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'Financial Council' Will Oversee Gov't Finances

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Government's Fiscal Responsibility Bill will create a non-political "Council" to oversee its financial stewardship, with the law yesterday hailed as a safeguard against national "bankruptcy".

Matt Aubry, executive director of the Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG), told Tribune Business that the Bill - set for full public release today - could be "very big" for fiscal transparency and accountability.

ORG, and other key private sector and civil society groups, were sent an advance copy of the draft Bill on Friday ahead of a narrow two-week consultation period for interested parties to provide feedback on its provisions.

Acknowledging the tight timeline, with the Government aiming to table the Bill in Parliament to coincide with the 2018-2019 Budget presentation at end-May, Mr Aubry said ORG and its affiliates would seek to provide as much advice as possible given the need to move the legislative agenda forward.

He added that a letter attached to the Bill, signed by Marlon Johnson, the Ministry of Finance's acting financial secretary, conceded that the consultation had been launched with little warning.

"There's a lot to be done in a short period of time," Mr Aubry said, adding of the letter: "It did say that they [the Government] appreciated there was not enough notice, but they want to work through this in an expedited way.

"We want to make sure we get this right. I understand the balance of wanting to move forward. With the way the legislative agenda has got stacked up, the intention of moving this and trying to get it in place needs to happen now."

Mr Aubry said ORG had already distributed the draft Bill to its council members, along with affiliate and partner groups, and was pushing for all to submit comments/concerns as rapidly as possible to ensure the broadest possible consultation on critical legislation.

The ORG executive director added that he had already begun to "work through" the Bill, benchmarking it with similar laws in other jurisdictions, and praised several proposals in it - including the creation of a 'Financial Council'.

The Bill, as presently drafted, calls for the Council's members to be appointed by the Governor-General following advice from the Speaker of the House of Assembly and MPs - not the Government, as is normal practice.

"There's going to be a 'Financial Council' appointed by the Governor-General through the suggestion of the Speaker and Parliament," Mr Aubry told Tribune Business. "The composition of the Council is really coming from an outside perspective.

"Private sector folks have a role in making sure the Government is doing what it's supposed to. I saw that as a first step, making sure there's a nod to transparency and the provision of information."

Mr Aubry said other aspects of the Bill made the annual Budget process "a lot more open to public understanding and scrutiny", while setting the Government's revenue and spending plans in context, enabling them to be judged and benchmarked against strategy and specific goals.

"When it goes off track it will be very clear," he added. "One point speaks to the need for presenting a financial strategy in the latter part of the year that will guide all Budget presentations going forward.

"It's [the Bill] going to be more specific, and I think it needs to be more specific; what we're trying to achieve in a year and the current strategy. That can be used to hold the Government accountable and fight for transparency.

Mr Aubry said the Bill will also provide a "framework" to help explain, and allow the public to assess, the reasons for terminations/lay-offs in the public sector. Noting that such firings have aroused considerable controversy, especially in the political realm, he suggested the proposed legislation will offer an objective criteria that can be used to determine if such moves are justified.

Robert Myers, ORG's principal, yesterday told Tribune Business that the Fiscal Responsibility legislation had been "too long coming", given that successive administration had run-up a near $8 billion national debt with $300 million-plus annual deficits.

He suggested that the binding limits the Bill will impose on current and future governments will serve to protect the Bahamas against bankruptcy, telling Tribune Business: "That's where we're headed otherwise."

"I think it could be huge," Mr Myers said of the Bill. "What I'm excited about is that it's going to create laws that create Fiscal Responsibility across the board. That's why I think it's so important that we it establishes accountability and rules that all governments have to live with, not just this one.

"We're not trying to tie anyone's hands down, because there are natural disasters that occur that force us to spend above Budget limits, but when they don't have those events there's at least some guidelines that mean they will not bankrupt the country.

"That's where we're headed. These Fiscal Rules will hopefully bind them to live within certain realities, certain limits, and that's critical."

Mr Myers said all previous governments, both FNM and PLP, had "done a crap job on fiscal controls and fiscal accountability, and that irresponsible behaviour has to stop. The lack thereof will take us all down with them.

"If they keep increasing taxes, the cost of living goes up, the cost of business keeps going up, people stop coming here and the country's over. It's a vicious cycle. That's why it's not just policy; we need to make it law. It's [Fiscal Responsibility] been too long coming, but I'm very happy to see the first phase."

Mr Aubry, meanwhile, said ORG planned to work with the Government and private sector partners on a Fiscal Transparency Portal that will enable Bahamians to have a better understanding of, and participation in, a country's fiscal affairs.

Comments

realitycheck242 2 years, 3 months ago

Enough talk .....put the darn thing in place before the PLP get back in power .and lets see it working for the next four years.

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ThisIsOurs 2 years, 3 months ago

Oh please, transparency, cransparency. This will all hinge on who they select, whether those persons have strong voices, are not looking to enrich themselves, are independent and refuse to bow to political pressure. We had an entire financial secretary and 11 cabinet members, 12 whole men and not one said boo about the Oban deal until the public kicked up. The Minister of ENVIRONMENT said ~"not my concern, I dealing with garbage and plastic bags"

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ThisIsOurs 2 years, 3 months ago

I look at this just like the CEB bill if it benefits the people at the top, no one will say anything to stop the train

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TalRussell 2 years, 3 months ago

Ma Comrades, the younger ones so likes sit around listen older folks talks about days back during colonial rule days when we the people had the uncomplacated constitutional right spend we money on whatever our hearts desired when the UBP, and even during early PLP governing administrations, when everyone just minded their how spend they money business. No need outsiders tell us what we were allowed spend we money on.
Even though we didn't have much materiel wealth - still we were such a rich people. Just maybe declaring Independence turned out be more of a financial strangle hold than we know in our hearts was necessary for us to just have continued on enjoy life as islanders - living on our respective island settlements.
Maybe the council appointing prime minister could appoint special council look into returning the Bahamaland back ways of requiring less government supervision to being a rich in spirit, simple island settlements people.
Amen!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 3 months ago

Here goes Minnis once again growing government by establishing yet another national body/council. Within his first year as PM he has sanctioned the establishment of more than three dozen new commissions. councils and bodies. This is sheer lunacy and seems to be all that he is capable of doing!

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Emac 2 years, 3 months ago

My goodness, you people are a pessimistic bunch! My God! At least this government is trying to implement procedures to put some safe guards in place in regards to fiscal responsibility. Assembling an independent body is the way to go. Sure we can say people who are elected are those who are pro government. But what could you do when you live in a small country??? Bring in foreigners to oversee this committee? Then you would say that the government does not think that Bahamians are qualified? No matter how you put it, our country is just too small for its citizens to be totally unbiased in their public duties. If ya ask me, countries like the Bahamas should never have become independent in the first place. It has gotten us nowhere!

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bcitizen 2 years, 3 months ago

Exactly when the plp first gained power the Bahamas should have explored for more than just 1 term how it would manage with full internal self control rather than just jumping straight to independence. It might have not worked and then still could have then gone full independent but, we never really had a transition.

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TheMadHatter 2 years, 3 months ago

Emac - i agree 100% with each point you've made.

I'm disappointed that so far all we've heard about the Bill is with regard to the budget. We need monthly totals on ACTUAL spending and ACTUAL income broken down by department/category along with real information about our DEBT showing the 8 billion broken down by who we borrowed it from, for what purpose, when, at what interest rate, each payment date and amount along with running balances.

Should we get this info? No we are just children and the government is our parents. They would say we are not "financially savvy enough" to understand the "big picture" anyway.

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joeblow 2 years, 3 months ago

This is just another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. 1) Get rid of the consolidated fund,

2) give each ministry its budget and

3) follow the advise of the auditor general who seems to be the only government employee with integrity!

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SP 2 years, 3 months ago

This is definitely a step in the right direction. They need to put mechanisms in place to "force" a rogue government to abandon reckless policies and actions that are not in the best interest of the country.

Asinine political failures Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie took turns destroying our country, watching each other's backs in favor of special interest groups, friends, family, and lovers proving beyond all doubt that absolute power corrupts absolutely!

There must be ways and means of an independent group limiting the powers of the prime minister as members of ruling governments have proven totally incapable of independent thought in the countries interest. Otherwise, we will have another power crazed, corrupt "democratic dictator" in our future.

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ThisIsOurs 2 years, 2 months ago

Sure:) I still remember Fred Mitchell laughing when Dr Minnis said he was going to enforce the financial declaration law. After Oban I have serious questions, that was not a mistake

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