By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Opposition’s leader yesterday blasted the “nonsensical explanation” given by the Prime Minister for why the Government was two-and-a-half months late in releasing its key fiscal strategy document.
Michael Pintard branded the rationale given by Philip Davis KC in the House of Assembly as “implausible”, questioning why the leader of a sovereign nation would breach a legally-mandated disclosure deadline simply to avoid disrupting a Standard & Poor’s (S&P) review.
However, the Prime Minister, in turn, slammed the timeline for releasing the Fiscal Strategy Report as being one of the Fiscal Responsibility Act’s “fundamental flaws”. He argued that the deadline stipulated by that Act - that the report be disclosed annually by the third Wednesday in November - was “simply no feasible” this time because it would have “interfered” with S&P’s bi-annual review of The Bahamas’ creditworthiness.
Responding to Mr Pintard’s frequent attacks on the Government’s failure to comply with this legal requirement, Mr Davis said: “In accordance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2018, the Fiscal Strategy Report is to be tabled in Parliament on the third Wednesday of November of each year.
“While in Opposition, and since coming to office as the Government, we have articulated on multiple occasions the fundamental flaws in the Fiscal Responsibility Act — including this very same timeline.” Last year’s release date would have been November 16, and Mr Davis justified the delay on the basis that timely disclosure could have impacted an S&P review that ultimately halted a run of successive downgrades suffered by The Bahamas’ creditworthiness.
“This date, Madam Speaker, was simply not feasible, for at this time The Bahamas was in the middle of its S&P bi-annual credit rating review. Tabling such a document would have interfered with the independent review process,” he said. S&P, the credit rating agency, released the results of its review - and the decision not to further downgrade The Bahamas - some six days later on November 22.
“This event was very significant for our country as, for the first time in almost a decade, positive signs were observed in The Bahamas’ credit rating,” Mr Davis said. “While the S&P rating did not provide an improved credit rating for The Bahamas, it did provide for an improvement in the credit outlook from ‘negative’ to ‘stable’.
“I point this out to emphasise that this constitutes a reversal of the country’s deteriorating credit position. Our plans to restore the country’s fiscal health are working. Given the significance of this report and its implications for the Government’s fiscal policies, projections and debt sustainability, the 2022 Fiscal Strategy Report and Debt Management Strategy were deferred to allow for inclusion of this significant outcome in our projections, policies and strategy.”
However, there have been instances more recently than a decade ago when both S&P and Moody’s have moved The Bahamas’ outlook from ‘negative’ to ‘stable’ while also holding off on any rating downgrade.
Mr Pintard, for one, was not buying the Prime Minister’s explanation. “I thought it was so ridiculous as I listened to him,” he told Tribune Business. “It is most unfortunate to hear the Prime Minister give the most implausible explanation, and I’m giving him credit by saying ‘implausible’.
“I’d hate to think the leader of a sovereign-ruled country would time the release of a report on the basis of a credit rating agency review. It’s a nonsensical explanation in my mind. The Government has been consistently late on a series of reports they have to release despite how aggressive they were in Opposition, calling on the previous administration to be compliant with reporting deadlines.”
Moving past the delayed release, Mr Pintard said “more significant” now is to obtain a date from the Government on when the Fiscal Strategy Report will be debated in the House of Assembly. Obie Wilchcombe, minister of social services and urban development, promised that a date for the debate will be forthcoming during yesterday’s House proceedings, although none was given.
The Free National Movement (FNM) leader indicated he was especially eager to obtain a debate date given that the 2021 Fiscal Strategy Report was not subjected to such scrutiny. He added that the Davis administration’s rationale for passing on last year’s debate was they were “not going to waste Parliament’s time, even though they are obligated by law to do so”.
Mr Pintard, noting that many projections in the 2021 Fiscal Strategy Report were seemingly abandoned four months later when the 2022-2023 Budget was unveiled last May, told this newspaper: “We don’t find their actions to be consistent with their words.... The kind of actions they took were different from what was outlined in that Fiscal Strategy Report.”
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, touted the latest Fiscal Strategy Report as “the most comprehensive and clearly articulated strategy the country has ever produced”. He added that this was based on reviews of the document before publication by international financial institutions and economists.
“These are not just technical achievements — they represent real progress for The Bahamas, progress that Bahamians are going to feel,” Mr Davis said. “Progress on our fiscal goals supports our efforts to build a diversified economy, one that will generate more inclusive opportunities and prosperity. Progress on fiscal goals means progress for people.”