Turnquest: Fernander’s comments premature
Comments made by Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander during the independence celebrations on Clifford Park on Monday were “premature” and “not the day for negative talk”, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
Fernander urged the government to focus more on innovation and not taxation for a better life for Bahamians.
“My brothers and sisters, we cannot tax our way into a better tomorrow,” Fernander said. “We must innovate and elevate our natives and our resources and our people to a better tomorrow.”
Asked to respond to this, Turnquest said, “I think that it’s unfortunate in the context of the discussion.
“We in fact have a meeting set up with the Christian Council to go through the budget, either tomorrow or if not tomorrow certainly early next week, to go through the budget on why we are where we are in respect to the discussions.
“And so, I think his comments may have been a bit premature in that regard, because he may not necessarily have the full view of what we’re faced with.
“But we’ll have those discussions with the council and hopefully at the end of the day we’ll come to a conclusion that we are on the right path in consideration of everything.”
While he did not directly point to it, Fernander appeared to be responding to the government’s decision to increase value-added tax (VAT) from 7.5 percent to 12 percent.
The increase was announced in the 2018/2019 budget communication and is expected to bring in an additional $400 million in new revenue.
It took effect on July 1.
Turnquest insisted yesterday that despite the “rhetoric that is out there”, there are a number of benefits in the budget for the lower income communities.
“When you look at the exemptions that are on the breadbasket items alone, it represents a 7.5 percent reduction in the cost of those items across the board,” Turnquest said.
“When you look at the removal of duties on clothes and shoes, which will affect again a wide [part] of our population, particularly those on the lower end and the effort for back to school coming up, that’s going to affect a great deal of the community that we are concerned about.
“…Everybody’s focused on this four and a half percent increase in the value-added tax but they are not considering what else is in this budget and what does this mean for us in the short term as well as in the long term.
“And again, I encourage Bahamians to read for themselves what is in this budget for them and to take advantage of those opportunities, whether it is direct exemptions for them or whether it is for the business community or creating opportunities and lowering the barriers for persons to get into business.
“…So again, I reserve comment in respect to the president of the Christian Council and his statement until after we’ve had an opportunity to have a dialogue so they can understand fully what is in the budget and how it sets out to try and protect and reduce the effects of value-added tax on the lower income community.”
Turnquest said while he agrees that The Bahamas cannot tax its way out of debt it also can not borrow its way out of debt.
Pressed on his thoughts about Fernander using the independence celebrations as a platform to speak on the issue, Turnquest said, “Again, I don’t want to get too deep involved in that aspect of it; that’s the venue that he chose.
“I think that, as I said to some of the groups that I’m involved in, independence is a very special time in this country where we celebrate what’s good about this country and about the advancements that we’ve made, that we should be rightfully proud of.
“It’s not the day for negative talk.
“But again, I choose to celebrate what’s good about The Bahamas and certainly we’re very proud, 45 years of solid democracy, solid advancement as a people, as a community and we honor those who have led the way in the past, those named heroes as well as those unsung heros who continue to put their shoulder to the wheel every day advancing this country.”
Fernander also pointed to the country’s use of the Westminster system in relation to the firing of Bains and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson and Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller as parliamentary secretaries after they voted against the VAT Amendment Bill.
“We should have left in the water a colonial system that causes our elected members of Parliament to be fired for representing the people that they were sent to Parliament to represent,” he said.
In response to this, Turnquest said, “No matter where you are in the world, when you talk about collective responsibility as a government, no matter what the form of the government is, that is a principle that is undisputed, and so while we all have a God given right to speak our minds, at the end of the day, when the government makes a decision, it is incumbent about all those who are part of it, particularly of the decision making body, to support it and to ensure that the opportunities and challenges are explained to the Bahamian people.
“We talk about this Westminster system as if it is some big animal out there that is disadvantaging people; that’s not in fact that case.
“Most countries around the world have a Westminster system and it works effectively and some would say it works better than some of the republics that we have around the world.
“So again, we all have a right and an opportunity to speak in this country and to choose the kind of government that we want, we respect that, paying due respect to the traditions that we’ve established and that have worked well for us, up to this point.”