Dubbing it a “Pinocchio government”, Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine blasted the Minnis administration yesterday in his contribution to the mid-year budget debate.
“We have been moving deceptively when it comes to our people, with what we say and what we do,” he said in the House of Assembly.
“We’re looking dishonest.”
He added, “Words like accountability, transparency, credibility, trust, better, honesty and forward-thinking used to be the mantra of a [Free National Movement] FNM government.
“These words helped to build the legacy of the FNM and in one term those words seem to have lost their potency within this political regime.
“[W]hen we call these words, the vast majority in this country no longer take us seriously. I came by to tell you the Bahamian people are tired.”
McAlpine pointed to a number of contentious issues, including the government’s decision to purchase the Grand Lucayan Hotel on Grand Bahama; the decision to move the General Post Office into a building owned in part by former Cabinet minister Brent Symonette, and a deal with Oban Energies that was fraught with controversy.
He was also very critical of the amount of money the government has borrowed.
“We borrowed $3 billion since coming to office,” he said.
“The tragedy of all of this, people can’t see, touch or feel anything as a result of this borrowing.
“The national debt has gone up and the debt to GDP has increased, notwithstanding, you’ll say things are better. For who?
“For the ordinary and average man on our streets, ask them and they will tell you without fear or contradiction the Bahamian people are tired.”
McAlpine also criticized the government over benefits for Cabinet ministers and their families.
As part of the Minnis administration’s new travel policy for ministers implemented by Cabinet last year, ministers’ spouses were afforded additional trips and a $100 per diem; ministers received a 25 percent and 67 percent per diem increase for domestic and international travel respectively; and ministers were afforded membership to the American Airlines (AA) Admiral’s Club, which enables access to its premium passenger lounges in airports around the world.
“We preached austerity to the people, yet we are still extravagant as a government, increasing travel, not just for ourselves, but spouses as well, with a hefty per diem daily, while people can’t even afford to buy food in this nation,” McAlpine said.
“The taxpayers are paying for Cabinet minister’s spouses and children insurances, for people who claim to be multi-millionaires.”
However, Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells defended the move, saying some of the policies have always been in place.
“The reality is the member is talking about Cabinet ministers’ insurances. From independence, from Lynden Oscar Pindling’s time, Cabinet ministers, their wives and children had insurance,” he said.
“[H]e is speaking as if this administration implemented insurance for Cabinet ministers. It has been that way from independence. And, Mr. Speaker, he is speaking as if spouses were not allowed on trips. Spouses were approved for one trip previously by all Cabinets. It was always that way and there was a per diem.”
However, McAlpine accused the government of treating regular Bahamians as “second-class citizens”.
He insisted that Bahamians are fed up with the current administration, and accused the government of recently disguising a rally as a town hall meeting.
“You mean, we can’t even have a rally without tricking the people into believing that it’s a town meeting?” he said.
“If you want to have a rally, call a rally and let’s see who will show up.
“These are the things that make us look dubious, even if we’re not. That’s why they’re calling us the Pinocchio government.
“The Bahamian people are tired.”
McAlpine has been a deeply controversial figure in the FNM. He has repeatedly taken positions counter to the party.
In 2018, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis fired him from his position as chairman of the hotel corporation after he voted against the government’s increase in value-added tax (VAT) from 7.5 percent to 12 percent.