By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party deputy leader Chester Cooper yesterday called on the government to provide a report on the current state of the Public Treasury and all loan agreements approved for this year.
Speaking to reporters outside the House of Assembly yesterday, Mr Cooper said Bahamians are in need of weekly or monthly updates from the Minnis administration on the country’s financial state of affairs due to reports that its assistance programmes “are running out of money.”
He said: “One day, we hear the minister of finance talk about the possibility of programmes running out of money. We heard the minister responsible for public service and national insurance make a similar comment. We hear similar comments from Bahamasair and Water and Sewerage Corporation, and we know BPL is in crisis.
“Our country is in crisis. We need weekly or monthly updates on the state of the economy. Today, I’m calling for a review of the treasury, a review of the finances of our country through the treasury committee of Parliament. I’ve called for a meeting of the treasury committee in order to review all the monthly reports compared with last year. We’re also calling for a sight of the Fiscal Responsibility Council’s report.”
He added: “The Fiscal Responsibility Council is mandated by law to review all aspects of the economy and to report, they would have full access to all of the information in the Ministry of Finance and we ask for that report to be released. The silence of the Fiscal Responsibility (Council) is stunning, and we ask that we see the reports in very short order.
“Before we can talk about what the economy looks like in November, we must look to see where we are at the moment. We must look at the various metrics and we can see how we can forecast moving forward.”
Given the economic uncertainty due to COVID, the deputy leader said it is important that the opposition party be kept abreast of the government’s financial state.
“The other thing that I’m calling for today is for the government and the Ministry of Finance to give sight to the opposition and treasury committee of Parliament all of the loans and the loan agreements signed this year,” he said.
“The minister of finance is on record talking about bridge financing by the CDB, IDB and the World Bank and we know that there were loans from the IMF and we need to have sight of the loan agreements so that we can make our own assessment as to what’s being done especially during this period when many of the conventions of consultation and Parliament is on suspension.
“It’s important that we see the details and it’s important that we understand what the government is doing.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the resumption of commercial activity in the capital, which will allow many businesses in New Providence to resume operations under certain restrictions, including restaurants and retail stores, as of August 31.
He also said the government was committed to a measured phased re-opening of the economy and society, based on specific health metrics.
Yesterday, Mr Cooper said while the opposition welcomes the government’s decision, a structured plan detailing the country’s way forward is still needed.
“We want to understand that we are not going to be in an emergency order type of scenario indefinitely so we must see what the next steps are going to be for the new normal,” he said.
“We must continue to educate the Bahamian people. We must prepare them for what this new normal is going to look like. Everyone says this virus is going to be here with us for a while so we need to plan for that eventuality and we must ensure that we have the legislation in place for social distancing and all of the other necessary essentials that we must have in place once the pandemic passes.”
Last night in response to Mr Cooper’s request, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister K. Peter Turnquest issued a statement making clear protocols were already in place for what Mr Cooper was asking for.
“I note the request submitted yesterday by the shadow Minister of Finance I. Chester Cooper, requesting to “examine the state of the Treasury,” said Mr Turnquest.
“The Shadow Minister would be aware that the Government’s latest budget update is due to be released in a matter of days, in keeping with the practice of quarterly performance reporting initiated by this Government two years ago. We have never been late with a report and notwithstanding the unprecedented national crisis, we do not intend to be late this time.
“The Ministry of Finance will release the FY2019/2020 fourth quarter budget update on schedule on Sunday, August 30. Further, in keeping with the Prime Minister’s announcement about upcoming ministry updates, the Ministry of Finance will hold a press conference on the country’s fiscal affairs on Wednesday, September 2, 2020, where detailed updates will be provided.
“Separately, I have always made myself available to the Shadow Minister to address any questions he may have. As always, he can reach out to me on any serious or substantive matters.
“This Administration has set and continues to follow a prescribed fiscal plan, which is allowing the Government to meet its ongoing core financial obligations. The integrity of the public treasury remains intact.
“As foreshadowed during the budget exercise this past May and June, the budgetary performance early in the new fiscal year reflects the prevailing reality in the broader economy. Revenue receipts are muted, and discretionary spending has been constrained. The priorities of the Government remain to provide funding for critical government services and social support.”