Pineridege MP Frederick McAlpine yesterday lambasted the government over what he deemed excessive traveling.
“People are wondering why it seems to be [an] austerity budget for the citizens, but the government seems to be traveling with such large entourages, sleeping, eating and many other things at the people’s expense,” said McAlpine, during debate on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill in the House of Assembly.
“People want to know why so many people have to travel in these astronomical numbers, and they’re now asking for an expense account for these trips to be laid on the table in this place. It’s called fiscal responsibility.
“Mr. Speaker, before my termination at the hotel corporation, the corporation and I had the occasion to travel to Andros, Bimini and Grand Bahama taking our meetings and business to various islands to investigate and examine matters as it pertains to the functioning and developmental affairs for the people’s business of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
“Mr. Speaker, the question being asked in the public sphere [is], why did an entire board, if not entirely, a large number, have to travel all the way to London to conduct business as it relates to matters of water and sewerage?
“[Do] you know how much one ticket costs to go to London? Not to talk about the living accommodations, and they all had to eat. Having taken my family there on two occasions, it can be quite costly.
“The people of The Bahamas want to know who’s paying and what warranted a chairman and an entire board going to London on the people’s dime.
“Mr. Speaker, it’s a legitimate question, because we said, as a government, things are fiscally bad, and our financial pattern ought to line up with what we say.”
McAlpine said there are far too many people who have not received their pension money since retirement, others who remain unpaid for jobs done for the government and many who have lost their contracts, including supporters of the government.
He also pointed to money owed to nurses, teachers and other civil servants, as well as people on Grand Bahama who find it difficult to receive social service assistance in a timely manner.
“Based on the government’s presentation to us of this financial quagmire, The Bahamas expects financial prudence in all areas, and not just some,” McAlpine said.
In January, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis committed to disclose ministers’ travel costs.
Press Secretary Anthony Newbold has said that the report on ministers’ travel will come at the end of the year.
He explained compiling the trips for all ministers with explanations is an “extensive” undertaking.
When asked whether ministers’ travel for 2017 had been compiled, Newbold said that report should be ready by the end of 2018.
Minnis committed to disclose ministers’ travel costs following a three-day trip to Texas, where he met Texas Governor Greg Abbott, members of the Austin Technology Council and the Texas Association of Business.
He assured Bahamians that every penny his government spends on travel will be accounted for.
The government has budgeted $8.88 million for travel in 2018/2019 – $220,000 more than in 2017/2018.
The allocation is also $1.26 million more than the Christie administration allocated in 2016/2017.
The government expects to allocate $8.95 million in 2019/2020 and a further $9.09 million for 2020/2021, the budget shows.
Minnis and a delegation are in New York this week for the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Minnis is accompanied by his wife, Patricia.
Other members of the delegation are Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield; Minister of Transport and Local Government Renward Wells; Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson; Tamika Thompson; St. Barnabas MP and Chairman of the Public Parks and Public Beaches Authority Shanendon Cartwright; Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister Joshua Sears; Chief Operating Officer of the Delivery Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister Viana Gardiner; Katherine Stewart-Marsh, Office of the Prime Minister; Inspector Edgar Kemp, aide to the prime minister; Corporal Latroy Bodie, aide to the prime minister’s wife; Yontalay Bowe, photographer, Office of the Prime Minister; Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Eugene Torchon-Newry; Altovise Munnings and Philip Marche, of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas; and Sergeant Kirk Bastian, aide to the prime minister.