Government Must Be Held Accountable For Public Spending

SINCE THIS government has come on the scene, it has stumbled from one sink hole into another. Nothing seems to be going right, because there is no planning, no co-ordination, and, as we have said before, each cabinet minister seems to have his own agenda and his own game plan.

Several months ago, when it was suggested that Prime Minister Perry Christie should reshuffle his cabinet, he is quoted as having said words to the effect that the timing was not right as there were cabinet members who had agendas that they wanted to complete. If there were cohesion in the Christie government, the only agenda to be completed would be government’s agenda, and anyone not at one with that agenda would be shuffled out. This goes to the very core of what is wrong with this administration. There is no strong leader who can keep his colleagues following the same road map.

They don’t even seem to speak the same language. For example, with all the negative feedback, Mr Christie seems open to the idea of exploring new avenues to raise taxes, provided businessmen can suggest alternatives to VAT. Despite this, State Minister of Finance Michael Halkitis has said that there are no plans to postpone the July 1, 2014, date for the implementation of VAT. If there are no plans, then why should the Prime Minister ask for suggestions to find a new, less complicated way to raise taxes and drop VAT?

About the only subject on everyone’s lips today is VAT. And the more government spokesmen try to explain it the muddier the waters become. As a matter of fact, these spokespersons don’t seem to fully understand it themselves, leaving Bahamians at the end of their question-and-answer sessions more perplexed and less confident than before. As a result, public anger and confusion has grown. Grown to the point that at the end of the day the country might see a vocal group of young people ban together to hold government’s toes to the fire.

The Insight feature in today’s Tribune is a speech given by a young mother, who is also a branch manager of a local bank.

Tamara van Breugel, because of the lack of information coming from government, went on her own journey of education and was alarmed by what she discovered. Along the way, she also found many intelligent, like-minded young Bahamians who want to turn a new leaf in our history books and build a new Bahamas. They are fed up with the underhanded shenanigans that have been going on for far too long among what old Bahamians used to call their “representers”. So our readers should be on the watch for Citizens for a Better Bahamas. We predict that Mrs van Breugel’s speech is the launch of a vocal, enthusiastic and, we hope, more responsible Bahamian.

As we have said in this column before, for a government promising 10,000 jobs almost as soon as it became the government, the suggestion of VAT was suicidal. True, government has to get itself out of debt not only to prevent its credit rating from being downgraded, but to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WHO). Among the many rules and regulations that have to be followed is that government will have to drop its tariffs on imported goods so that the goods of WHO members can enter the country more easily. This means that government will have to find a substitute to the present Customs duties. However, it does not mean that VAT is the answer. If government can’t police the collection of Customs duties now, it will never be able to afford enough inspectors to supervise VAT. A simple sales tax would seem the more sensible route.

Today, we publish a letter from a concerned Bahamian who vowed he would refuse to open his books to any government inspector, until government opened “their” books for public inspection. He was on the right path, but he made one mistake. Government’s books are not “their” books. These books belong to every taxpaying Bahamian. We have a right to know how our money is being spent. We have a right to demand that those books be opened for inspection.

This government started immediately on its grand shuffle among government employees, moving competent persons from their jobs, and replacing them with less competent party supporters. Not only does that create a state of inefficiency in a department, but it is a costly exercise. The clearing of land in the so-called Urban Renewal project was a scandalous waste of public funds. The money used was public money — our money — and we, the people have a right to know. Not only did workers trespass on private property, but the money handed out, regardless of the work to be done, warrants a public inquiry. A government representative is duty bound to prudently administer public funds — administer it as if it were his own. None of that prudence was shown in the Urban Renewal land clearance plan, for example — it was just pay-back election time. The public should demand an accounting of this scandal.

During this belt-tightening time, all of these overseas trips should he scaled down. Certainly, the public has a right to know the cost of every one of them, right down to the last glass of champagne. Remember, this is the public’s money that is being so liberally spent – while the public debt steadily rises.

Mrs van Breugel points out that in the auditor general’s 2010/2011 report, he discovered that:

• 5,980 cargo manifests had not been presented to Bahamas Customs for clearance;

• $95 million in real property taxes went uncollected, taking the total sum outstanding to $541.886 million;

• $302,866 of unpaid fuel from The Ministry of Works.

In the 2014/2015 fiscal budget, subsidies have been allocated as follows:

• $20 million to subsidise Bahamasair;

• $20 million in subsidies to Water and Sewerage;

• $7 million to the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation.

And so the horror story of how the people’s money is being misspent continues.

Our finances would not be in such a sorry state if we had better managers in charge, and a government that did not believe that it can play Santa Claus with other people’s money.

Yes, the Bahamas is in a serious debt position, but this government has a nerve to ask the Bahamian people for more tax money to support the continuation of the manner in which our past taxes have been wasted.


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