In the face of an historic economic downturn and the need for a comprehensive economic growth strategy, it is unfortunate that this week’s leadoff to the 2020/2021 budget debate was too heavily weighted toward the present administration’s stump for political support.
Notwithstanding the Free National Movement’s (FNM) overwhelming mandate captured over three years ago and the capital therewith which ought to have been parlayed into groundbreaking progress in governance, the Minnis administration has rarely demonstrated comfort with making the necessary switch from campaigning to governing.
As such, it appears to find itself on track to stretch its ongoing campaign mode to one that may not end until the final votes are counted in as much as 23 months from now.
Finance Minister Peter Turnquest, whose task is no easy one given the challenges before him, spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP); so inordinate was his focus that the opposition was referenced 49 times in his 28-page debate contribution.
It seems the memo that the PLP question was settled in May 2017 has not been received, while the message that the country must grow itself out of financial peril appears to have fallen on deaf ears in this term in office.
Economic growth does not happen by chance or the gods’ favor on a political party, but by focused and innovative leadership; and the government’s heavily touted resiliency mantra in its 2020/2021 budget presentations will be no more than a cliche without a plan for real economic growth.
By FY 2021/2022, the country’s debt is forecast to exceed $10 billion; a burden that if shared equally among every man, woman and child in the country would amount to over $25,000 per person.
Instead of providing the nation with details on how government will manage and service the country’s ballooning debt, the public was led through a graphical journey into which political party amassed more net borrowing than the other.
Instead of enunciating an economic growth strategy that addresses public sector reform and explores revenue streams which could better facilitate debt servicing initiatives, parliamentarians and the public were lectured on which party’s debt was better.
The irony of Turnquest’s trek down the lane of comparing borrowing levels between the last PLP and the current FNM administrations, is the latter is on an unenviable course of matching the record of the former, by having borrowed billions of dollars during its term in office with very little to show for it.
An example of the show-and-tell residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama are calling for following Turnquest’s leadoff, is what nearly $80 million in hurricane restoration funding has been spent on between the two islands.
When one considers the multiplied millions donated in cash and kind on both islands; millions in dormant account funds earmarked for home repairs; the repair works carried out by foreign-based NGOs; and the present state of much of Abaco and parts of eastern Grand Bahama nine months after Hurricane Dorian, a detailed accounting is due.
Echoing his wait-and-see sentiment expressed during his budget communication, Turnquest advised that more details about the government’s fiscal objectives will be provided in its next fiscal strategy report.
What is it about the government’s plan to address its current fiscal and economic challenges that cannot be presented where it ought to be ventilated, which is during debate on the annual compendium of bills which enable the work of government to be financed?
This “kicking the can down the line” pattern with respect to government planning speaks to a more worrisome issue of an administration that, despite having avenues of talent and experience at its disposal, just cannot seem to get out of its own way long enough to chart a course of economic growth and newness that the average Bahamian can feel and own.
The Bahamian people will make their next decision on the FNM and PLP question in due course.
An unending campaign of finger-pointing and resting on the laurels of what is perceived as incurable public disaffection with one’s political adversary has not appreciably moved the progress needle thus far, and cannot hope to do so moving forward.