The government has reduced the budget allocations of 42 ministries and departments to contend with the “monstrous” impact of Hurricane Dorian, which leveled Grand Bahama and Abaco last September, and COVID-19, the worldwide pandemic that has brought the Bahamian economy to a near standstill.
In his 2020/2021 budget communication, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said the cuts were not massive, nor were they made in any critical areas.
But the cuts touched nearly every ministry.
The Ministry of the Environment and Housing saw its budget slashed from $41 million in 2019/2020 to $26 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Ministry of Tourism and Aviation also saw a reduction from $130 million to $106 million.
The ministry expects to reduce the allocation of salaries of permanent and pensionable employees in 2020/2021 by $3 million, from $9.5 million to $6.3 million. However, the ministry budgeted $11 million in salaries for contract workers, a $1 million increase over the last fiscal year.
The Ministry of Finance’s budget was reduced from $280 million to $263 million.
The Ministry of Labour saw its budget cut from $8.5 million to $6.8 million.
The Ministry for Grand Bahama had its budget cut from $12 million to $9 million.
The Ministry of Health’s budget was cut from $324 million to $298 million.
The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture’s budget was reduced from $24 million to $18 million.
The Department of Labour had its budget cut from $2.3 million to $2.1 million.
The Ministry of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration saw a cut from $2.1 million to $1.6 million.
The Ministry of Public Service and National Insurance was cut from $288 million to $263 million.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had its budget reduced from $33.6 million to $28 million.
The Senate, House of Assembly, Office of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Office, Court of Appeal, the Office of the Judiciary, the police and defense force, the prison and several other agencies also saw minor reductions in their budget allocations.
However, 17 ministries and departments saw budget increases. There were also several new heads added to the budget, including a new ministry – the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction.
That ministry saw a budget allocation of $11 million. It received a budget allocation of $150,000 for salaries, but its major line item, of $10 million, was for debris management.
The Department of Social Services saw a sizable increase in its budget allocation from $49 million in 2019/2020 to $60 million for 2020/2021.
Other government ministries and departments that saw increases include: the Department of Statistics, which received a $1.6 million increase; the Ministry of National Security, which received an increase of more than $800,000; and the Ministry of Education, which saw an increase of around $1 million.
The Parliamentary Registration Department also saw its budget increase from $1.2 million to $1.5 million. The Department of Road Traffic’s budget increased from $4.6 million to $4.9 million.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources’ budget increased from $26 million to $26.2 million. The Department of Marine Resources saw its budget go up from $2.37 million to $2.38 million.
The Department of Transformation and Digitization saw a budget increase from $25 million to $49 million.
The Department of Public Health, a new budget head, was allocated $45 million.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, also a new budget head, was allocated $2.9 million.
In all, Turnquest said the government is boosting capital spending to $515 million.
“To reiterate what I mentioned earlier, we were mindful not to cut spending in critical areas,” Turnquest said.
“Allocations to the Department of Public Health, for example, which now has its own head in the budget book, totaled $45 million. This, paired with the allocations to the Ministry of Health, constitute funding of over $300 million to the public healthcare system in the upcoming budget, an increase in allocation of $18.5 million from the previous year.
“As a result, we have budgeted recurrent spending at $2.6 billion, which is $35.3 million or 1.4 percent higher than the revised budgeted sum of $2.5 billion for the supplementary budget.
“Comparatively, capital expenditure will feature a number of projects, which support hurricane restoration, as we continue to rebuild Grand Bahama and Abaco. In addition, the government will be maintaining its investment in education, to ensure that all eligible Bahamians are able to access free tuition, from preschool to university. In fact, we have increased the allocations for the UB (University of The Bahamas) scholarship initiative by $1.5 million, and the Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute by some $500,000, in anticipation of an increase in enrolment as these tertiary institutions have signaled an increase in applications in the aftermath of the COVID-19 situation.
“Further, we will expand our investments in hospitals and clinics, road works and other civil projects across the Commonwealth to boost critical infrastructure and generate near-term job opportunities. All told, we are boosting capital spending to total $515.5 million, which is equivalent to a $190.0 million, or 58.4 percent increase over the projected out-turn of FY2019/20.”