From the looks of things, fiscal response by the next government of The Bahamas will be immediately impacted by an undeclared level of financial commitments, notwithstanding provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act designed to mitigate against such a circumstance in the run up to a general election.
The Minnis administration has embarked upon additions to the permanent and pensionable roster of the public service in recent weeks, increasing the public sector wage bill at a time when the country’s debt crisis leaves little headroom for expenditure beyond fixed obligations including personal emoluments.
Reported promotions in various government departments occurring just days before the election, will put immediate pressure on the next government to make good on new salary commitments during the traditionally slower period for revenue collection.
Old hat it is to engage in hiring and promotional exercises just before an election in an attempt to secure votes at the polls, and though the Minnis administration decried similar actions carried out by the Christie administration in the run up to the 2017 general election, it appears that some things never change.
Among the items government is required to report on in its pre-election report as per Section 11 of the act are, “the approval of new spending since the annual budget including contracts and service projects and policies”.
Notably absent from government’s recently published pre-election report was a list of contracts approved since the passage of the 2021/2022 fiscal budget.
The issuance of contracts close to a general election was also a talking point of the Minnis administration after it won the government in 2017, with Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis slamming the Christie administration for what was said to be millions in pre-election contracts issued.
Whether what lies ahead after tomorrow is an exposure of contracts recently issued, remains to be seen.
Twenty confirmed COVID-19 deaths occurred this month as of the Ministry of Health’s September 13 report, with another 10 deaths under investigation this month added on September 10.
COVID positivity rates continue to remain stubbornly at or above 20 percent, reaching a record nationwide high of 70 percent on September 12 – an indication on that day that too few tests were conducted for the level of transmission in the population.
Notwithstanding the ministry’s press release yesterday which sought to paint a rosier than realistic picture of the country’s COVID case numbers, the level of hospitalizations remains at record highs, dipping slightly on some days commensurate with COVID deaths that are subsequently reported.
With physicians weighing in on the deaths of non-COVID patients due to an overburdened healthcare system, and the effect of campaigning, the general election and celebrations thereafter yet to be fully seen, what could lie ahead for the country’s SARS-CoV-2 outbreak continues to prompt worry and admonitions to follow established COVID health protocols.
Though the Parliamentary Registration Department has issued a statement on health protocols for the general election, it has been silent on the extent to which it has addressed voter register errors, including those that contributed to chaos at last week’s advanced poll.
While public concerns persist about the department’s readiness to safely and efficiently conduct tomorrow’s elections, what arose as the newest concern this week was the report of a shooting that occurred in Bimini Monday night.
Both major political parties were holding campaign events in Bimini that evening, and police say a dispute between the supporters of the two parties ended in one man being shot in the leg.
This incident of pre-election violence must be condemned in the strongest terms by leaders of all parties contesting the upcoming election.
Calm and measured heads must prevail in the coming days, particularly once votes are counted and a winner is declared.
As Bahamians prepare to vote for the party or candidate of their choice tomorrow, we call on everyone to remember that political support is integral to the democratic process, but regardless of one’s political affiliation, we all have only one Bahamas in which to live and build after a new government is elected.
What must lie ahead is a continuation of relatively safe and peaceful elections for which The Bahamas is known.