Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Michael Pintard said yesterday the government’s new budget fails to address key priorities as Bahamians grapple with a high cost of living.
“The opposition listened intently to the presentation made by the prime minister,” said Pintard at an Official Opposition press conference at the House of Assembly following Prime Minister Philip Davis’ 2022/2023 budget communication.
“There were several concerns that we had as we listened. We listened looking at several priorities we thought the government would address in a very pointed way. One of those priorities was the cost of living. It is at crisis level now and we fully expected that the prime minister would have outlined a series of actions to address that issue.
“Secondly, there is a need for job creation given the fact that we have just come through a pandemic preceded by [Hurricane] Dorian. Even prior to that, we had sluggish growth in the economy. We fully expect that emerging out of COVID, the government would have had a growth budget — one that stimulates employment generation.”
Pintard said while the Davis administration promised “a new day” on the campaign trail, it appears to be “out of touch with the tremendous hurt and pain that many Bahamians are experiencing”.
Notwithstanding the prime minister declaring that the high cost of living was the chief concern of his government and outlining measures intended to soften the impact of inflation, Pintard said the Davis administration was given an opportunity to address these kinds of issues in the budget but failed to do so.
“We believe, in part, this is due to a prime minister who, while quite busy, is inattentive to many of the details required for him to flesh out a growth budget and a plan of action to address unemployment and the serious level of crime and a healthcare system that is seriously challenged,” Pintard said.
“Despite the many candies in the budget, we understand clearly the impact of candies. They taste good initially upon eating but there are cavities that appear later. We wonder to what extent has the government given serious consideration to how it will be able to sustain and pay for some of the things that it has mentioned in this budget.”
Pintard said the opposition has not seen a clear plan.
He pointed to the government’s request to borrow nearly $700 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
Pintard said the government did not explain how its intended “high level” of borrowing will impact figures outlined in the budget.
“We believe that the government ought to have a realistic discussion with the Bahamian people about the challenges that we are facing as a country and then lay out a plan that is designed to face each of these challenges,” he said.
“For example, we know that we have a substantial problem with national insurance. Multiple actuarial studies have indicated that we are at risk of the national insurance funds being depleted if concrete actions are not taken. This matter was not addressed by the government in the budget.
“We also know that there is a significant problem at BPL (Bahamas Power and Light) where it is having difficulty meeting its ongoing commitments which have implications with respect to potential blackouts during the summer, increased cost of electricity for consumers [and the] inability of BPL to meet capital works, which is required.
“So, the question is: why would the budget, which proposes that it will address some of the most significant issues with energy being one of them … not address in any measurable way how BPL will be dealt with?”
In his budget communication, Davis announced measures intended to reduce the impact of high inflation, including pay raises for most public officers, a proposed minimum wage increase in the public sector, and a permanent increase in social assistance by 50 percent in comparison to pre-pandemic levels.
He also announced measures to increase food security and improve health care.
Davis said the government’s “ambitious agenda” is being funded without any general increase in taxes or rates.