By Morgan Adderley
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party deputy leader Chester Cooper branded the 2019/2020 Budget as a “tale of epic failure.”
While delivering the Official Opposition’s response to the 2018/2019 Budget communication, he lambasted the Minnis administration for lacking “any plan to grow the economy”.
Questioning how the government will increase aggregate revenue from $1.9b to $2.4b in a two-month period, Mr Cooper also said there was nothing in the communication to uplift Bahamians, adding it’s no surprise the country is currently experiencing an “unprecedented” level of union unrest.
Mr Cooper also accused Minnis administration of borrowing “like a drunken sailor,” wanting to cripple the “one black-owned industry in this country,” reducing taxes for “special interests,” and “putting numbers before the people”.
“Today we heard a lot of gibberish,” Mr Cooper said. “We heard nothing to uplift the Bahamian people. There has been no announcement of growth opportunities or relief to the Bahamian people as their quality of life diminished. The poor continues to catch eternal hell at the hands of this uncaring government. It’s no wonder the level of union unrest is unprecedented.
“As expected, this administration has not met its own flawed revenue projections. In the face of their almost $240m shortfall, their reckless abandonment of the Revenue Enhancement Unit amplifies the colossal failure of this administration.
“For the love of country, we hate to say that we told them so, but we did tell them.
“Whilst they boast of meeting their deficit target, we note vendors and contractors across the country who complain of not being paid. We therefore look forward to comparing year over year when the books close in October/November as the minister did in prior years.”
When he gave his communication earlier yesterday, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest noted in the first ten months of the fiscal year, aggregate revenue increased by $272.6m to $1.9bn.
“All told, we project that remaining two months of the fiscal year will perform positively,” Mr Turnquest continued. “For the fiscal year as a whole, revenue is estimated to come in at about $2.4bn, some $238m or 9.0 percent lower than what was budget at the start of the fiscal year.”
To this, Mr Cooper said: “In the face of the minister’s transparency soap box, we question how the minister will collect an average of $250m per month in the last two months when it only received an average of $190m over the first ten months.
“We see more of the same from this administration, particularly the absence of any plan to grow the economy.”
He also said that if the government had not “reduced taxes” for special interests and given a value-added tax refund to “special interests on Grand Bahama,” “revenue targets would have been met.”
Mr Cooper also called for the government to inform the public of the status of the Royal Bank of Canada overdraft facility - including the current limit and the interest rate.
He also criticised the fact that VAT was increased by 60 per cent yet the government only collected 21 percent VAT revenue.
Mr Cooper also questioned who will employ recent graduates, wondering if it will be the gaming industry.
“That was one of the few sectors that had positive growth in the last year, according to the Department of Statistics. And it is the one black-owned industry in this country that the government has openly admitted it wants to cripple.
“This government, despite all its talk of old bills, borrowed like a drunken sailor, increased recurrent expenditure by $246m, increased the debt to GDP ratio from 54.4 percent in 2016/2017 to 58.2 percent in 2018/2019 and the national debt increased to $8.2bn,” he continued.
“I think now that it is apparent to all that this administration no longer governs for the people, but for the select few who believe it is their right to be fattened at the government trough.
“When will it be the people’s time?”