Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday defended government’s move to raise its travel budget by $4 million as a “necessary increase”, noting that the government needs to travel internationally in order to raise investment for the country following Hurricane Dorian.
“The opposition is so focused on criticizing everything we do that they are talking out of two sides of their mouth, and spectacularly and foolishly contradicting themselves,” Minnis told reporters at the Office of the Prime Minister.
“The leader of the opposition criticized the increase in the travel budget – a part of which will be used for travel to boost international investment – while at the same time, his deputy said that the government should seek more international investment which of course will require international travel.
“One way to increase international investment includes investment promotions and meetings overseas, which require international travel from various ministries and agencies. We have to be aggressively on the road promoting all the islands of The Bahamas as a prime investment destination.
“We are pleased with the new international investments coming on stream in Grand Bahama, and we will have further announcements for Grand Bahama and Abaco.”
Last week, Perspective revealed that the government had $954,967 allocated for travel by various ministries and departments; $36,854 allocated for the Ministry of Health’s emergency flights from Abaco; $3,017,195 allocated for per diem, incidentals and accommodations for public officers and uniformed staff and $8,000 allocated for expenses related to customs officers’ clearance of hurricane relief supplies in South Florida.
The total increase in expenditure is $4,017,016.
Helicopter travel, according to a document, included costs to a U.S.-based firm at a rate of $110,000 per day for six hours of flight time per aircraft, per day.
Any flight time over six hours would be billed at $10,500 per hour.
On November 25, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said the government had made the “wrong decision at the wrong time when this country is facing a kind of financial gloom and crisis to be able to increase the budget by $4 million for travel”.
In the days that followed, both Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, who serves as minister of finance, defended the increase.
Turnquest said the increase was the result of a need for emergency flights to handle relief efforts, including “medical crises”, on islands impacted by Hurricane Dorian
Yesterday, Minnis said, “The reality is that we are at the confluence of two major issues: one heartbreaking and the other heartening.
“We had to increase travel to the areas affected by Hurricane Dorian and as I’ve said, we won’t stop until those affected are back on their feet.”
He noted that the investments that The Bahamas would attract as a result of the international travel by Cabinet ministers, would create more economic opportunities and better jobs for Bahamians.
Since 2017, the government has gotten roughly $8.6 billion in international investment, according to Minnis.
“We intend to attract even more through marketing and promotions overseas,” he said.
“This will help in our reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Dorian and in our long-term economic development program.”
According to The Guardian’s records, there have been more than a dozen trips by Cabinet ministers since Dorian struck Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.