in the house of assembly
THE HONOURABLE JOBETH COLEBY-DAVIS, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR ELIZABETH AND MINISTER OF TRANSPORT AND HOUSING
WEDNESDAY, 1st DECEMBER, 2021
I rise today on behalf of the Elizabeth constituency in support of the 2021-2022 Supplementary budget – the first budget of this New Day government.
This budget represents our first critical steps towards reversing the damage done by the previous administration and steering this nation towards a better, brighter future.
Anytime I look at a government’s budget, I always ask: “What’s in it for the people”? With this budget I think it is clear that the Davis Administration is a government that puts the Bahamian people first. And I am proud to stand here today as a part of a government that is truly prioritizing the needs of our people.
So many Bahamians will be assisted by the budget we have put forward this week. When the member for Killarney said that there would be a focus on helping people in the government’s next term, I think he was talking about the PLP coming into power. Under the Davis Administration, it is finally the people’s time. I hope the members opposite are taking notes.
As always, it is an honour and a privilege to serve the people of the Elizabeth constituency as their Member of Parliament. It is my Elizabeth people who motivate me every day to do all that I can to make a positive contribution to my country. Whenever I may be feeling tired, I think about their stories – all that they have gone through, and all of the challenges that they have overcome. They are my inspiration. I want them to know that they will always have me as their ally.
You know what the Davis administration has in common with a FedEx driver? We both deliver.
We have not been in office very long, but it is astonishing what we have accomplished in just a few weeks and I want the people of The Bahamas to know that there is much more on its way.
We promised we would end the emergency orders and we did it.
We promised that we would replace the emergency orders with effective public health legislation and we delivered that too.
We promised to roll out free testing and, despite all the doubts expressed from the members opposite, we delivered.
We said that we would decrease VAT from 12% to 10% and here we are delivering on that promise too.
The list goes on and on. But it has become clear that the Davis administration is not here to waste time. While in the past we’ve seen governments win landslides and then spend their first year just “slapping up” their mouth and playing the blame game, our actions are speaking louder than our words.
This Supplementary Budget seeks to accomplish three major objectives.
The first objective is to align the government’s budget with the Davis administration’s Ministerial portfolio and agenda.
The second objective is to lay the foundation for fiscal reforms necessary to turn the government’s financial situation around.
The third objective of this budget is to bring immediate and direct relief to the Bahamian people during a time of great need.
Each and every one of these objectives is needed to sustain our economic growth and take the country in a positive direction for the short, medium, and long term.
We are striking the balance between moving forward with our agenda, supporting the Bahamian people through difficult times, while at the same time addressing the government’s fiscal situation. That is the kind of multi-pronged approach and responsible governance that has been missing over the past four years.
We all remember that first budget in 2017 – when the FNM government, believing the myth of their own greatness, began mercilessly cutting budgets, sending Bahamians on the unemployment line, and focusing on so-called austerity measures, boasting about fiscal responsibility. Years later, these painful, economy stagnating moves have yielded very poor results. And we warned them, Madam Speaker.
Their second budget in 2018 was more of the same. Both the leader and the deputy leader warned them about their ill-advised, singularly focused fiscal strategies. During a time of global growth and prosperity, their administration was not fully leveraging our potential for economic growth. Instead, they raised VAT by 60%, cut more budgets, sent more Bahamians home, and bragged about it.
Meanwhile, they made no meaningful reforms to make the government more efficient and they never delivered on all of their high talk about transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption measures. There were no major capital development projects under their watch – they didn’t even build a single school.
You would think that a government who only raised taxes, cut budgets, and fired people would at least have a lot of savings, right? You would think that they would have significantly lowered the national debt or at least narrowed the government’s budgetary deficits. But no. Under their governance, we saw record levels of borrowing as they took the nation straight towards a 1 to 1 debt-to-GDP ratio.
Of course, they like to say that Dorian and COVID-19 are the reason why they could not accomplish anything. But let’s be real. They had three budget cycles before Dorian and had nothing to show for it – that is 3 out of the 5 national budgets they would bring to Parliament. What in the world were they waiting on? They have gone down as the least accomplished government in the history of The Bahamas. The only people who were happy under their leadership were political insiders and their rich friends. Everyone else was failed by their lacklustre governance.
What a shame. The Bahamian people deserved better.
The tale of the Minnis Administration is an instructive one. The success of a government is defined by year one not year four or five. It is in the first year that the groundwork is laid for the following four years.
Considering the ambitious plans outlined in the Blueprint for Change, we understood the need for action from day one. This Supplementary Budget was necessary to keep the momentum going.
We also understand that there is a need to implement other financial measures to realize our vision; and as the world can see, we have very different priorities from the previous administration. We know how critical the first year is, and we could not allow ourselves to be bound solely by the previous administration’s budget.
So the first order of business was making key re-allocations to reflect our Ministerial portfolio and our year one priorities. In this budget, we have seen the end of the disastrous Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management, and Reconstruction, which simply duplicated the efforts of existing agencies.
It was always astounding to me how quickly the previous administration was able to set up an entire new ministry, while taking forever to actually send the Defence Force to help the people of Abaco immediately following the storm. It took them ages to start rebuilding efforts, which they never completed. But in seemingly no time at all they had their cronies lined up for new disaster-related jobs and contracts. It is clear where their allegiances lie.
In this budget, we’ve seen the government streamline for efficiency, getting inactive people off of education’s payroll, removing line items for IDB projects that could not meet projected spending goals, and removing capital projects that cannot be completed this year.
We have a reduction of four million dollars under the Ministry of Transport and Housing. This was the line item put in the previous administration’s budget under the pretence of actually beginning work on the Prospect Ridge Development. I won’t continue to belabour this point as I have already addressed it. But for obvious reasons, given that virtually none of the ground work was done, there was no need to retain this line item.
In this Supplementary Budget, we are putting in place the necessary resources to fix the government’s financial situation. That work starts with the establishment of the Public Debt Advisory Committee comprised of some of our brightest and best minds to come up with better debt management and debt reduction strategies to move this nation away from the fiscal cliff we were headed towards under the previous administration.
The Revenue Enhancement Unit will now be fully resourced and equipped to do their work. I advise anyone residing in The Bahamas who has been ducking and dodging paying their tax bills to start getting their affairs in order. You see, a part of our mission is to ensure that taxes are applied fairly and equally. This includes better enforcement. So for all the people who have been avoiding paying their taxes or committing tax fraud, the Revenue Enhancement Unit will be on the case. If we want to fully address the government’s fiscal situation, we must maximize the revenue gained under the current model. We cannot continue to allow so many millions of dollars to slip through the cracks.
As the government puts together a Revenue Policy Committee comprised of top economists and financial experts, I am excited to see what they will come up with. There are a number of reforms to existing laws that are slated for the government’s agenda, but what is most exciting is the promise of new reforms and changes to the existing revenue model to create a more equitable taxation system, broaden the tax base, and meet the government’s fiscal needs.
The Davis Administration is all about being fiscally responsible, but we also understand that it is nonsensical to fill the public purse while our people are struggling financially.
There can be no doubt that this budget has prioritized bringing immediate relief to the Bahamian people. The number one topic of discussion has been the VAT reduction. We have always maintained that the VAT reduction accomplished three things:
- It aligned our VAT model with international best practices. This includes the IMF recommendations, as well as the revenue models simulated by our own local experts. This means that we could not keep the zero-rated regime in place, because it was making our system inefficient and was benefitting the rich more than lower income households.
- The VAT reduction also provided a modest savings at the cash register for the Bahamian people that could be felt with the purchase of every good and service. Once again, the zero rated items may have been well-intended but it did not benefit the Bahamian people in the way that the members opposite are claiming. This is not my opinion. The IMF report clearly stated that, if you truly want to help your vulnerable populations then a better approach, is to provide direct relief instead of zero rated VAT items.
- Finally, lowering VAT across the board also provides a cushion to protect consumers against increasing global costs. Essentially, it stimulates consumption across the board to promote business activity and growth.
Those opposite want us to talk exclusively about VAT because they think they managed to pounce on the narrative early on with their misinformation. But what they don’t like talking about is the fact that the VAT reduction is only one pillar among a number of relief measures we have planned.
This Supplementary Budget contains an increase in pension payments for retirees. For all the noise in the market place, I haven’t heard one person criticize that move. You know why? Because even the members opposite know that it is a good thing. Even the biased political commentators and social media trolls aren’t touching that. They want the Bahamian people to be misinformed.
They aren’t talking about the return of annual increments for civil servants. I guess members opposite know that bringing it up only highlights their own lack of compassion, because it was them who put a pause on all increments in the first place.
To all government workers, you have the previous administration to thank for stagnating your wages while the cost of living increased. Thankfully, this administration has corrected that situation.
I haven’t heard much talk about the $500 Lump Sum payment or the extension of unemployment benefits either. The members opposite don’t like to talk about that part do they? They are trying to prey on the emotions of the Bahamian people by overemphasizing the point regarding breadbasket items, while ignoring the savings that people receive with every purchase made, and completely ignoring the fact that we are providing direct relief to our people.
But this Christmas, I am sure that people on the unemployment programme will feel the difference when they receive their regularly scheduled payment, in addition to that extra $500. Even the most bitter Grinch in the FNM has to admit that this Christmas-time payment is a good initiative. My advice to the members opposite is to stay quiet and take notes. Let us show you what it really means for it to be the people’s time.
We have delivered these major initiatives without adding a dollar, not even a cent, to the projected deficit. This budget is not just about reallocations, it is about using existing line items in effective ways. The Ministry of Transport and Housing is no exception.
I can tell you that the government has already approved housing work to begin in Grand Bahama and on Carmichael road, and after our recent site visits to Abaco and Eleuthera, we expect works to begin as early as possible in 2022. Our visual assessment has evidenced the fact that there are many lots in the subdivisions toured where there are all infrastructure in place.
The people of these communities will soon benefit from the fruits of our labour.
I was also very pleased and excited about the assessment of Eleuthera where we found a community of people eagerly awaiting home construction so that they could be the beneficiary. We are in the business of getting things done, and not just talking about it and giving people lip service, and in that regard the Department of Housing is moving expeditiously to effectively and efficiently improve on its organizational structure such that its service delivery is attuned to the needs of the people.
The restructuring proposed will improve on its operational capacity by establishing both a Consumer Complaints Section and a Customer Service Unit all with a view to facilitating customer satisfaction.
The Complaints Unit will be replete with a Consumer Hotline to facilitate complaints and inquires and the Customer Service Unit will seek to establish a physical presence to allow easy access to our housing programs and also improve customer education and awareness.
In its quest to facilitate customer outreach, the Department of Housing will provide a one stop shop of services to its clientele via outreach assessment venues on New Providence and the Family Islands in addition to direct accessibility to pre-approval for its affordable housing programs.
Following my tour of the North Abaco and Marsh Harbour Ports, I have sent a team into Abaco to address the disorganization and dysfunction that we witnessed.
This team will begin to provide structure and guidance on security risks and provide more organized structures and processes.
In the first quarter of next year, I will bring further information as it relates to providing a modern structure and finding a permanent home for the Post Office.
We have also recently completed building designs and renderings for a new Road Traffic Building – which will include a bus terminal, an inspection passage way for small motor vehicles, and a separate inspection passage way and inspection area for heavy trucks.
In the New Year, we will be advising of new protocols, which will include a new commercial driver’s licence. Operators of heavy trucks will be required to become certified after a manual testing program. They will be provided with a certificate and a new licence that will indicate on the back of the vehicles they are licenced to operate.
We will make provisions to grandfather some drivers with extensive experience into the new system and will provide an appropriate grace period to allow companies to bring their heavy truck drivers in compliance with the new policy.
We are aiming to raise maritime awareness, build national capacity and facilitate employment through maritime education. In The Bahamas Maritime Authority. We are organizing shipboard visits for students, as well as sponsoring high school students to enrol in the Bahamas Maritime Cadet Corps to meet sponsorship and graduate goals.
It is noteworthy that the programme will produce qualified mariners who would be professional Deck and Engineer Officers with university degrees. There is also a specific push for gender diverse enrolment with strong representation of Bahamian women in this traditionally male dominated area.
We will collaborate with ship owners to provide sea services during training with potential employment opportunities being extended after the training is complete.
A multi-agency approach is advocated as the Ministry of Tourism and Labour are also lobbying the ship-owners for employment of personnel within hospitality industry.
We are looking for ships to partner with those who are interested in the development of local talent and the local maritime industry as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility Goals. Local talent is absolutely essential to the development of a sustainable industry. I would like to thank Disney Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean for the scholarship and employment opportunities already offered and I encourage other Bahamas registered ships to join in on this effort.
It is obvious that the Ministry of Transport and Housing has a whole lot going on in this budget period. On the campaign trail, when we said we would be developing Blue Industries we weren’t joking. What you are hearing today are the first steps towards increased diversification as we drive growth in the Blue Economy.
We are off to a great start. But what’s even more important than a great start is a great finish. I look forward to the next full budget cycle when we can begin to carry-out even more of our agenda.
The Davis Administration is committed to sustained excellence. We made a vow to the Bahamian people that we would build a more fair and equitable society. We promised that we would bring competent, compassionate leadership for everyone during our governance of The Bahamas, and I want everyone to know that we will approach this task with the same passion, zeal and enthusiasm in year five, as we are doing in year one.
We have a team of people who were ready from day one – no training wheels needed, no on-the-job training required. I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish in just a few short months, and I am further encouraged because I know that the best is yet to come.
Thank you Madam Speaker and may God Bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.