By MALCOLM STRACHAN
PRIME Minister Hubert Minnis has been unwavering - perhaps even deluded in his claim that his government will save The Bahamas. But save The Bahamas from whom? It is his own government that could be poised to plunge it into economic ruin.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest could not be more aloof as he leads the crusade to prevent (as he puts it) looming economic Armageddon.
You shouldn’t hate a man for his ambition, but you can if his goal prevents you from achieving your own. The government’s plan to pay down the deficit by 2021 will certainly slow the country’s economic growth in the short-term. Not many will be spared the potentially gruelling effects of what’s to come, as the pinch that people felt when VAT was first implemented will be magnified.
People are at risk of being unemployed by the end of the summer. Crime, while there has already been a flurry of recent killings, will likely increase under harsher economic conditions. Parents whose high school graduates are getting ready to begin college at home and abroad will have to adjust to the new economic realities.
The outlook isn’t an enticing one for would-be entrepreneurs hoping the government would focus on creating an environment conducive to their success. Despite the FNM campaign promise to do just that, businesspersons are likely to be hesitant as consumer spending power is about to shrink.
Understandably, this is not the environment many had expected the government to create. Though the government promised a land of milk and honey, soon after coming into office they broke the news of just how dire a fiscal situation the country was in.
However, this should hardly have been a surprise to the current minister of finance who was previously the shadow minister of finance. Should he not have been privy to some of the knowledge, rather than being so shocked to find out? One would certainly think so. Yet, while the government has talked gloom and doom – and claimed rampant corruption by its predecessors - since taking office, there has not been one single conviction in the courts.
Indeed, rather than those who the government says acquired funds through malfeasance, now it is the least fortunate citizens that will be most affected.
It is disappointing that after five long tumultuous years under the previous administration that we find ourselves here. Except, this time, we are being led by true wolves in sheep’s clothing, who dare to say they serve the interest of the citizens of The Bahamas.
What is most insulting is despite a lack of consultation and the outraged response of the public, the government continues to suggest that they’ve produced a “people’s budget”.
Certainly, they could not seem more disconnected and unaware of the pulse of the people.
If that were the case, why has the government’s intent to balance the budget not been received as warmly as they may have anticipated? The method that the braintrust has come up with to hike VAT from 7.5 percent to 12 percent has resulted in widespread fear that less fortunate Bahamians will have their backs broken under the new tax regime. While the government may tout the exemptions also listed in the budget, they are hardly worth mentioning in comparison to the sudden decrease in our purchasing power.
Where will the Bahamian people scrounge up the disposable income to take trips to utilise the $500 exemptions? How militant would a family have to live to keep their light bill under $200 with the rising costs of fuel? How can we celebrate VAT exemptions on medicine when going to the doctor will become so much more expensive? The callousness and inconsideration on the part of the government is astounding.
Moreover, the government’s plans to introduce a sliding scale tax on the local gaming sector that can result in businesses paying up to 50 percent of their revenue has also resulted in intense debate. Regardless of which side of the gaming divide you land on, it will be regular citizens such as you and me who suffer as a result of the government’s pursuit to snuff out this industry.
People are concerned that their jobs are on the line. Can you imagine the government setting in motion a ripple effect that results in you losing your job by the end of summer? That would make it two years straight that the government’s actions have led to the Bahamian people being out of work during the back-to-school period.
Notwithstanding the massive debt that the country has incurred over successive administrations, this becomes an issue of timing. There is no definitive reason that has been given to the Bahamian people that expressly says why the budget must be balanced in three years. Perhaps there is none other than the government not wanting to set something in motion that another government can take credit for. But this is hardly a goal that is in the best interest of the people.
The current administration, who has also borrowed well over a billion dollars in its first year in office, seems to not take into account how high they have turned up the heat in the economic environment.
Last week’s rally, which at times became very tense, showed some of the rage people feel towards the government as a result of its actions. Protesters booing, chasing, and throwing water on Members of Parliament - while not a civilised manner in which to protest - are indicative of the public’s furore over the government’s decision to increase taxes.
The protestors ranged from regular citizens to employees of the gaming sector, as well as members of the Progressive Liberal Party with obvious political agendas.
Justifiably, the Bahamian people have not been taking this well. Many are still in shock while others are banking on the government to lower the rate. Although some party-blinded Free National Movement supporters are defending the government’s decision, we also still have a few citizens that prefer to take the bitter medicine being prescribed by the government now, rather than later.
Despite opinion polls showing that the people do not support the Budget, and worse, do not support the government, the Minnis administration is steadfast – which may be to its own peril.
Poor people across the country see the government as tone-deaf and inconsiderate of what will happen to the “small man”. While some MPs have accepted what may be the fate of this administration in 2022, one has to wonder - why they would take such a gamble in a scenario where nearly everything has to go right for their plan not to backfire?
As it stands, the public’s confidence in this government knowing what they’re doing is all but non-existent. Surely, there is little doubt that the Minnis administration has pulled the pin on not only an economic hand grenade, but a political one as well.
Our only hope is that whatever may come, we are able to withstand it and thrive in the long run.