By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A governance reformer has urged the Opposition to publicly affirm its commitment to responsible government finances, while urging both political parties: “Stop throwing fiscal rocks.”
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, in a recent interview with Tribune Business called on the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) to publicly confirm whether it will adhere to the legislative safeguards imposed on government fiscal policy if re-elected to office.
Urging the opposition party to provide solutions to the government’s financial problems instead of just constantly criticising, Mr Myers argued that merely being “naysayers” was not helping The Bahamas’ cause when it came to cleaning up its fiscal mess.
Suggesting that many Bahamians viewed the two major political parties as “two spoilt kids going at it”, he called on both to “get back to the business of improving the country” as they and all residents “will sink and swim together”.
Mr Myers, in particular, called on the PLP to confirm whether it will stick to the fiscal consolidation plan set out by the Minnis administration in the Fiscal Responsibility Act whenever it is re-elected to government.
“Frankly, we need to be hearing more from the opposition that they’re committed to that plan also,” he told Tribune Business. “It would be nice to hear some rhetoric, instead of throwing rocks, that this is the right plan and they’re committed to that.
“It would be good to start hearing that from the opposition. People would like to hear that. I’d like to hear the PLP saying the future is the Freedom of Information Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Integrity Commission Bill and all those other issues. Let’s hear some dialogue instead of throwing rocks at each other.
“What are your solutions? What are you proposing? What’s your solution to the problem? Just being a naysayer doesn’t help us move the country forward. If you don’t like what they’re proposing, tell us what should be done.”
The opposition has yet to publicly state whether it will adhere to the deficit and national debt targets set out in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, together with the safeguards and limits it imposes on government spending to guard against reckless, irresponsible policy.
Fiscal issues did not feature prominently at last week’s PLP Convention, and it is unclear whether the party would seek to loosen fiscal controls and checks by amending the Act when voted back into government.
KP Turnquest, the deputy prime minister, called the Opposition out on this in February 2019 when he voiced concern that it would instantly seek to reform, and weaken, the Fiscal Responsibility Act’s safeguards against uncontrolled spending, and soaring deficits and debt, to enable it to fulfill costly campaign promises.
“That is one of the concerns that we should all have as citizens because when you listen to the rhetoric from the other side it appears they do not recognise the need for fiscal conservancy and responsible, realistic targets is important to the future of the country and future stability of the country,” Mr Turnquest said then.
“It’s fair to say every Bahamian should be concerned about the rhetoric from the other side. That’s basically taking us back to the future. That’s what they did for their last five years in office and have few results to show for it.”
Mr Myers, meanwhile, called on both major political parties to “start being a lot more mature and responsible about how we move this country forward”.
He told Tribune Business: “All the nonsense in the political arena right now has no impact on the country moving in the right direction. I don’t believe the people are buying it. They see it as two spoilt children going at it. They want to hear how they are going to make it better for them and the country.
“Throwing rocks at each other just isn’t productive. At some point I would hope politics in this country matures a lot, but if you read the newspapers today it doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s like: Your plan sucks but I don’t have a plan.
“That’s not responsible governance or a responsible position. Let’s get back to the business of improving the country no matter what side of the fence you sit on. We all win or we all sink together. If the country succeeds we all succeed; if it sinks, we all go down together. Black, white or in between it makes no difference; we’re all going down together.”
Many observers view the PLP as having little fiscal credibility because it used the $1bn-plus VAT revenue windfall during its last two-and-a-half years in office to finance increased spending and social programmes that added some $2.2bn to The Bahamas’ skyrocketing national debt.
This was contrary to the former Christie administration’s initial pledge that the extra revenue would be used to narrow, then eliminate, the annual nine-figure fiscal deficits and ultimately pay down the $8bn-plus national debt.
But, while passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act and making efforts to stick to the targets it sets out, the Free National Movement (FNM) also lost some of its fiscal capital by hiking the VAT rate to 12 percent despite blasting the tax while in Opposition.
There are also signs that the Minnis administration’s austerity drive is wearing thin with Bahamian society, especially in communities and households that have yet to see a significant improvement in their incomes, living standards and conditions since the 2017 general election.