By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Fiscal Responsibility Council (FRC) member yesterday demanded an end to “political finger pointing” over its failure to deliver timely reports and called on both major parties to instead “get to the root of the matter”.
Gowon Bowe, who represents the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) on the fiscal watchdog, told Tribune Business that the key issues remain the sharing and exchange of information between itself and the relevant government agencies as well as the resources dedicated to the Council so that it can perform its functions effectively.
Speaking after Michael Pintard, the Opposition’s leader, hit out over the Council’s failure to produce its assessments of the Government’s Fiscal Strategy Report 2021 and 2022-2023 Budget within the timeframes set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, he pointed out that the same problems existed when the Minnis administration was in office.
Describing the Council’s work and processes as still being in the “embryonic” stage, Mr Bowe told this newspaper that its assessment of the Fiscal Strategy Report is “in the process of being drafted”. While Kevin Burrows, the Council’s chairman, could not be reached for comment via phone or messages, the BICA representative said it was “sad and disappointing” that the Opposition would “seek to politicise” the issue.
Noting that Mr Pintard and several other Opposition MPs sat in the Minnis Cabinet, and would have been familiar with the issues faced by the Council in fulfilling its mandate to produce quality assessments of the Government’s fiscal plans within the timeframe required by law.
“One was the ability to access the underlying information that supported the report, and then the time required to verify, validate and finalise our opinion on the underlying information, and then write the report,” Mr Bowe explained.
“My response to that with the Opposition is that they need to look in the mirror and ask themselves: Did they leave in place in the Ministry of Finance and other government agencies the system and processes that enable information sharing to be done efficiently?
“They can read the Fiscal Responsibility Council report that says our ability to analyse the report was limited in the absence of information to validate it. It is not without merit to say we need to see done in time and on deadline, but there should be insight that says this is very well an embryonic process.”
Mr Bowe said the Council’s work relies on a change of government culture which has traditionally been resistant to sharing information with outside groups, individuals and parties. Describing the Opposition statement as “disingenuous” but correct, he added that they were complaining about the same deficiencies that existed under their watch.
“Let’s avoid the finger pointing and get to the root of the matter,” Mr Bowe said. “Before you walk you have to creep, and before you run you have to walk.”
Mr Pintard, in his statement, said: “The Leader of the Opposition has written to the Prime Minister and requested an update on the status of these tardy reports, and to get his assurance that as minister of finance he is ensuring that the FRC is adequately resourced and working diligently to have these reports finalised and published as outlined in the law.
“When they were in Opposition, the then-PLP on a number of occasions spoke to the need for the FRC reports to be published and circulated on time. It is telling and typical of the PLP that they have no such urgency on these matters of accountability now that they are in government.....
“The Davis administration has fallen into the habit of late budgetary and other critical fiscal reports. The Prime Minister must realise the damage this is causing to the credibility of his government and the country. We call on the Government to ensure that these reports are completed and published before the end of the month of September 2022.”
Elsewhere, the Government was tight-lipped on several other key matters yesterday. Julian Russell, the Grand Lucayan’s chairman, declined to comment on the status of the resort’s sale after the latest seven-day extension granted to prospective buyer, Electra America Hospitality Group, expired. He would only say a press statement will be issued “shortly”, but none was received last night.
And there were also international media reports that the 27-nation European Union (EU) is again set to “blacklist” The Bahamas for alleged non co-operation on tax matters at an upcoming meeting in October. This nation was added to the EU’s so-called ‘grey list’ back in February due to concerns that the bloc wanted this country to address. Ryan Pinder KC, the attorney general, did not respond to Tribune Business messages seeking comment before press time last night.