By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
WHILE castigating the Minnis administration for its lack of a plan to mitigate economic fall out due to COVID-19, the Progressive Liberal Party is urging the government to disclose more specifics about the country’s financial footing.
Following the release of the Ministry of Finance’s budgetary performance report for the fourth quarter of the 2019/2020 fiscal year, PLP deputy leader Chester Cooper said the document is of little use to Bahamians.
This is because the government’s disastrous mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on the economy and people now fear economic fallout more than they do the virus, Mr Cooper said in a statement yesterday.
As he claimed the latest snapshot’s information was “dated”, Mr Cooper called on the government to make public the country’s monthly revenue collections and deposits as well as the balance of the Consolidated Fund and any overdraft facilities.
He said the deficit had now ballooned to 350 percent more than the previous year.
“Given the severity of the crisis, the information in this report is dated,” Mr Cooper said.
“…The government’s disastrous mismanagement of the crisis has wreaked havoc on the economy, making it worse than it had to be as businesses have been unable to plan and pivot as quickly as the rules change.
“Bahamians continue to suffer, many lacking basic food and shelter as a result of inefficient programmes and (a) failed rental assistance programme. We reiterate our belief that the fear of the economic fallout has, perhaps, surpassed the fear of the virus itself.
“Nearly six months into the crisis, it is disgraceful that there is no plan to mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic and the decisions of the competent authority, and no plan for the future to create jobs or grow the economy.
“We have already asked the Treasury Committee for a review of government finances, but have only gotten an evasive answer from the Minister of Finance.”
He continued: “What we would like to see are the reports of monthly revenue collected and deposits, as well as the balance on the Consolidated Fund and any overdraft facilities. It is proposed that we examine the actuals compared to projections as well as comparisons to the prior year by month.
“We request the Ministry of Finance provide a copy of the most recent report of the Fiscal Responsibility Council as it would have sight of internal Ministry of Finance reports in preparing its analysis.
“We remind that this is now legally mandated under the much-touted Fiscal Responsibility Act. We wish to examine all loan documents signed this year, including the Central Bank’s debt sustainability analysis given its new legislation which limits its ability to lend to the government. We also would like a review of all facilities with multilateral lenders such as the IDB, the CDB and the World Bank.”
Regarding the deficit, Mr Cooper said the PLP remains concerned.
“We note that the deficit, at $788 million, is roughly 350 percent more than the prior year and almost $110 million more than forecasted in June,” he said.
According to the report released by the Ministry of Finance on Sunday, Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic led to an estimated increase in the fiscal deficit to $788.1 million in the 2019/2020 fiscal year from $219.3 million in the previous fiscal year.
The report stated that total revenue for the fiscal year decreased by $337.1 million or 13.9 percent to settle at $2.09 billion, in the fourth quarter alone, while the government saw contractions across its tax categories by 55.2 percent — led by a harsh reductions in value added tax receipts, which fell by $169.2 million or 55 percent.
Mr Cooper also said: “We remain concerned that the government continues to account for the full spending on the Grand Lucayan Resort as an investment notwithstanding that it paid much more than the appraised value and spending continues pending a sale.
“The government needs to advise the public as to our specific financial exposure on this so-called investment.
“The report notes the impact of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19. While Dorian is casually used as the substantial reason for missed targets, the people of Abaco and Grand Bahama still suffer from lack of restoration and not being able to touch, see or feel the impact of the spending.
“We decry the lack of restoration in light of the newly projected deficit,” Mr Cooper said.
Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest is expected to hold a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the fiscal report.