The government has requested its various ministries and agencies to “find savings in their budgets” to help it navigate its fiscal goals, but Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest stressed that the Minnis administration is not cutting public servant salaries or reducing the level of the public service at this point.
Turnquest said the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on The Bahamas mean that difficult decisions will have to be made about new or improved programs.
“At this time, we’ve said to all the ministries and agencies that we need you to help us to ensure that we minimize the amount of loss that we are going to have to sustain during this period of uncertainty. We have put challenge to all ministries to identify those reductions that you are able to put forth,” he said yesterday on the Guardian Talk Radio 96.9 FM show “Z Live” with host Zhivargo Laing.
“We are looking for 20 percent. Can we make 20 percent? We don’t know. But we have put the challenge out to everybody to say just as we are expecting families to cut back because they are now in a challenging circumstance, the government of The Bahamas has to likewise cut back without sacrificing those programs and those fixed costs there to support individuals throughout this country who need it.
“Where it is we might have been able to use a whole tin of cream, we now have to use half, and put a little water in it to make it stretch. That’s basically where we are.”
Turnquest said government is seeking to be as conservative and judicious as possible with the resources available, but called Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis’ recent assertion in a press statement that there was a proposal to force cuts across all ministries, including cuts to public servant salaries, unfortunate, disappointing and irresponsible.
“I don’t know where he would have gotten this information,” Turnquest said.
“It is unfortunate. It is incorrect. The reality is the fiscal situation in the country is going to be significantly challenged for the next year. And the reality of that means that there are going to be some difficult decisions that are going to have to be made in respect to the priorities of the government, the programs that we fund and the various allocations that we make in the various ministries and agencies.
“But there’s been no formal discussions with anything to do with cutting civil servant salaries or trimming down the public service, other than the natural attritions that happen for retirements and expiration of contracts. We have had no discussions at a Cabinet level or a government level about anything to do with cutting or adjusting the salaries of the public service.
“As we do every year in the budgeting process, we say to our ministries and agencies, ‘Come to us with your plans for the new year. What are your personal emoluments and benefits allocations? What are your fixed cost allocations, et cetera?’
“And we, as we do every year, challenged these agencies and ministries to be as efficient as they possibly can with their human resources. So, the short answer to your question is, no the cabinet of the government of The Bahamas has not had any discussions about cutting public servant salaries or reducing the level of the public service at this point.”
The deputy prime minister accused Davis of seeking to divide Bahamians.
“The leader of the opposition never fails to disappoint,” Turnquest said.
“On the one hand, he speaks about working with the government and all of us being in this together. In his words, we’re at war with the virus and not with each other, but yet he continues on the war path.
“It is very unfortunate and very disappointing and irresponsible of the leader of the opposition to seek to divide our people, to inflict fear and anxiety in a people who are already on edge as a result of this virus and the uncertainty of dealing with a pandemic where there is no cure and the treatment is really time.”