Travel allowances: speak out and up Bahamians

Dear Editor,

Please permit me to ventilate on the decision taken by the government to increase travel allowances for ministers and the introduction and/or increase in travel allowances for their spouses.

For the minister of education to bark that this was ventilated thoroughly by a sub-committee of Cabinet and subsequently by Cabinet itself, gives me no comfort, nor does it bring credibility to the process employed to arrive at this position.

As a matter of fact, to sit among themselves and selfishly grant such benefits undermines the credibility of the process.

There ought to have been some allowance made for an independent review and alternative recommendation if need be.

The government ought to now share fully with the public exactly what is the policy regarding allowances for Cabinet ministers and their spouses and how it is to be governed.

The rationale that such a policy ought to be embraced because spouses of Cabinet ministers and parliamentarians are often (on their idle time abroad) engaged in discussions among each other on international issues is not justification for the government to introduce such a policy in the manner it did.

There are qualified individuals with the relevant expertise in various ministries who should be given the opportunity to do their job. Give these individual the exposure.

I am not opposed to some assistance being given to spouses of ministers, other parliamentarians and public servants when they are on extended travel abroad; however, I do not think every occasion warrants such and there should be a limit placed on such travel and the benefits given.

The manner and timing in which this was done, leave a lot to be desired.

It was done in the dark of night and the statement that followed by the government’s purported spokesperson (after a Nassau Guardian revelation) basically told us “we must get with it” and stop being ungrateful and unappreciative of the sacrifice they make for our benefit.

Adding to my unpleasantness, is the fact that the government just hosted a beggar’s conference (excuse me, I meant donors conference) seeking funds from international donors to assist with hurricane relief, and here it is the government has the temerity to arrogantly put in place a policy to further strain the public purse. The appearance is awful.

We as a people are too passive, and it is this passivity that fertilizes this arrogance you see displayed by some of our politicians who selfishly arrogate unto themselves certain liberties with the public purse and public assets.

This abuse and arrogance are further fueled by our bent to just chew and swallow uncritically whatever our government says and does. Too many of us measure the government’s conduct through our red (FNM) or yellow (PLP) lenses.

This retards our ability to critically and objectively assess the quality of governance we receive. This blind allegiance to party politics is harmful to our development.

First, it was Office of the Spouse and we said nothing. Now it is travel allowances for spouses, and not enough of us will express objection.

If our government continues unchallenged in abusing the public purse, I can see the day when we the taxpayer would be billed for security, vehicle and clothing allowance for Cabinet and parliamentary spouses.


Having allowed them to get one foot in, it will only be a matter of time before they pull the other in.

Reading the minister’s comments, I got the impression that Cabinet thoroughly ventilated until all became convinced that they and their spouses were entitled to be covered by the public purse as they desire.

Our parliamentary members have not yet accepted or recognized that offering themselves for Parliament is (I trust) a decision made voluntarily and ought to be performed in the spirit of public service and personal sacrifice and selfless giving.

It does not obligate taxpayers, at least not this one, to provide them with perks or to pick up the travel tab of their spouses. As I said earlier, I have no difficulty doing so in certain, defined and very limited circumstances.

I suspect that when politicians travel abroad, they become educated and attracted to the abusive and undisciplined spending habits of their counterparts in other countries. They adopt these bad habits as best practices and import them back home, to an unsuspecting population, as global best practices and the norm throughout the Caribbean.

Have you noticed how seldom, if ever, you hear a minister or another parliamentarian preach about global best practices on transparency and accountability?

I say to the honorable minister and his Cabinet colleagues, if you would like to ventilate, rather than ventilating about increasing your travel perks and putting your spouse travel expense on the public purse, here are a few issues you can deal with for the time being:

1. Recognize and appreciate the fact that every position in or created by the government and funded by the public purse does not have to be given or occupied by an FNM crony or supporter. 

2. Give us freedom and access to information, which is in the custody and control of government.

3. Reduce further custom duties, which was promised on the introduction of VAT.

4. Remove VAT charges on custom duties, which essentially is a further tax levied on a tax (double taxation).

6. Stop relegating your people to a second class, third world lifestyle through the imposition of high and excessive taxes and fees. Create an environment that your people can, at least, enjoy a comfortable middle class lifestyle. Make this a goal of your administration. Leave your people better off than you met them when you came to office.

7. Address land inflation brought on by unchecked foreign interest and intervention, resulting in Bahamians being priced out of property and home ownership.

8. Make Crown land more accessible to every Bahamian and not just the politically connected.

9. Try to appreciate the fact that the main objective of any “ease of doing business” initiative is to make it easier and more convenient for members of the public to access government services and facilitate doing business with government without unnecessary delay and red tape.

It is not about government trying to enhance revenue collection and requiring individuals and businesses to provide personal and private information through unnecessary request for documents and records.

– Claude B. Hanna 

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