This latest budget exercise has, for the most part, been a lackluster and uninspiring affair as far as contributions by ministers and other members of Parliament are concerned.
Two notable exceptions thus far have been contributions by Marco City MP and Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard and Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper, who is also the deputy leader of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the opposition’s shadow minster for finance.
Cooper and Pintard have elevated themselves to the top of a freshman class of MPs that should perform in Parliament at the level demanded of such critical positions, but often does not.
A satisfactory budget presentation by a minster involves not only an accounting for the policy progress and achievements in his or her portfolio for the past budget year, but a rationale for the upcoming budgetary allocations and a roadmap for the policy objectives for the coming year.
Pintard demonstrated an almost encyclopedic knowledge of his portfolio and explained the push toward what would be a revolutionary transformation of agriculture and fisheries in The Bahamas.
The vision Pintard expressed is one that could dramatically change the industry and help agriculture and fisheries to become a significant revenue driver for the government by capturing more of the tourist dollar and keeping funds that normally leave The Bahamas for export, right here at home.
This is his first time as a member of Parliament and his first time in Cabinet.
Pintard, a former chairman of the Free National Movement (FNM), was appointed minister of youth, sports and culture in May 2017, but was moved to agriculture in a mini reshuffling of Cabinet in July 2018.
His background in agriculture would suggest he would have been the ideal choice for the position from the start.
It is a shame that Pintard’s sweeping vision was not matched with commensurate budgetary support.
In the upcoming fiscal year, the allocation for the Department of Agriculture has been cut by about $1 million, offset by the new Food Security Capital Development allocation of $3 million.
A net $2 million increase in agriculture spending is hardly a sum most people in the sector believe would produce radical change.
Cooper, also a first time MP, is frequently one of the most prepared members of Parliament in any debate.
With a background in finance, Cooper’s research is usually meticulous.
His critique of the budget was surgical and raised critical questions about the government’s ability to hit its revenue and expenditure targets.
Questions remain largely unanswered by East Grand Bahama MP and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest, who squandered his own budget presentation in what could be considered more of a political stump speech that took us on a lengthy stroll down Memory Lane with an overabundant focus on the PLP.
Turnquest brought us no closer to understanding how this administration plans to build a more “resilient, dynamic, inclusive and sustainable” Bahamas, as he promised in his budget communication in May.
The minster for disaster preparedness also gave no real hope for the restoration of Abaco and Grand Bahama, though he did speak in vague terms about job creation with the debris removal budget allocation in the new ministry.
The minister of tourism has yet to speak. We hope that there is a real plan for tourism that he explains to the nation.
We also have not heard from the minister of national security or the minister of education, whose portfolios receive the largest overall budget allocations.
We have yet to hear from the minister of works.
Perhaps he will paint a clear picture, or any picture at all, of the prime minister’s promised projects to get people back to work; perhaps not.
Ultimately, we look to the prime minister, the nation’s leader, to provide some clarity, and, well, leadership.
Bahamians are at one of the most vulnerable points in our nation’s history.
We have all sacrificed, some more than others, greatly in the wake of Hurricane Dorian and during the COVID-19 crisis.
Baha Mar and Melia have delayed their reopening until October.
Sandals Royal Bahamian has delayed its reopening until November.
This means that many thousands will remain out of work in the tourism sector for months to come.
Bahamians are seeking answers and a detailed report on the nation’s prospects.
The prime minister needs to rise to the occasion.
He must explain in detail how his administration will move the country forward with the still looming specter of COVID-19.
He must bring a sense of surety to the promised, but as yet not outlined, projects and specify numbers and timelines for when they will start, what will be spent on them and how many they will employ.
He must give an update on the foreign investment projects that were previously in the pipeline – Carnival, the new downtown port, Royal Caribbean’s several projects, Disney’s Lighthouse Point venture, Wynn, The Pointe, Baha Mar’s extension and the recently announced projects for Abaco and Long Island.
He must explain, as minister of health, if and how the healthcare plant has been strengthened during the emergency orders to provide more capacity for a possible second wave of COVID-19 after the borders fully reopen.
He must explain, as the overall minister for NEMA and disaster recovery, what is the real state of the recovery on Abaco and Grand Bahama, and when real reconstruction will begin.
The prime minister’s upcoming budget debate contribution will set the tone for the year ahead, which no one expects will be an unchallenging one.
Bahamians are tired of hearing from this administration about what the PLP did.
They want him to spell out what it is the duly elected government plans to do now.
The prime minister must deliver.
If he does not, it would likely be to the detriment of us all.