By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE economic plan being chartered during the ongoing 2017-2018 budget debate aims to stabilise the country’s finances, Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest said yesterday, as he underscored the continued need to reduce “discretionary spending” and bring the nation’s expenditure under control.
Responding to questions on the viability of the country’s economy moving forward, the East Grand Bahama MP said the government is currently attempting to grow the economy in a way that does not inflict any additional long-term “harm”.
He told reporters gathered outside of the House of Assembly Wednesday that the initial review of resources and spending habits has uncovered a non-productive system of governance.
Mr Turnquest, a forensic accountant by profession, said the review also suggests that the government could “squeeze out some of the excess” out of the public expenditure.
“As we go through and we understand the numbers and we understand the theories and the assumptions behind the numbers, we may be able to squeeze out some of the excess and some of that fat,” the minister of finance said.
Mr Turnquest said it remains the government’s main aim to determine if the country has received “value for money” and that if the government was “maximising” its tax revenues.
However, Mr Turnquest said he was of the view that if many of the government’s processes were to be streamlined and specific human and financial resources were strategically reallocated, the Minnis administration could save the Bahamian people some money.
“….We have commitments that exist, that seems to be in one silo and the other silo didn’t know that those commits exist; and some of those have significant impact.”
To that end, Mr Turnquest said the government would have to “modernise” the structure in which it reports and manages its financial information and resources.
He said he believes the acquisition of a $33m loan from the Inter-American Development Bank last year by the Christie administration was done to carry-out this process of “modernisation”.
When presented to the country in January of 2016, the former administration said that the object of the loan was to help the government to better use fiscal resources by monitoring projects and programmes more effectively and by improving the ability to collect data and provide quality statistics.
The Christie administration also promoted plans to improve how funds are allocated and to modernise the country’s public procurement system.
Mr Turnquest furthered Wednesday: “We are going to have to modernise the structure and that is probably the IDB loan that we have, to modernise our reporting and financial management systems to ensure that we have more timely and accurate information so that we can tell, within reason, what our exposure is, what our cash management structure should be, how ought to be able to manage our debt, what commitments we can make within the parametres of our debt to GDP and our capita ratios.”
Mr Turnquest later suggested that many of the administration’s proposed adjustments in this regard could come on stream later this year, but refused to give an exact timeline.
“We intend to, as we go along and as I indicated, go through every agency, every commission, every association that is receiving money from the government, to determine whether those funds are being put to a use that is of benefit to the Bahamian people; that we are getting value for money.”
When asked about the potential for economic growth, he added: “Absolutely. We have yet to tap the creative ability of our people. We have this insular view on what we can and should be doing.
“As we have been saying all along during the campaign trail, we have to figure out how do we get outside of this two pillar economy that we have and start to exploit some of the natural resources that we have; some of the sustainable natural resources that we have.
“So we are going to have to invest in some of research and development or incentivise the private sector to engage in some research and development so that we find new uses for these resources that we have that can be commercially viable (and) that came be self-generating without damaging the environment,” he said.
During his address to press Wednesday, Mr Turnquest also shot down claims that the Minnis administration was considering increasing value added tax rates from 7.5 per cent to 15 per cent this year.
Mr Turnquest said the government plans to review the country’s overall tax structure as it looks to consolidate several tax streams to ease the cost of doing business in The Bahamas.
Mr Turnquest said the country has done very little to modernise the tax scheme it inherited from its days as a British colony, suggesting that an ease in the cost of doing business could encourage the creation of many new businesses and employment opportunities.