By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis firmly backed the government’s decision to pull out of hosting the International Amateur Athletic Federation’s (IAAF) World Relays, citing the need to prioritise the government’s economic and social initiatives.
Saying the Bahamian people have accepted the recent increase in value added tax, Dr Minnis told media at a Saturday press briefing the cancellation was final.
But last night, Official Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said he was “distressed” by the decision, adding the government is gradually but deliberately “seeking to destroy this country’s reputation as a country whose word is its bond.” He urged the Minnis administration to reconsider the decision.
On Saturday, Dr Minnis suggested it was now time for the private sector to sponsor sporting events.
“We have hosted the IAAF on three different occasions,” he said after returning to the country from a CARICOM meeting, “and we have proven to be great hosts. We have proven that we can host great international events. We think it’s time now that the business and the commercial sector sponsor these events.
“We have a lot of work to do. We just increased value added tax from 7.5 percent to 12 percent – the people have accepted that. We have a lot of work to do, a lot of programmes to implement. We have scholarships to deal with, trying to uplift our people, trying to go to a paperless system, we must place priorities.”
When asked if there had been any consultation with the private sector ahead of the cancellation, Dr Minnis said: “Believe me, we would have done all whatever is possible, but I must first and foremost look after the Bahamian people and the country.”
Controversy over the cancellation of the major sporting event, slated for May 10-11, 2019 could be considered as the first hurdle for new Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle - whose appointment to the post has been met with criticism by the sporting and culture community.
On Saturday, Dr Minnis defended the Mrs Rolle’s appointment, insisting ministers develop requisite experience over the course of their tenure. Mrs Rolle served as minister of social services and urban development until being moved as part of a Cabinet shuffle last week.
“Individuals are moved and they become knowledgeable in certain things,” he said. “There is no so-called pre-training before you engage in a post. You learn and you become very good. I was not pre-trained or attend any courses to become prime minister.
“(Minister of Education) Jeff Lloyd did not attend any courses or was pre-trained to become minister of education nor was (Foreign Affairs Minister Darren) Henfield. You go in, you read, you understand, and many instances you become better than who was there, sometimes you’re not.”
Former Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Michael Pintard was moved to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. It was noted on Saturday Mr Pintard held a master’s degree in agriculture. Dr Minnis dismissed the notion that ministries impacted by his Cabinet shuffle would face any considerable setbacks.
“What background I had before I became PM? Give me the book to read, I haven’t seen it yet. Ingraham didn’t leave it, Pindling didn’t leave it, nor did Christie,” Dr Minnis said, referring to the country’s former prime ministers.
“You must remember there is a Cabinet team,” he said, “there is a team, so even though an individual is minister or prime minster, things are discussed.”
In a statement, Mr Davis expressed displeasure that the event, which was launched during the Christie administration, has been cancelled.
“The explanation given that they cannot afford it because they are committed to fiscal discipline is certainly sophistry,” Mr Davis noted. “They can’t be serious. They are really carrying this campaign narrative which they invented to lie to the Bahamian people to get elected too far.
“The country’s reputation will suffer. The brand is shot to pieces. The young people have lost an opportunity to showcase their talents to the world on their home turf. What a shame this is. The country has lost the opportunity to showcase the Bahamas as a world class destination -- the event is televised live around the world and replayed several times during the interval before the next relays. I think they ought to reconsider this decision,” Mr Davis said.
Dr Minnis spoke to the press at the Lynden Pindling International Airport as he returned from the 39th CARICOM Heads of Government conference in Jamaica.
As Independence Day approaches, Dr Minnis also reiterated his ten-year vision for the country. He underscored his commitment to enforcing the retirement age across the public sector, the development of an efficient technology-driven society, and to eradicate corruption.
“I would like to see the young people…60 percent of our young people are less than 35 years old, and I would like to see the young people elevated to the top and given that opportunity to take us to a new level.
“We are in the digital era, most of our young people are in the digital era, they must be given an opportunity.
“My goal is to see a digital Bahamas where one ministry can speak to the other via computer. You can do things just with the touch of a button as opposed to moving from one ministry to another taking three to four months for things to be done.”
Dr Minnis added: “I’m looking for a more efficient and a non-corrupt society although that’s very difficult, efficiency yes but to stamp out corruption totally is very, very difficult.”