Thursday, 19 October 2017

Ragged Island and Exuma MP responds to Finance Minister

STATEMENT BY I. CHESTER COOPER MP
SHADOW MINISTER OF FINANCE, FINANCIAL SERVICES & INDUSTRY

IN RESPONSE TO THE NEW BUDGET DEFICIT ANNOUNCED BY FINANCE MINISTER

Having taken two months to respond to Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’s queries on the difference between the Minnis administration’s initial deficit figures and those of the Central Bank of The Bahamas (CBOB), the honorable minister of finance came to the House of Assembly on Thursday to advise the country the new deficit is not $500 million for fiscal year 2016/2017 as previously reported, but is actually $695 million.

The Ministers has a lot of questions to answer.

Rather than give clarity on why the government spent $381 million in the month of June alone, and why that data is still not finalized in the CBOB’s reports, while patting himself on the back for the July numbers, the minister raised numerous red flags with his statement.

Though he gave a list of things he claims the government paid for in June, he did not explain the specific nature of these bills, why the government decided to make these payments in full rather than stagger them as is customary and which ministries these payments originated from. Further, if the proverbial “cupboard was bare” as he pronounced in May, where did the Minister find $381m during the month of June?

Therefore, in the interest of transparency and accountability the minister of finance must reconcile and explain his new deficit figures. While he is at it, perhaps the minister could indicate when, indeed, the year-end for the last fiscal year will finally be closed, as we are now in the second quarter of the current fiscal year.

The continuous change by a wide margin each time the minister speaks accompanied by partisan rhetoric does not inspire confidence in our economy or our country generally.  
The purpose of the request for information was not to do a political dance with the minister, but to make sure that the government is being transparent with the public’s funds – the most basic of public expectations.

As shadow minister of finance, I have no time for political football, and will make no attempt to explain the minister’s numbers for him as the details are resident in the Ministry of Finance, to which I have not had access at any point.

It is noteworthy that last month, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House requested, in writing, of the minister, an explanation for these variances; a request to which he has yet to respond.
In the interest of transparency, accountability and credibility, I urge him to comply promptly.

While he is at it, the minister must explain, in detail, what he means when he says that $42 million of the $150 million the government borrowed and placed in the consolidated fund last year for hurricane relief ‘cannot be found’.

This is no time for nonsensical talk. The minister well knows he has a fiduciary duty to reconcile the government’s accounts.

This is money the people of The Bahamas will have to pay back with interest. It is incredibly irresponsible to say that the government cannot locate $42 million of the public’s money.  
However, to blithely say he has no idea where the money is, is shocking, unacceptable and the innuendo is again language unbecoming of a Minister of Finance.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that since the FNM took office, no significant foreign direct investments (FDI) have materialized and the government has presented no plan of any kind to spur life into the economy. I once more urge the government to focus attention on job creation, economic growth, FDI and domestic investment rather than continuing to look backwards.
Bahamians are hurting and await the government’s attention to creating opportunities and bringing relief to hurting families.

I again caution the minister, as I did during the budget exercise, that sensationalizing and playing politics with the economy does not serve the national interest.  

There is an old and timely adage: “Loose lips sink ships”.
The elections are over, there is no question that the PLP lost and the people have entrusted the FNM to move the country forward.  

The government must focus on bringing the country together and inspiring confidence in the economy.  
The Minnis administration and the honorable minister should not continue to squander the goodwill of the Bahamian people.
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