By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the Davis administration’s priority should be on people who have not been paid for contracted government work and not on sending a large delegation to Dubai.
Dr Minnis said there were some in the inner-city communities who complained about continuing to wait for money owed them.
Asked if this meant the government's trip was irresponsible, he said that “that is an understatement.”
He said during his administration, there was a moratorium on travelling.
“There are a lot of priorities,” Dr Minnis said in an interview. “The government made many individuals who had contracts under roads and parks, I have not said anything about but I’ll speak about it at some particular later date – there are some individuals who have not been for three months. Those individuals are hurting – they need to be paid.
“Why should they have not been paid for three months while the government is flying all over to Dubai eating steak and lobsters while Bahamians here are hungry and can’t be paid. Where are your priorities?”
More than 100 people, including Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, made up a delegation that went to the United Arab Emirates city Friday to attend a world expo that showcased the country’s cultural and technological offerings.
The size of the delegation was reduced due to the surge in cases believed to be the result of the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, OPM communications director Latrae Rahming said. He did not have a cost to taxpayers readily available for the trip at the time, but said there was sponsorship from the government of Dubai and private sector partners.
“We believe - and it continues to be our view - that we are going to give Bahamians the exposure required on the global stage.
“This group comprises of Bahamian talent and choirs and bands and musicians also the cultural artisans of our country and we want to show that we have talent in our country.
“I think that it is a justified investment when we give our people exposure on the world stage so people could see the talent and I think if this small country could produce per capita the largest amount of athletes and we could produce Sir Sidney Poitier, we could make a significant investment in letting the world see our talent.”
Despite this, Dr Minnis highlighted that his government had a moratorium on any Cabinet minister’s travelling during the pandemic
“Nobody (was) travelling, including myself,” he said. “You would note that as soon as we lost the government, the new government went to the UN. We had already made a discussion that we were not travelling to the UN, therefore, there were no bookings with respect to my government going to the UN we would involve ourselves virtual. The same thing applied to Dubai.
“We said that if tourism insisted that they wanted to go that tourism must find the money in their own established budget, but we were not, my government the FNM government nor the Ministry of Finance, we’re gonna give them any additional funds. Find it in your established budget because at this particular time there are other priorities and we were not going to spend the public purse."
“Their argument was that they would meet investors, etc, and we said fine get the private sector involved to provide you with the funds, but we were not travelling.”
He also said: “Yes, Dubai would have constructed the pavilion and, therefore, if the Bahamas needed representation there’s no reason why they could not have done everything virtually. They tried virtual Junkanoo which failed, but there’s no reason why they could not have done virtual cultural events.”
Back in 2020, Dr Minnis defended his continued travel to the Family Islands in the face of criticism that it was not safe to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic and calls from the Official Opposition for there to be equal opportunity for inter-island travel.”
“From I came into office I’ve been travelling through the Family Islands. That has never stopped so it’s just a continuation,” he had previously said.
“When I came in, I promised the Family Islanders that I would visit them regularly and keep them abreast of what’s happening in The Bahamas, especially after budgets (and) after COVID they must be informed.”
Meanwhile, the former prime minister said there was no friction in the party despite his noticeable absences at some of the Free National Movement’s press conferences.
He went on to respond to those who criticized him for leaving parliament early on Wednesday.
Dr Minnis said this was because he went to assist people in need in some inner-city community.
“I see they accuse me of leaving Parliament. Parliament was very short on Wednesday. The tribute by my leader and tribute by the prime minister. Individuals within the Mason’s Addition and the Over-the-Hill had contacted me previously and said that they had not been paid by the government and they were having serious problems and challenges feeding their family, etc. I would’ve spoken to them previously and said immediately after Parliament I will drive down to the area. I have some food vouchers whatever else I will ensure that you get that,” he said.
“Immediately after parliament, the GPS on my car or whatever, you would have noted I went into the inner-city. I went Englerston. I went to Bain Town and I went to Centreville where I went to ensure that those who were complaining that they had not been paid, I went to ensure that they had something.”
“That should be a priority. If there are individuals who have done jobs for the Bahamian people have not been paid that should be priority, not travelling to Dubai,” Dr Minnis said.