By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE financial allocation set aside for travel and several other in-house expenses at the Office of the Prime Minister in the 2019/2020 budget could be viewed as the government’s attempt to finance campaign-related activity, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis has suggested.
He also accused the government of using ZNS, the state-run broadcast network, to advertise the governing party.
Mr Davis also took issue with the government’s allocation for consultants across various government ministries and departments, contending that the Free National Movement while in opposition relentlessly ridiculed the PLP for the same.
“That’s how we can wrap up this government: poster boys for hypocrisy,” Mr Davis said.
“(The prime minister) is travelling around the islands, he’s not using the ordinary flights, he not going on Bahamasair or any other flight; he seems to be chartering all the time. There is no doubt he is campaigning. And they have very strong advertising process going on, particularly using ZNS through… (Press Secretary Anthony Newbold’s show).
“Anyone can see that it’s campaigning.”
The government has allocated $256,738 to OPM for domestic travel, and an additional $401,850 for international travel.
The domestic travel budget is up considerably from the 2018/2019 budget cycle, which came in around $136,416. However, it should be noted that of that $136,416 allocated for the 2018/2019 cycle, only $74,000 was actually utilised.
Other noticeable increases at the OPM include allowances, which jumped from $182,522 to $222,600; office supplies and stationary, which jumped from $8,000 to $72,820; and food, ice and drinking water, which also jumped from $10,400 to $115,330.
Meanwhile, Mr Davis in response to a question on the increase in the consultancy allocation at the OPM, added: “First of all, that consultancy service you see, you see that in the Office of the Prime Minister. But, if you go to the other ministries, that is just a drop in the bucket to all of the consultancy services.
“If you listen to the budget communication, they’re still setting up other consultancies where they are going to be bringing people in to pay. Now you’re going to have to see where those funds are going,” he added.
The government has allocated $520,000 for consultancy service at the OPM this fiscal year. That’s up from $120,000 last year and $30,000 during the 2017/2018 budget cycle.
Mr Davis continued: “The 2019 budget has sealed the fate of this FNM administration as the most dishonest in the history of an independent Bahamas and of this minister of finance as the worst minister of finance in our history.
“Last year, I predicted that this arrogant and heartless government would make ordinary and vulnerable Bahamians pay for their unrealistic campaign promises by increasing the VAT rate. This prediction was correct, and the effects were as I had predicted.
“At 1.6 percent, this is well short of the economic growth predicted at two percent. The government has failed to achieve its revenue and deficit targets. They spent $216 million more than they spent during the last fiscal year. They borrowed more than $2 billion since coming to office. They borrowed four times in this current fiscal year to pay salaries.
“They begged RBC to extend the overdraft facility to pay salaries. So, where did all the borrowed money go? Where did the 60 percent VAT money go? Bahamians are asking Mr (Peter) Turnquest. They will miss their deficit target by a mile. They will miss their revenue target by hundreds of millions.”
All this, he said, despite having the good fortune of the opening of the Baha Mar resort, a robust and buoyant United States economy and no natural disasters.
Mr Davis added: “Despite the repeated deceitful assurances of the minister of finance in Parliament and everywhere else, there was no study or mathematical modelling around the VAT increase — an unbelievably poor decision. Let’s briefly look inside the numbers. The finance minister said that revenue collection this fiscal year ending June 2019 would be $2.4bn or 42 percent more than the government reported as collected in March 2018.
“This is not likely as the government as of March 2019 collected $1.6bn or an average of $187.6m per month. Over 12 months, this translates to $2.25 billion and a revenue shortfall of $397m in comparison to the original budget. This 15 percent revenue shortfall without any external shock to the Bahamian economy, is catastrophic and speaks to the high degree of incompetence of the minister of finance.”
In line with this, Mr Davis said Mr Turnquest’s request for roughly $72m in new funding or an average of $6 million per month, would also be unrealistic.
Mr Davis said he has evidence that suggests the government currently does not have funds necessary to operate over the next fiscal year.
To that end, he predicted lengthy delays in payments to government vendors and setbacks for the financially vulnerable due to a lack of resources. All, he said, leading to a recession and an increase in the economic pain for the Bahamian people.
Parliamentary debate on the 2019/2020 budget will get underway this morning.