Separating elections and budgets
May 10 marked the fourth consecutive time The Bahamas had a general election in May. This is a bad practice we keep repeating.
By law the budget statement is to be presented to Parliament by the end of May. The state’s fiscal year ends June 30.
Governments use budgets to make their policies happen. They get to arrange state funding to match their visions for how society should be organized.
We do annual budgets in The Bahamas. In a five-year term an administration gets five shots to make major changes. Of course, revisions or amendments could come to Parliament at any time, but it is at the annual budget that the main course is set.
It is unfair to the new prime minister, his finance minister and Cabinet, if a new team is elected, to have to come to Parliament with a budget largely crafted by the former ruling party.
The urgency of rushing from victory night to the Ministry of Finance in order to make an impact on what was nearly finished was evident in comments made by Peter Turnquest, the minister of finance and deputy prime minister, shortly after being sworn in, in May 2017.
“Generally speaking, we understand that we need to get people back to work and get our economy back on track,” he said.
“The focus is going to have to be the budget, which is due in a couple of weeks and seeing how we can adjust the work that is being done to suit the initiatives we want to accomplish this year, which is focused on job creation and the inner-city initiative Dr. Minnis put forth.”
It was a particularly difficult time for the country when the FNM came to office. The economy was stuck in a recession-stagnation phase. Unemployment had been in the low- to mid-double digits for nearly nine years.
May elections are not necessary. Prime ministers call elections in our system. We suspect we’ve had all these May elections because the two prime ministers before Dr. Hubert Minnis thought their parties would win when they chose the election dates. Hence, they would be able to carry to Parliament after the election the budget they had nearly completed.
If the new prime minister implements fixed election dates, he would be wise to choose a time that is outside of the budget cycle. The fall months of October or November would be good to consider.
New governments need that first budget to include measures to shift the economy in line with their thinking and policies.
In May 2017 the people were frustrated with the direction of the country. That’s why the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is now in opposition.
No new government in the future should be bound to work with the thinking of a party rejected at the polls.