By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
MAKING good on his promise to slash government expenses in an effort to balance the country’s books, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis last night announced a variety of conservative fiscal measures, including a ten per cent cut in spending in all government ministries and no new public sector hiring.
In his first televised national address as the nation’s leader, Prime Minister Minnis also said there will be no renewal of contracts for salaries which exceed $100,000 per year. He said he will ensure his ministers “adhere to their budgets and to financial constraints”.
He also announced a reduction in government vehicles as part of a “new era of financial discipline”.
Dr Minnis said because of the “recklessness and massive waste by the former administration,” his government “must get our financial house in order”.
He accused the former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government of spending approximately “a quarter billion dollars” in the months leading up to the general election.
“It is my government’s task to respond vigorously to the economic conditions which confront us,” Dr Minnis said.
“In addition to reducing public expenditure, we must move to aggressively stimulate economic growth. One measure I announce this evening (Wednesday) is that all government ministries will have expenditure cut by ten per cent. There will be no new public sector hiring at this time. We must get our financial house in order. We must reverse the arc of government deficit and debt. We will appoint a special committee to advise on state-owned enterprises, with a view to reducing the burden of such enterprises on public finances,” Dr Minnis said.
“There will be no renewal of contracts for emoluments which exceed $100,000 per year. To further reduce expenditure, we will reduce the number of government vehicles. Unlike the former head of government, I will be extraordinarily more vigilant in ensuring that my ministers adhere to their budgets and to financial constraints.
“I am not going to sugar coat the medicine that we are going to have to take to restore our fiscal good health. As a doctor, I know only too well that sometimes you need to deploy strong measures to get a patient’s fever to break as you seek to alleviate the symptoms and the underlying causes of ill health.
“The former practice of bypassing the Ministry of Finance and bringing new spending requests directly to Cabinet, without review by the Ministry of Finance, is over.”
“We are in a new era of financial discipline. The former administration was addicted to luxury travel, often spending extraordinary sums of money on delegations travelling the world at great expense. We will reduce the amount of money spent on foreign travel by government officials.”
Dr Minnis said several forensic audits are being conducted in government ministries to recover, where possible, the people’s money. He said the PLP recklessly spent public funds without checks or balances.
“Approximately a quarter billion dollars was spent by the last administration in the months leading up to the general election. This was another glaring example of the recklessness and massive waste by the former administration, which still today accepts no responsibility for its disastrous governance,” Dr Minnis said.
The Tribune previously reported a “horrendous” $234 million was added to the government’s fiscal deficit during the May 10 general election quarter, according to Central Bank data released earlier this month.
“They stubbornly refused to change tack,” Dr Minnis continued. “In opposition we warned them that there was dire trouble ahead. But the response was to go full steam toward the iceberg, spending the people’s money with wild abandon and few results. One glaring example is the $80 million spent on BAMSI. While there is a need for such an institute, there is little value to be seen for the vast sum of money spent.”
Dr Minnis also referred to a looming review and potential credit downgrade by international rating agency Moody’s, saying the prospect “is the result of five years of gross mismanagement and incompetence by the former administration.”
Last month, the Minnis administration passed bills to borrow more than $722m to cover inherited outstanding bills along with the costs associated with running the country moving forward.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest explained that $400m was needed to satisfy expenditure for the past year, while $322,462,707m will be borrowed for the 2017-2018 budget, amounting to a whopping $722,462,707m.