Debate on the government’s budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 has concluded in the House of Assembly.
Ministers were allotted two hours to speak. Most ministers read word for word from written texts ignoring the House rule which requires that House debates not include verbatim repetition of prepared texts.
Some ministers set out elaborate plans and programs to be undertaken by their ministries and departments. Most contributions bore little relationship to what was being presented for adoption in the estimates.
The minister of education told us that thousands of students in the government operated school system have not returned to classrooms after the reopening of schools that had been shuttered against the pandemic.
This has dire implications for our economy and society as a whole. Details on specific programs to address the problem must be made available to the public.
The minister of health reported an alarming infant mortality rate of between 17.5 and 19.4 percent beginning in 2018, dangerously close to the over 20 percent infant mortality rate recorded prior to 1992.
He was less specific on programs planned to help reduce the rate, at a minimum, to the 12.1 percent achieved by 2001.
And he told us that nine new clinics are to be constructed and 11 repaired in the Family Islands.
Some eight modern Family Island clinics were built within the past 20 years. For example, a new clinic is slated for Exuma, however, reports indicate that the community hospital built there just 10 years ago, has never been adequately staffed.
The minister of labor was almost gleeful in reporting on wasteful expenditures by the opposition party when they last led the government, on housing for an ambassador to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium.
He drew no comparison to exorbitant funds expended when his party last led the government just over four years ago, renovating The Bahamas’ diplomatic residence in London while also accommodating the then-high commissioner in a luxury hotel for many months.
And there was no reference to the hefty government expenditures on the maintenance and/or protection of members of the family of the then-prime minister who chose to reside in Atlanta, Georgia, for extended periods of time.
Some official travel by the government involves attendance at, for example, the Glasgow meeting on climate change, regional CARICOM meetings or, more recently, the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles as well as planned travel to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) in Rwanda. Such travel is fully justifiable.
One is left to question, however, the makeup and size of several government delegations to overseas meetings and conferences, whether that is attending the world trade fair in Dubai or any number of other official travel delegations, including last week’s delegation to Washington, D.C., which included three Cabinet ministers plus technical staff.
Meanwhile, the minister responsible for labor left it to the prime minister to provide us with a guesstimate on the unemployment level, i.e., 20 percent, down from the 40 percent guesstimated at the height of the pandemic in 2020-2021.
Absent from the debate was official unemployment and inflation numbers, both critically important economic indicators. And there was no update on the conduct of the census of the population or of the conduct of a survey of the labor force by the Department of Statistics.
Absent also was a commitment to fiscal discipline, improvement in the delivery of public services, accountability or transparency in the conduct of public business, or of complying with and abiding by the law with respect to the award of contracts as mandated by the Public Procurement Act.