Although Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said earlier this week that the government is going to have to make very tough decisions in the upcoming budget exercise, Cabinet ministers yesterday insisted that staff cuts are not on the horizon.
The Ministry of Finance is now in the throes of completing what is projected by the prime minister to be a stark budget, that is being shaped to match the unprecedented nature of the current times.
“I think he’s just speaking about the overall predictions or reductions and cuts in the budget,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest told Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter Jasper Ward yesterday.
“We are not in a position to speak about it at the moment, as we have not finalized the budget, but we can expect that there’s going to be some cutbacks in overall spending.”
Asked in what ways there will be cutbacks, Turnquest said, “We have not finalized the budget yet, so it’s difficult for me to give you specifics. But as we look at the recurrent expenditure overall outside of personal emoluments for a moment, we are looking again at areas that we can either eliminate, that we can repurpose or that we can reduce. So, throughout the budget you can expect that there will be some reduction in those areas that are not actually related to persons’ health, safety and social services.”
Last month, after revealing the government had lost approximately 70 percent of the revenue expected for this period, Turnquest said a clarion call was put out to ministers across all agencies to reduce their ministerial budgets, but he maintained at the time that personnel cuts were not on the table.
Yesterday, however, Turnquest said in these fluid times, things may change.
“Not at the moment, nothing is contemplated at the moment,” he said when asked specifically if staff cuts were being considered.
“Of course things can change because again this is a fluid situation, we are in the middle of the budget, so I can’t tell you that right now that there is nothing at this stage. And we’re in our second round and there’s nothing we’ve contemplated at the moment.
“It has been reported that we have asked for a 20 percent reduction across the board. Whether we will achieve that is still to be determined, but that’s the number we’ve been shooting for.”
Just before the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar was asked by reporters if his ministry intended to streamline staff, to which he replied no.
D’Aguilar was also asked if his ministry can afford to retain its current staff complement.
“I think that’s a general discussion across all of the ministries of the government, and I’m sure that the government is looking at everything and taking into consideration the incredibly difficult times which we face,” he said.
“The minister of finance has said revenues are down 60-70 percent, so obviously some sort of adjustments are going to be necessary to rebuild revenue, get our tourism industry back on track as quickly as possible to get the revenue coming back in, because you can’t run this type of deficit for too long before you either have to borrow or cut. So my focus as the minister of tourism is to get our country back on track.”
Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, when asked the same questions, said he too has no plans to reduce staff in his ministry and cannot afford to.
“Unless I hear that from the prime minister, that’s not within my contemplation. And people in my ministry are actively working because, as you know, the ministry of works is absolutely critical in everything that is going on. They are actively working, and not only are they working to deal with the challenges that we have such as what happened in Spanish Wells, we’re actively working to provide projects for stimulus, so that when the country opens we have stimulus packages ready and moving and you’ll hear more about that as we near the debate,” he said.
“We cannot afford not to keep those architects, engineers and those people who make us safe employed. We cannot afford not to. In many of the cases, what they do is life and death.”