By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
REPORTS of widespread job creation rang “hollow” in the absence of initiatives to incentivise Bahamian ownership, according to Opposition members commenting on the government’s mid-year budget statement yesterday.
Despite Prime Minister Perry Christie’s optimism over the country’s economic future, unimpressed opposition members charged that the mid-year update on public finances was “nothing new”.
Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis said: “As usual, the Prime Minister has proven himself to be a vacillator and contradictor, but I was even more surprised that he spoke a lot about jobs, but I did not hear him mention anything about Bahamian ownership.”
“I think as Bahamians, and especially young Bahamians, we want to hear how do they fit in this economic pie as opposed to just jobs. We are looking forward to opportunities on ownership.”
Dr Minnis challenged Prime Minister Perry Christie to make good on his “strong” profession of transparency and accountability by enacting the Freedom of Information Act.
He said: “I look forward for the Prime Minister very soon to introduce the Freedom of Information Act because that’s when you’re truly talking about transparency and accountability. So we’ll see whether he is sincere about the words he mentioned (yesterday).
Acknowledging that the global economy was trending upwards, Shadow Minister for Finance K Peter Turnquest criticised the government for embellishing the country’s economic performance in a bid to distract from shortfalls.
Charging that the government was “long on promises and short on delivery”, Mr Turnquest explained that perceived gains were circumstantial and reflective of the trickle down effect from global economic recovery, most notably the US market.
Mr Turnquest said: “This government is a soon-and-near government, meaning that projects are always soon to come or near to fruition. We’ll believe it when we see it, they’re all focused on foreign direct investment which is good but we need to understand the linkages and to ensure that at the end of the day the Bahamian economy will benefit and that Bahamians will be empowered as a result.
He added: “We at this stage are getting tired of others coming to take advantage of what rightfully Bahamians ought to be able to benefit from and with a little bit of incentive can do as good, or better job.”
Mr Turnquest said the party was disappointed to discover that the newly established call centre in Grand Bahama was owned by a Jamaican company, especially considering that one of its primary customers was the Ministry of Tourism.
Pointing to reports from the Central Bank, Mr Turnquest said there is no evidence to support Mr Christie’s claims that recurrent expenditure had been constrained.
“Recurrent expenditure has actually grown during the period by $7.1 million, by 1.1 per cent,” he said.
“There has been a contraction in international trade tax, i.e. customs duties. What that points to is a softening in the economy, that in fact persons are not feeling too confident in the economy and are thus not spending. It can also point to the fact that unemployment is still a significant issue.”
He added: “For the Prime Minister to make the claim that (government) is getting expenditure under control - while ministers are still travelling unnecessarily, while we’re incurring other government expenses as if there are no austerity measures in place, and as evidenced by the report by Central Bank – I think it’s a bit generous to say the least.”
Mr Turnquest explained that reductions to capital outlay were mostly due to the completion of major infrastructural projects undertaken by the previous administration.
While he acknowledged the government’s consistent tourism and investment promotion, Mr Turnquest said the government must put aside the “smoke and mirrors” and focus on developing alternatives to the country’s economic structure.
“The truth of the matter is,” said Mr Turnquest, “the Bahamas has not had any real thought with respect to the model and structure of the Bahamian economy in a number of years, as we go forward we’re going to have to look at the underpinnings of our economy to ensure that they are still relevant and that we are not putting all of our eggs still in the two baskets of finance and tourism.
“It cannot all be by shifting the wealth from the private sector through Value Added Tax and other taxes to the public sector, where it has been proven to not be productive.”
St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman yesterday added: “There were no new projects put on the table (yesterday), everything he said today we have heard either last year or even almost two years ago.
“It was almost like an election speech that he had full of promises,” Mr Chipman said.