Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday that the government made the wrong decision to increase its travel budget by $4 million in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
“It’s a 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,” Davis said.
He added, “First of all, why is this necessary to increase your travel budget?
“And secondly, I would’ve said that they be true to their campaign rhetoric that these travels should be accounted for.
“They have yet to make public any of the travel expenses that they have incurred to date despite the calls for it. I don’t know whether this is a guise to increase allowances to ministers.”
Davis said government travel in the wake of Dorian — the strongest storm on record to hit The Bahamas – cannot be worthy of a $4 million increase.
“How many times are you going to be traveling and who’s going to be traveling?” he asked.
“And this $4 million is allotted to who? The ministers? Or to the public service in general? It seems to be that this travel allowance is associated with ministers’ travel.”
On Sunday, Perspective revealed that the government’s budgetary allocation for travel and subsistence for the 2019/2020 fiscal year is set to increase by just over $4 million according to its 2019 Fiscal Strategy Report, which according to Acting Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson is due to travel associated with response to Hurricane Dorian.
Johnson said, “The aftermath of Hurricane Dorian required a number of services to be increased to provide necessary relief and recovery assistance to the affected areas.”
In a table of expenses Johnson provided to Perspective, $954,967 is allocated for travel by various ministries and departments; $36,854 is allocated for the Ministry of Health’s emergency flights from Abaco; $3,017,195 is allocated for per diem, incidentals and accommodations for public officers and uniformed staff; and $8,000 is 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.
When The Guardian put the helicopter figure to Davis he exclaimed, “What?
“That’s extraordinary. [I] don’t know whether the helicopter rate is that high. I would have to look at that number too, definitely.”
In recent months, the government has come under fire for not disclosing the costs of travels for the prime minister and other members of the government.
In January 2018, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis committed to disclose ministers’ travel costs.
However, that never happened.
According to The Guardian’s records, there have been nearly a dozen trips by Cabinet ministers since Dorian struck Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September.
On September 26, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis traveled to New York to deliver remarks at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Around that same time, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands went to Washington D.C., to deliver his farewell address as president of PAHO’s directing council.
In mid-October, Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Elsworth Johnson traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, to attend the 2019 Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) LATAM conference.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar traveled to Fort Lauderdale for the 60th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. The event took place from October 30 to November 3.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Carl Bethel traveled to Washington D.C., to participate in the 2019 Law, Justice and Development Week at the World Bank.
A few days later, Bethel, Johnson and Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield traveled with the prime minister to Brussels, Belgium, for the opening of a Bahamian embassy there.
Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd attended UNESCO’s 40th General Conference in Paris, France. The conference was from November 12 to 15.