. “I am not in the group, so I don’t know if anyone came back and said ‘good one’. But, it is a serious matter. It is a hefty increase and it is sudden. I didn’t think it was funny.”