FORMER Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest has criticised Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ housing programme for western New Providence, calling the legislation to facilitate it “inherently discriminatory” and open to a court challenge.
The East Grand Bahama MP said the Access to Affordable Homes (Amendment) Bill, 2021 would create concessions for one group of people to the “ultimate exclusion” of others who have equal barriers to homeownership. He urged the government to reconsider the initiative.
“This bill is extremely worrisome to me as it is inherently discriminatory on many fronts, though well intentioned,” Mr Turnquest said during the budget debate in the House of Assembly yesterday.
“Every citizen of The Bahamas is an equal taxpayer and has an inalienable right to enjoy equal benefits provided by the state. This bill, however, seeks to carve out benefits for a specific group to the ultimate exclusion of other groups equally as disenfranchised when it comes to the affordability of land and construction.
“Leaving the fact that the bill is Nassau-centric in its design, the bill proposes to use taxpayer money to grant concessions to one group over another. I’m not sure how we make up the revenue foregone, but what if a young professional is unlucky in receiving one of these lots? Why should they be penalised in the compounding of insult to injury of having to pay full price for their own lots as well as full customs duty for the construction of a home, as well as property taxes, while across the fence their friend and neighbour is fully exempted? Why should I or you be held to a different standard in equal circumstances?
“Again, I get the laudable intent but in my mind this bill goes against the principle of fairness and equal treatment under the law and invites a court challenge. I recommend finding another way.”
Earlier this year, Dr Minnis revealed a planned housing programme geared towards young professionals will include certain exemptions such as waived customs duty on building materials and appliances and real property tax exemption for up to two years after the homes have been constructed.
The proposed development in western New Providence will allow people between the ages of 18 and 45 to buy lots for about $50,000. However, the lots will be worth $150,000 once the necessary infrastructure is installed.
Yesterday, Mr Turnquest also urged the Minnis administration to make “hard decisions” regarding the viability of state-owned enterprises which have been a “drain” on the central government’s resources.
“We just cannot continue to support these entities with taxpayer dollars and make believe that they will not cause a ballooning in the national debt that will eventually come crashing down around our feet,” Mr Turnquest said.
“The current models are not sustainable and must be fixed sooner rather than later. Overall, the planned increase in expenditure of $252m must be managed extremely carefully and a tight rein kept to ensure these expenditures do not get too far ahead of planned revenue otherwise a serious cash flow crisis can develop requiring emergency borrowing, which will not be optimal.”
Speaking on the City of Nassau Revitalization (Amendment) Bill, 2021, Mr Turnquest said the current legislation has yet to produce a tangible solution for revamping Bay Street, particularly east of East Street.
“I remind us of the definition of insanity. Truthfully, without an incentive and a concession tied to an action, nothing will happen seemingly and these properties will be passed from generation to generation in their current condition.
“I propose for consideration a carrot and stick approach. Grant the extension of the concessions for one year, two years max if you feel pressed. . .and if development happens extend it for the full five years on application. If it does not happen in a year or two, the concession should fall away and the full tax become due retroactive to July 1, 2021.
“With New Providence responsible for approximately 85 percent of GDP today, how do we continue to afford to give these concessions without economic activity to compensate for it?”
He also lamented the pace of restoration efforts in his constituency post- Hurricane Dorian, a point he has raised in the House of Assembly before.
“I remain disappointed that the DRA has not followed through on its commitment to provide temporary dome homes to residents in the affected area in need of accom- modation. I understand the challenges but when one considers the costs allocated to continued debris management, to administration of the programme, the cost to erect and provide 40 resident families with some accommodation is insignificant. I do not accept the present situation and regret that I am forced to mention it again.”
He called for the removal of derelict vehicles and also said no attention has been paid to the dock at Sweeting’s Cay or Water Cay, adding he has been “begging” for a replacement seawall in High Rock.
Mr Turnquest, who is not running for re-election, ended his speech by thanking former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham for giving him the initial opportunity to be the Free National Movement’s standard bearer in 2012.