The Speech from the Throne failed to address the seriousness of the country’s fiscal situation, did not provide details on many of the government’s promises, and failed to say how those initiatives would be paid for, the Free National Movement (FNM) said yesterday.
In a statement, the party said the speech did not provide the necessary plans and policies that will “maintain the significant economic recovery started by the Minnis administration”.
Governor General Sir Cornelius A. Smith read the speech at the convention center at Baha Mar on Wednesday during the Opening of Parliament.
The speech did not vary from the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) “Blueprint for Change”, which it released shortly before the September 16 general election.
Shortly after the governor general read the speech, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis called it a copy and a rehash of many of the FNM’s ideas.
In its statement, the FNM said the speech failed to address the ongoing necessity for tax reform and for reform of the state-owned enterprises that are critical to fiscal consolidation over time.
“The PLP has again promised to reduce VAT without providing any clear plans on how the reduced revenue will be replaced,” the party said.
“It failed to provide a timeline on when this will be done.”
The Davis administration promised to fulfill its campaign pledge and reduce value-added tax (VAT) from 12 percent to 10 percent.
The FNM also took issue with the government’s promise to increase old-age pension benefits and questioned how it will be funded.
“Do they intend to increase NIB rates?” the party asked.
“Why didn’t they say so?”
The Davis administration has committed to increasing senior citizens’ pension, and increase benefits for people with disabilities.
It also pledged to prioritize health and wellness initiatives and move aggressively to introduce catastrophic healthcare insurance.
The FNM asked, “Do they intend to have all Bahamians pay a monthly insurance premium to cover this insurance? Why didn’t they say so?”
The government also promised to increase the minimum wage and phase in a livable wage and the implementation of a debt management plan to address the historic debt burden and deficit.
The new government also pledged to introduce legislation for the protection of consumers and provide mortgage relief and relief for people struggling to pay rent.
The new administration committed to establish an Urban Renewal Authority, and the strengthening of law enforcement agencies, including the transformation of the prison.
“The PLP government has put together plans to add hundreds of millions of dollars in spending during its term while seeking to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue at the same time,” the FNM said.
“It is an impossible calculus that speaks to their irresponsible approach to governance. The government appears to be making promises it cannot or has no intention of keeping.
“The speech makes it clear that there is a dramatic shift from the fiscally responsible policies that are required for a robust recovery.
“The Fiscal Responsibility Act was introduced to prevent against arbitrary shifts in economic policy.
“The reduction in VAT will result in an estimated $160 million annual revenue – or $800 million over five years – at a time when the country’s resources are strained.
“The PLP policies have only signaled more and more spending but have been silent on how it is to be paid for.
“The government must account to the people [as] required by law how they intend to justify the reduction [in] revenue. The PLP seems determined to pursue fiscally irresponsible policies to accomplish a reduction in value-added tax, [a] further reduction in business-related taxes to be provided as incentives and proposed social and infrastructure spending.”
The FNM said it supports the government’s plan to expunge criminal records of those young people convicted of minor offenses related to the use of marijuana; introduce a regulatory framework for the cannabis industry; as well as continue various infrastructure initiatives, which started under the Minnis administration.
“The opposition will work with the government on these matters and other policy proposals that advance the interests of the Bahamian people, while opposing policies [that] will harm our economic recovery and the needs of Bahamians,” the FNM said.
Minnis led the FNM to a brutal defeat in the general election, with his party winning just seven of the 39 seats.