EDITOR, The Tribune.
The prevailing narrative that brought the FNM to office and has sustained it in campaign mode for the last 17 months is that the previous administration left the treasury bare. This, in turn, explains the cutbacks and tax increases that have characterised their tenure to date.
Yet their actions tell us that they give minimal priority to raising revenues justly and equitably and instead operate on the philosophy that middle and lower income Bahamians have had life better than they deserve and should now adjust themselves to scaled down public investment and sharply increased taxes.
As I pointed out in an earlier letter, The Bahamas stands out in the region and the world in collecting so little revenues in comparison to the wealth of the country (less than 18% of GDP, against a regional and international norm of 35%). This is principally the legacy of a regressive tax system that exempts wealthier people from paying their fair share by any international standards. Yet every opportunity to fix this that arises is swatted away with the same speed with which government cuts services and slaps new taxes and fees on the average Bahamian.
The Princess Margaret Hospital, we are told, is operating with all kinds of staff and equipment shortages. Duane Sands’ only proposal to fix the situation is to heap a bunch of “user fees” on the average Bahamian whose life and health depend on the institution. Why? Because government cannot afford to improve things within existing revenues.
Yet it can afford to sustain an arbitrary cap on Real Property Tax that only benefits multimillionaires, giving them a lower actual rate than middle class Bahamians (a situation that not even the nuttiest rightwing Republicans in the USA would advocate for their own country). It can also afford the luxury of dismissing an income tax – almost uniquely in the world.
Meanwhile, it will not have been lost, even on the most committed FNM dullards, that government (they of ‘Fiscal Responsibility Act’ fame) just paid $65m on a hotel that was valued at $58m before being walloped by a Hurricane and shuttered for two years. Ace Newbold explains that this should have little or no budgetary impact, because there is always sufficient padding in allocations to ministries to divert some of it to unforeseen emergencies.
Yet the $30m or so required for a new operating theatre for the country’s main public hospital was not deemed worthy of such diversion. Nor even the mere $90,000 needed to sustain the annual commitment to school uniform assistance for poor children.
If this is indeed the ‘People’s Time’ that the ‘people’ voted for with open eyes, I can only console myself with the words of Job: “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you”.
August 26, 2018