Every prime minister needs to travel in the interest of the country, as do members of the Cabinet and other senior government officials.
Yet, the amount of travel, the cost of travel and the size of delegations keep coming up as issues of concern every single term.
In 2014, for example, the Free National Movement railed against the amount of traveling that was taking place under the Christie administration with the then-opposition leader, Dr. Hubert Minnis, pointing to “wasteful expenditure” as it related to travel allocations contained in the mid-year budget.
“This government has found it impossible to expend monies allocated and budgeted for the poor at a time when they are overspending on overseas travel and entertainment,” said Minnis, who demanded accounting on “extravagant international travel”.
There was, of course, no accounting provided, despite promises by Perry Christie, prime minister at the time.
When he became prime minister, after capitalizing on the numerous scandals and missteps of the Christie administration, Minnis, too, faced strong criticism over the level of international travel and the lack of accounting on travel expenses.
In November 2019, Opposition Leader Philip Davis said the Minnis administration had 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.”
Though he had been critical of the amount of travel of the former prime minister, last month, in the House of Assembly, Prime Minister Davis accused Minnis of not traveling enough.
“You ain’t travel because you couldn’t speak to people. You were afraid you didn’t have the confidence in yourself to talk to world leaders and to talk to people and put the case for The Bahamian people,” Davis said.
Now in office, Davis, too, faces questions over travel costs and delegation size. Like his predecessors, he has provided no expense reports on his travel, though he had insisted Minnis do so.
Unless one went through the numbers, which we did after the budget communication in May, one would have missed that the Davis administration increased the travel budget by $4.2 million — from $10.6 million to $14.8 million for the 2022/2023 fiscal year.
When he arrived in the country on Monday from Rwanda, where he attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the prime minister said his travel is bearing fruit.
“Our voice is being heard,” he said. “Other countries want to strengthen their relationships with us. Other world leaders and business people want to invest in us and international organizations want to help us.”
We hope the travel is indeed bearing fruit.
To be clear, no Bahamian prime minister should avoid travel. We are a part of a global community. We need to attract attention to causes beneficial to us and our regional counterparts, we need to secure aid, and we need to drive investment to our shores.
Still, Davis ought to be careful about a perception that is creeping in that he is ignoring certain domestic issues while focusing on his aggressive foreign affairs agenda.
The other perception, which we believe to be reality, is that the travel budget is being abused by unnecessarily large delegations traveling with the prime minister.
In Rwanda, for example, accompanying Davis were his speech writer, his press secretary, and his communications director, who embarrassed himself and the prime minister by posting to social media images that portrayed him to be on a joyride at the people’s expense. There were also other members of the delegation.
These are matters Davis should watch because the public is certainly doing so.
The prime minister needs to rein in joyriders and the “free for all” approach his office seems to be taking to travel.
Bahamians have shown how they react when abusive governance takes hold.
It never ends well.