The Minnis administration’s budget for the 2019/2020 fiscal year is one designed to benefit “special interests”, Shadow Minister of Finance Chester Cooper asserted in the House of Assembly yesterday.
“This budget is a failure,” Cooper said to jeers from government MPs.
“It is painfully clear that there was heavy lobbying for and on behalf of special interest and their negotiators won.”
Cooper said that the budget contained tax breaks that benefitted only the wealthy, while the middle class and poor “got shafted”.
He pointed to the benefits that second homeowners and new car dealerships would see from the new budget provisions.
“On top of the $25 million lost in excise tax last year because you allow them to bring in the cars duty free and only pay taxes when they sell the car, they get even more tax breaks this time,” he said.
He continued, “So the rich get loopholes and the poor gets crayons.”
Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest last week touted duty reductions on pens, pencils, crayons, rulers and sharpeners as tax relief measures. Other items that saw duty reductions included small refrigerators and stoves, fire extinguishers, flashlights, radios, pots and pans and household furniture.
Cooper also criticized the movement of the General Post Office to the Town Centre Mall. The announcement of the new location last year was met with widespread criticism, as the principal shareholders of the property are Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette and his brother.
“This administration promised campaign finance reforms in the interest of their soap box transparency and accountability,” Cooper said.
“Many who sit in here will praise the movement of a post office to Town Centre Mall as a national achievement, yet fiddle while Bahamas Power and Light says one thing and does another, while still failing to provide affordable electricity and keep the lights on.”
Cooper, MP for Exuma and Ragged Island, also called on Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to apologize to the people of Ragged Island over what he called “gross neglect” by the government.
The island was devastated by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Nearly two years later, government buildings on the island remain in a state of disrepair.
“It is my sincere hope that during this budget debate our prime minister will offer an apology to the people of Ragged Island for gross neglect on the part of this administration,” Cooper said.
“It is my hope that this prime minister and the minister of education will articulate what the government intends to do on Ragged Island about the upcoming school year.
“It is my hope that there is a plan in place, right now, for the provision of a nurse and some sort of clinic facility on Ragged Island.
“The need for this is urgent.
“These are real people, with real needs that the government is not meeting.
“I cry and make noise for them because their cries have clearly fallen on deaf ears.”