Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019
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PM’s budget wrap-up: strong on politics and policy

This is the last of our commentaries on the 2019/2020 budget. We comment on the prime minister’s wrap-up of the budget debate.

Firstly, we found the prime minister’s presentation to be highly political. In his criticism of the opposition, he revisited the allegations of drug corruption from the Pindling-era, recalling the many lives lost and families ruined from the fallout. And he accused PLP leaders, including Sir Lynden, of shamefully neglecting their constituencies.

This can be a problematical political strategy.

Parties voted out of office hope that the causes for their defeat at the polls will fade in the minds of the electorate and they dislike being reminded of the reasons for their defeat. The prime minister understands this and used his contribution to embarrass the opposition.

We question, however, whether the prime minister’s contribution will appeal to the public. Of great import will be how it plays with independents voters, those saying: “Don’t dwell on the past; tell us what you are doing for us now.”

Indeed, the early unforced errors of Minnis’ own administration could play to the PLP’s favor.

Secondly, the prime minister sought to distinguish his administration’s record from that of his predecessors. He accused the leader of the opposition of remaining silent during scandals that arose when he served as deputy prime minister.

We earlier observed that the government’s budget was heavy on revenue collection, but light on plans to grow the economy. The prime minister sought to fill in the blanks. He touted the numbers that support a turnaround in the economy since May 2017. In 2016, the Bahamian economy shrunk; in 2018, it grew. Tourism is up. The deficit, as a percentage of GDP, shrank from 5.5 percent to 3.4 percent between 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 and is forecasted to continue to shrink.

He acknowledged that work remained to be done, but congratulated his administration’s success on reducing the number of murders in the country; a safe society being critical to a healthy economy.

We note that the prime minister did not acknowledge that at least some of the economic progress being experienced had roots in the previous administration.

Thirdly, the prime minister focused on his government’s policies to reshape our future. He spoke of plans to increase access to pre-school and higher education. He highlighted support to small and medium-sized businesses, including a new small business center and funding of $25 million. He committed to building on earlier FNM governments’ initiatives to increase Bahamian access to Crown land.

He pledged to continue to promote policies fostering renewal Over-the-Hill and introduced a new concept for the enhancement of the City of Nassau. His plan for a new entertainment zone encompassing the Fort Charlotte and the Arawak Cay/Long Wharf Beach corridor over-rode the minister of tourism’s announced plans for private management of Junkanoo Beach.

The prime minister has a lofty plan. If realized, the country as a whole will benefit. The key word here is “if”. Politics is often a story of promises made but left unfulfilled. This administration will be judged on its actions, not its words. We shall all be watching.

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