Pintard ‘dead wrong’ on budget criticism

Minister of Economic Affairs Michael Halkitis yesterday dismissed the opposition leader’s claim that the new budget does not address the high cost of living as “dead wrong”.

“Food items, for the most part, they were always very low rated,” Halkitis said.

“For a lot, customs duty was five percent. A lot of it was zero. But what we decided to do this time was we tackled items that Bahamians buy when they go in the grocery store: chicken, chicken parts. We’re talking about leg quarters, wings, drumsticks, etc., and pork, pork chops, ribs, and turkey wings.

“We dropped the duty on chicken from 30 percent to 10 percent, and on pork from 25 to 10, and from turkey, I think, it was from 30 down to 10 or 15.”

Halkitis said retailers often say that Bahamians usually buy more chicken, pork, etc., than canned corned beef, which is a breadbasket item.

He said the new reductions in duty for these meats will have “a significant impact” on the cost of food.

Halkitis said the government has already been in discussions with some retailers and also intends to have discussions with wholesalers.

“The prime minister said yesterday that, yes, there is a concern that you do these things and it’s not passed on to the consumers,” Halkitis said.

“I spoke on a show today and someone volunteered to be a watchdog to watch these things, and we will be watching it. In this budget, we have increased the allocation to the Consumer Affairs Department for consumer protection and for us to be able to do things like educate the public, hire some more inspectors to look at these things.”

Giving the opposition’s reaction to the budget communication on Wednesday, Free National Movement Leader Pintard said, “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.”

But Halkitis said the government believes its new budget will bring relief.

The rise in inflation has become a critical issue in The Bahamas, not unlike many other countries. On Wednesday, the prime minister called it a cost of living crisis.

The International Monetary Fund has projected that consumer prices in The Bahamas will increase by 7.3 percent this year.

In his budget communication, Prime Minister Philip 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.

Despite this, Pintard said it appears the government is “out of touch with the tremendous hurt and pain that many Bahamians are experiencing”.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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