Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government had made no decision “as yet” on whether it will seek to cut the $670m civil service wage bill by shedding all public sector workers who have reached retirement age.
K Peter Turnquest, in brief messaged replies to Tribune Business questions, said “fundamental decisions” have yet to be made about next week’s 2020-2021 budget which will set out the government’s short and medium-term plans for tackling the combined economic and fiscal fall-out from Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.
Voicing optimism that the government will successfully be able to obtain the debt financing it needs from both the Bahamian and international capital markets, Mr Turnquest described next week’s presentation to the House of Assembly as a “very pivotal budget once again in terms of the medium and long-term outlook”.
He denied, though, that any binding decision has been made to retire all civil servants who have either reached the 65 years retirement age or been in the public service for over 40 years as a means to cut the government’s wage bill.
“No decisions have been made in this regard as yet,” Mr Turnquest replied. To bring the government’s costs in line with vastly reduced revenues as a result of COVID-19, many observers have argued that the Minnis administration must reduce recurrent (fixed) expenditure, and the civil service wage bill - together with $83.815m in allowances - remains among its largest expense line items.
Kimsley Ferguson, the Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) president, told Tribune Business in a recent interview that retiring all those who have reached 65 or possess long service records was “speculation”. However, he revealed that Mr Turnquest had informed him that Brensil Rolle, the Cabinet minister with responsibility for the public service, planned to meet with the BPSU chief at some stage.
“I’m all ears at this point,” the BPSU chief said. “At this point I’m waiting to have a discussion with the Government regarding how they’re going to approach whatever. If recommendations are made, and consultations held, the union will use that as an opportunity to make its recommendations that it thinks will be in the best interests of members.”
Mr Ferguson added, though, that the union “wouldn’t take kindly to anybody coming and suggesting they’re going to cut public service salaries without any consultation”. He said: “Given the circumstances that the country is facing, and the public sector being the ones keeping the economy afloat, I don’t think it would be a wise idea for the Government to do that.
“While they may explore other areas, I don’t think they want to consider that one at this point. That’s not something the union would endorse. As it relates to salary cuts that’s not something the union is in support of. If they’re looking for funding we can sit, consult and come up with ways of how they can implement other cost-cutting measures that may be necessary at this juncture.”