THE MOMENT we saw the first questions for the so-called gaming referendum we knew the jig was up. Someone was hedging his bets in case the opinion poll was lost to those voting “no” to gambling.
“Do you support the regulation and taxation of web shop gaming?” was to be the first of two questions on which Bahamians voted on Monday.
On reflection, the Christian Council, quite rightly objected to the wording of the first question.
“It is our considered view that this question is incorrectly worded and our specific objection is to the word regulation,” the Christian Council wrote to Prime Minister Christie. “We are of the view that the correct and transparent word that be used in its stead is the world legalisation. Hence, the question should be asked of the Bahamian people is: ‘Do you support the legalisation and taxation of web shop gaming?’”
The Christie government refused to amend the question, arguing that nothing could be regularised unless it was first made legal and so the word “regulate” implied legalisation. They stood firm on this. Today it is obvious why.
The catch in the wording of this first question was obvious. So obvious that we were among those who refused to vote because of it. And so we were not surprised at how lawyers were now translating the vote on this question. Some of them maintain that because web shops were operating under a government-issued business licence, they were legal. Therefore, their interpretation of the negative answer to the first question: “Do you support the regulation and taxation of web shop gaming?” was that Bahamians agreed that the industry should remain as is — untaxed and unregulated. Of course, that was not what Bahamians meant. It was clear that their intention was that they wanted web shops closed. The matter is now where we predicted it would be if the “Yes” camp lost the vote — in court. Meanwhile, web shops undoubtedly, despite the Prime Minister’s closure order, will continue to operate and prosper. No taxes will be paid.
Obviously, Prime Minister Christie and his government, will be trapped in distraction over this question for the better part of this year. However, we suggest that they turn their focus on the Treasury. Remember the saying: “The mice will play while the cat’s away”? Well, we suggest that some kind of Cat be left on guard at the Treasury.
In September last year Wall Street took one look at the Bahamas’ economy and reduced its financial outlook from stable to negative, warning that a further downgrade would follow if government did not make a U turn.
“The government deficit, instead of peaking and starting to decline,” it said, “rose even further in the fiscal year ended June 2012.”
Prime Minister Christie, starting out with the largest cabinet in the history of this country, did not give the right signals to those looking for a government with the fiscal sobriety to pull the economy back from the precipice. However, Mr Christie argued that he needed these extra hands because of the growing complexities of the times. Their presence puts an extra burden on the Treasury, but shows no signs of relieving the confusion that seems to haunt the Christie government.
In the 21-member Cabinet, there are 16 substantive ministers at a ministerial salary of $66,000. Those in the House would get an additional $28,000 as an MPs salary. The five Ministers of State in the Cabinet would get a salary of $60,000, also for those in the House there would be the additional House salary. All would have added an additional $5,000 as a duty allowance. Each would have an office, a government car, staff — some even have personal assistants and a chauffeur as does the Speaker of the House. We have confirmed with former Speaker Alvin Smith that he neither had a personal assistant nor a chauffeur in the years that he served as Speaker. In the Christie government the current Speaker has both a personal assistant and a chauffeur.
Former prime minister Hubert Ingraham had one parliamentary secretary in the person of Mr Brensil Rolle for his five-year term. Mr Christie now has five parliamentary secretaries, each at an annual salary of $45,000 in addition to a $3,000 duty allowance.
Of course, there seems to be no slacking off in the propensity to travel to foreign parts with a large delegation in tow. Someone recently commented that Ryan Pinder, Minister of Financial Services, is now rivalling Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell in his travel plans.
And, of course, National Insurance cannot be forgotten. It is understood that there is particular unrest in the National Prescription Drug Plan section, particularly over what current staff consider the hiring of untrained personnel. It is claimed that two persons, without the required skills, have been hired in this department — one of them a relation of Minister Shane Gibson. One has been hired as a manager, the other as a supervisor.
The Wall Street agencies do not seem impressed by government’s manoeuvring to get control of Bahamas Telecommunications, and, of course, the drain of Bahamasair and the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas are a continuing concern.
The impression that jobs are being created for supporters of the current government at a time when there should be fiscal restraint is taking its toll.
Unless, Prime Minister Christie starts to get his priorities in order and put a severe curb on spending, this country is headed for another downgrade by Wall Street.