By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government has halted the $130m initiative designed to upgrade civil service skills and transform its delivery of public services to the Bahamian people, the 2020-2021 budget reveals.
A close examination of the government's spending allocations reveals it has provided nothing in this budget cycle, or the next two fiscal years, beyond the $30m that went to "skills enhancement" during the 2019-2020 budget year.
Marlon Johnson, the Ministry of Finance's acting financial secretary, confirmed that Tribune Business' interpretation was correct and that the government has suspended an initiative that it touted as recently as its last published fiscal strategy report.
"Thats' correct," Mr Johnson confirmed. "Depending on circumstance it could be continued going forward but, right now, no." The move is designed to curtail spending, and the cost burden being imposed on Bahamian taxpayers, by the $1.3bn fiscal deficit the government is projected to incur in the upcoming 2020-2021 fiscal year due to a combination of the fall-out from Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the $30m spent on "skills enhancement" during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the deputy prime minister told the House of Assembly earlier this year that some $23m - some 76.7 percent of this amount - had gone towards meeting the lump sum payment made to public servants in late December last year.
Thus the Bahamian people, and taxpayers, have to-date received little benefit from a "skills enhancement" venture that was a major part of the government's $120m unbudgeted non-Dorian spending for which it sought parliamentary approval earlier this year.
K Peter Turnquest told the House of Assembly at the time that another $100m would be devoted to the initiative over the upcoming three years, and said: "While the government continues to foster greater discipline in its fiscal affairs, there are some challenges that it cannot ignore, one of which is the pressing transformation of the public service to achieve greater effectiveness in the delivery of public services through skills enhancement and other human resources initiatives.
"Towards this objective, the government has set aside $30m for fiscal year 2019-2020 and another $100m over the next three fiscal periods. Of the total for fiscal year 2019-2020, approximately $23m was expended in December 2019 toward lump sum payments to eligible civil servants."