As he acknowledged that Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19 heavily impacted The Bahamas, St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette said the government must move on and find a way to achieve its budgetary goals.
Symonette, who resigned from Cabinet nearly a year ago, was laudatory of the government’s handling of the new coronavirus crisis, but suggested Bahamians are tired of hearing excuses.
Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest highlighted Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic as detrimental blows to the economy and the budget that have led to an unprecedented projected deficit of $1.3 billion in the next fiscal year, to be financed by an unprecedented level of government borrowing.
“I think, if I can give my two cents of advice, to a large extent, the public are getting tired of hearing of extraordinary events or uncharted or unprecedented or whatever,” Symonette said during his contribution to the 2020/2021 budget debate.
“We have to come out of this budget period running full speed to deliver on this.
“No more excuses. COVID we’re coming out of. The hurricane is finished. Yes, it had its damages. Yes, it had its effect.
“You, now, as the government, have got to rebuild our Bahamas for all Bahamians and residents alike. We will give you the tools; one the end of the month to vote this budget in.
“…We will give you the authority. But you as ministers and as a government have got to deliver on your promise, because 23 months from now, you know what happens…an election.”
Symonette emphasized the need for increasing ease of doing business and increasing productivity with smaller budgets.
“The challenge of this budget is not whether so and so got $10 more,” he said.
“The challenge of this budget is for the government, through its ministers, to do more with less and achieve more productivity with what they got and make meaningful changes and end results.”
Symonette also noted that state-owned enterprises must “tighten their belts” to ensure greater efficiency and better service.
He suggested that rather than cut government travel budgets across the board, that more money be spent going out and courting foreign direct investment.
As he stressed the need for the Bahamian economy to reopen, Symonette also urged the government to waive the requirement for hairdressers who work out of their homes to have business licenses before getting back to work.
“I do not know…why the lady working from her house in East Street should have to have a business license,” he said.
“[L]et them get back to work. Worry about the business license later.”
He added, “Some of them don’t have it. We know some of them don’t have it. A lot of them don’t have it. So, let’s let them get back to work and maybe waive the business license requirement so that they can go and get their certificate and start opening up.”