By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Free National Movement yesterday criticised Prime Minister Perry Christie’s 2015/2016 Budget communication, saying that it lacked detail and was a “fanciful” document filled with misplaced optimism.
At a press conference in the House of Assembly’s Minority Room, called shortly after Mr Christie wrapped up his speech in Parliament, members of the opposition cast doubt over the vision outlined by the prime minister.
FNM Deputy Leader Peter Turnquest said that despite the many topics highlighted yesterday by Mr Christie, the communication lacked detail in its respective areas and was just a “reprint” of last year’s statement.
“Once again, the minister of finance has presented a fanciful budget full of misplaced optimism, shifting priorities and misleading information, with very little hope for the unemployed, for crime reduction or for the reduction in the cost of living specifically in the electricity cost,” Mr Turnquest said. “While the government continues to say it believes in Bahamians, there is very little evidence of that mantra.
“To sum this budget up, I believe again it is one that provides very little hope to those persons out there who may be experiencing difficulty finding employment, those homeowners who are finding it difficult maintaining their mortgages, those out there who may be burdened with high utility costs. And I think you can tell that from the (prime minister’s) energy in delivering the budget, not very much excitement at all. The truth of the matter is, this budget is pretty much a reprint of last year’s budget, the same promises outlined.”
Meanwhile, FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis said the government has “abandoned” its “comprehensive” approach to the implementation of National Health Insurance, adding that Mr Christie has now “adopted the FNM’s position” to fix the existing problems in the healthcare system.
Dr Minnis said Mr Christie’s remarks on NHI during the communication was indicative of him “accepting what the FNM” had previously said about the rollout of NHI.
On Sunday, Dr Minnis told The Tribune that unless the government fixes all of the “problems, issues and challenges” at the Princess Margaret Hospital, its NHI plan would fail. He also urged the government not to impose an additional tax to fund NHI.
In his budget communication yesterday, Mr Christie stressed that the government would “intensify” its focus on “strengthening our existing health system”, something he said was “essential” to the introduction of NHI to the Bahamian people.
He also revealed that no new taxes would be put in place at this time to implement NHI.
“With respect to NHI, what the prime minister basically has said is they have abandoned the NHI in the comprehensive sense that they were presenting previously,” Dr Minnis said. “What he also said is he has now adopted the FNM’s position in that they must strengthen the existing problems that we see.”
Dr Minnis said the main problem this government faces is that many Bahamians do “not trust” the Christie administration and its promises.
“So a lot of what was said up there, they’re waiting to see if it comes to fruition,” Dr Minnis added.
Yesterday, Mr Christie said the government would “intensify” its focus on “strengthening our existing health system,” something he called “essential” to NHI’s rollout. He said the preparation for the 2015/2016 Budget prompted an “unprecedented level of collaboration” between the Public Hospitals Authority, the Ministry of Health and the Department of Public Health on a “road map to consolidate the public health care delivery systems throughout The Bahamas”.
As such, he said the 2015/2016 Budget “therefore funds expenditures that target improved quality and efficiency in the administration and delivery of existing health care services”.
Mr Christie added that NHI needed to be phased in a way that is both “practical and affordable”.