By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION leader Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday that FNM parliamentarians will not support the Christie administration’s “deceptive” 2014/2015 budget which seeks to borrow $343 million for the forthcoming fiscal year.
Dr Minnis said for the first time in history, the opposition, which holds eight seats in the House of Assembly, will vote against the budget.
The decision, he said, was reached “reluctantly” by all of his colleagues after a discussion at a parliamentary caucus meeting.
A House of Assembly clerk told The Tribune that the opposition’s “no vote” position was the first in recent times.
Despite the opposition’s plans to vote against the budget, the fiscal plan will pass through the House of Assembly and head to the Senate for debate because the Christie administration holds a 30-seat majority in the House.
The FNM’s strong push back to the budget elicited a wave of criticisms from several representatives on the government’s side, including Prime Minister Perry Christie, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis and Fort Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins.
Dr Rollins suggested that FNM MPs forgo their salaries for the new fiscal year to substantiate their opposition to the budget. If not, Dr Rollins said, Dr Minnis’ remarks would be nothing short of “political grand standing.”
He said: “If everyone of the eight in the opposition understands the ramifications of what their leader says, it means that they will in fact forfeit their $28,000 (per year) salary for the upcoming budgetary period which amounts to some $279,000.
“It is advised that the opposition too in the next budgetary cycle will not receive the $279,000 and that those Junkanoo groups that the leader of the opposition enumerated will be in receipt of those monies.”
According to Dr Minnis, apart from the “secretive” nature of the government’s fiscal plans, a comprehensive break down of personal emoluments was not included. He said that element has been presented in every budget since the country’s independence and its absence hides salary and allowance figures of anyone on the public payroll.
Pointing to Article 129 sub-sections one and two of the constitution, Dr Minnis said a requirement of the budget is to reflect estimates of revenue and expenditure for public services during the succeeding financial year. In addition, the estimates should show separately the sums required to meet statutory expenditure and the sums required to meet other expenditure proposed to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund.
“Let me say that in voting ‘no’,” Dr Minnis said. “We appreciate that members opposite will shout that we are against paying public servants. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“We are voting against reckless, secret and wanton spending. We are voting against an unconstitutional budget which does not provide the details required by the constitution. We are voting against waste and abuse of public money and tax dollars. We cannot in good conscience support government by subterfuge, secrecy and stealth.
“We cannot do this, we will not do this. We will take a stand in this House, on this day, by voting no.”
He said the government’s financial plans were a betrayal to the Bahamian people and criticised almost every government project now underway, including the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), Urban Renewal 2.0 and value added tax (VAT) implementation.
As it concerns the emoluments and their inclusion into the budget, State Finance Minister Michael Halkitis accused Dr Minnis of seeking to mislead the public and incite panic.
“It is a stretch,” Mr Halkitis said. “The member is misleading. The budget is divided into separate heads (with) all of the statutory expenditure from the budget estimates so separately does not mean that you have to list every single item that you spend. The member should not seek to cause panic and mislead the public about some breach of the constitution.”