JAMES Smith, a former governor of the Central Bank and finance minister, wonders whether the Christie government recognises that it has “a very serious problem” in this country’s financial position. Obviously, not. This government seems to be playing a Nelson on us by putting its telescope to its blind eye, and murmuring: “I really do not see the signal!”
By Horatio Nelson ignoring the signal at the battle of Copenhagen in 1801, he turned a possible defeat for the British navy into a brilliant victory.
However, the Christie government has no chance of such a victory, especially in the National Insurance debacle where it appears that too many of “the boys” are searching for the “cookie jar.”
By ignoring the financial signals and continuing to increase, rather than reduce government spending, this country is headed for certain disaster.
Mr Smith says government has to start at the top to curb excessive spending. With the 2012-2013 fiscal debt projected to be $550 million, and the national debt almost $5 billion, he said that certain government entities – Water & Sewerage. Bahamasair, Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas and the Hotel Corporation —have to do more to justify the taxpayers dollars that they are receiving. He forgot to mention the National Insurance Board, which is being destroyed in a power struggle at the top.
It is urgent that Mr Christie neither waivers nor delays in getting to the bottom of this disaster before it is too late. In our opinion he has made his first blunder in his choice of persons he has selected to advise him of his next step forward.
What is happening at National Insurance — the repository of the people’s earnings — should be investigated by a completely independent body of persons whose only interest would be to see that justice is done and efficiency restored. None of them should be in any way involved with National Insurance, or its inner politics.
As Mr Smith has said — although National Insurance was not named in his line-up of corporations for targetting —these government agencies have to show more in terms of spending cuts and justification for continued taxpayer support.
From exceeding its budget for collections in the compliance department in the past few years, already in the six months of the Christie administration, NIB is more than $6 million behind target. Why is this so? What has gone wrong? Someone should move in immediately, firstly, to discover whether these reports are true, and if so to discover why.
Under the Ingraham government all sorts of shenanigans were discovered. For example, it was found that persons who had not paid their national insurance — and there were many — were being given letters of good standing by some NIB staff members — at a price of course. One can imagine the loss to National Insurance.
To control this it was decided to centralise the procedure under one department head instead of allowing it to function in several departments. The director of that single department then had better control of collections. It is understood that this department has since been decentralised. Could this be one of the problems?
At one time NIB staff from Nassau were sent to the Family Islands with a $2,000 per month allowance in addition to their salaries to run NIB offices there. To try to trim the budget, the Ingraham government recruited qualified locals in each Family Island to manage NIB offices. The $2,000 monthly allowance was discontinued at a tremendous savings to NIB. Today NIB has gone back to the old system. Only this time PLP supporters have been sent to the Family Islands in management positions. The $2,000 monthly allowance has been re-instated in addition to their salaries. How can National Insurance justify this? Remember this is the people’s money, not the piggy bank for government to keep whatever election promises it might have made.
What is interesting is the craven behaviour of the unions. The following clause is entrenched in their industrial agreement with NIB. Yet now that it is being breached on all sides, the unions have been unusually quiet.
Article III- Employment- 1 (c) of the agreement says as follows:
“Whenever a vacancy or new position occurs or is established within the Board, the employer shall post a vacancy notice on the staff notice boards or electronic system before advertising externally, showing the qualification and experience and other criteria required, for the information of the employees. Such notices shall be posted internally for a period of two weeks commencing from the first day the notice is posted.”
We are told that no notices have been posted, the union pretends ignorance, and yet janitresses, clerks, handymen in the facilities department, additional Human resources staff in management and non-management positions, a lady in the Freeport office — all without the usual vacancy notice. Vendor contracts have been granted without going out to tender. We are told that a preferred list of government supporters has been compiled. And, NIB is apparently circumventing the industrial contract by rehiring employees over the retirement age of 60 as “consultants.”
In this column yesterday we reported that 200 staff members are up for promotion without the usual assessment checks. A study of the list shows a fair smattering of family members and friends — all within the bosom of the PLP.
No wonder there is tension, dissatisfaction and a good deal of disillusionment — and, yes, even anger —at National Insurance.
The public would now like to know how much all this extra is costing the taxpayer. For example, it is important to know how much has been increased in salaries alone for a bloated work force.
This government has a lot of explaining to do.
Instead of presenting a plan with expenditure controls dealing specifically with efficiency and waste, as recommended by former finance minister James Smith, we see space being made for card-carrying party faithfuls — at the expense of the nation.