By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas will "continue to be left behind" unless it becomes fully transparent, amid suggestions yesterday that the Government could save $13 million annually through procurement.
K Peter Turnquest, Deputy Prime Minister and minister of finance, said the Government "cannot hide" the country's challenges from the Bahamian people, and pledged to lay out this nation's economic and financial performance "good and bad".
Speaking at the launch of a $33 million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) project to reform the Government's financial management and procurement systems, Mr Turnquest bemoaned the "frustrating" lack of access to quality statistical data in the Bahamas.
Refuting recent Opposition charges, Mr Turnquest said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that the Government should be less transparent on the state of its finances and the economy. He added that the project would bring "meaningful change" to the Government's management of its fiscal resources, and improve its ability to collect data and provide quality statistics.
As a businessman, the Deputy Prime Minister said it was frustrating to try and put together a business plan without having access to basic statistical data.
"It's not necessarily that it doesn't exist; it just doesn't exist in one place and isn't available to public," he added. "We intend to be a transparent government, and a part of that is laying out the national statistics, good and bad.
"Only in acknowledging our weaknesses are we able to address them and introduce well thought-out strategies to fix them. We cannot hide from the Bahamian people those challenges that we have. We want to be graded as a government and a country on the facts. Unless we are transparent we will continue to be left behind."
Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business: "The suggestion that we somehow be less than transparent, in particular to the Bahamian people and the rating agencies, who are international observers, is a ridiculous suggestion. That has led us to where we are we are today.
"We are not benefiting from the feedback of those who have suggestions that may help us to improve. We are committed to be transparent and above board in all our dealings."
Mr Turnquest added that the Bahamas has gone through a "rough period" economically, and greater efforts must be made to boost the economy. "We believe that we must focus on how we can turn around the economy, and increase employment and private sector wealth creation through business opportunities," he said.
"We want to transition people from government jobs, or even jobs in the private sector per se, to creating wealth and opportunity for themselves."
Mr Turnquest said that the IDB project, combined with the Minnis administration's 'intense' expenditure review and enhanced revenue collection, would help to narrow the deficit. "We believe that there has been far too much wastage over the years," he added.
The $33 million project was approved by the IDB in July 2014, but only received Parliamentary approval in February 2016. The project consists of four components. The first will focus on strengthening the management capacity of the public sector to monitor priority projects and programmes more efficiently and effectively.
The second component will aim to improve the ability of the Government to collect data and produce quality statistics, while the third will deal with public financial management, with the objective of improving efficiency in how public funds are allocated.
The fourth component aims to modernise the public procurement system by promoting efficient market competition and value for money. According to the IDB, the Government will save more than $13 million annually from a centralised, more modern public procurement system.
Mr Turnquest promised that public procurement will become much more transparent and competitive to the benefit of the Bahamian people.