WE CONGRATULATE Prime Minister Hubert Minnis for making public finances the first item of business. Unless he gets the country’s finances under control and knows exactly the position of the Public Treasury, his government will find it difficult to move forward with plans for the many projects needed to increase employment.
He has ordered each of his ministers to conduct an audit “within his ministry, including departments and agencies funded by the public purse” to discover whether taxpayer’s money has been wisely spent.
His government has to find out where the money is — or where it has gone —before it can move into the future.
Just days before the May 10 election, defeated Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell, asked by constituents about the future of the PLP’s job “empowerment programmes” after the election, replied: “You’ve been hired by the government and the only way that will change is if you elect the FNM to be the government. What you need to do on Election Day is make sure the PLP is the government and then you don’t have to worry about losing no job.”
There was no suggestion that if they were doing a good job, their position was secure. Oh, no, you vote PLP, and you are set for life – you can slumber on until the grave calls.
The civil service is the heaviest drain on the public purse.
However, before we go any further, we want to emphasise that there are many outstanding public servants, who excel in service. This article is not about them. We commend them for their dedication.
However, there are also those who seem to forget that members of the public to whom they give such indifferent service, are the very persons who pay their salaries — and if they had the power would fire them on the spot.
Tribune Business reported earlier this year that in the five-year administration of the Christie government the size of the public service had been increased by about 4,500 persons. It was estimated that as a result the public service’s annual wage bill would have been increased by about $67.5 million. This is the extra burden on you, the taxpayer.
“The data indicates where at least a portion of the $1 billion Value-Added Tax (VAT) revenue ‘windfall’ has gone - on expanding the size of the Government and public service, as opposed to narrowing the deficit and paying down the $6.778 billion national debt,” reported Tribune Business Editor Neil Hartnell. And Robert Myers of Organisation for Responsible Government was “mystified” why the administration was expanding the size of government when the Bahamas needed just the opposite — especially as it had failed to improve the standard of public service.
The cost of the public service has always been a problem. However, it is the space into which politicians secure the unemployed, especially at election time — a job, a vote.
The year before the late Sir Lynden Pindling lost the government after a 25 year reign, The Tribune reported many complaints, both in an out of the civil service. Those in the service were complaining that they could not get salary increases because government ministers were filling their departments with useless hangers on. As a result when they asked for more pay, which they believed they deserved, government’s answer was that they could not afford it.
Then there was former Bahamasair chairman, Philip Bethel (PLP-MP for Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera), who in 1991, took full responsibility for “the very open hiring policy” at the financially trouble airline. On the floor of the House one night, he admitted: “It’s me. No kidding. I am not going to run from it,” as he described Bahamasair as being “almost a social service.”
Of course this resulted in the airline having a cash flow problem. It was forced to fire 200 staff. The debate on the floor of the House that night was government asking for permission to guarantee repayment of a $64.11 million loan to Bahamasair.
On January 28, 1991, Mr Bethel seemed to have no shame as he boldly told the House:
“They have a nickname for me ‘Bro’. They say ‘Bro’, ‘ Aint nothing you could do for Sally? Aint nothing you could do for Harry?‘ You know how it is. I say well, you know I am going to try to help you…”
This was the same “Bro” who was bold enough to stand on a public platform and declare: “God gave this country to the PLP.”
“Bro” Bethel was moved from Bahamasair and transferred to the Ministry of Works. We don’t know how much damage he did there.
But he was one of the many government “Bros”, whose hiring policy was based on political friendships - the constant “back scratching” – ability was seldom welcomed in the board room. That is why this country is where it is today.
As far back as 1988, Sean McWeeney, then a PLP senator and PLP chairman, told the party’s 33rd annual convention that the Civil Service tree had too many branches and should be shaken down.
“The truth of the matter, however, is that the Civil Service tree has just too many dead branches and it is high time we shook up that tree good and proper to bring those dead branches down where they belong,” Mr McWeeney told his fellow PLP delegates.
This is now the FNM’s opportunity to change course, encourage Bahamians to have ambition and demand excellence of themselves. Government should hire the best — whether they are PLP or FNM. Remember we are all Bahamians who have great ambition for our country.
Politics should end at the ballot box, if, as one people, we are to rebuild this little Bahamas into a prosperous country for future generations - we have to do it together.