The Biggest Emergency Of Budget Debate Details…

Appropriate regard being had to the country’s financial indicators, the biggest emergency I heard spoken of during this year’s Budget debate is that of our educational system. We as Bahamians are very good at living in denial and pretending to be where we are not as a country. We quickly take offense and clutch defiantly onto our insecurities and feelings of inferiority whenever education is discussed. The reality is that it will ultimately matter very little who is in office if the majority of your citizens cannot read, comprehend and calculate beyond a certain grade level. The nation cannot advance beyond a certain level if so many of us are appreciably limited in our ability to critically think, reason, and productively carry out certain fundamentals in our society. Yes, the nation will have some bright moments along the way, but collectively we will be lacking in very significant ways. Continue reading

Do We Really Want Our Financial Mess Fixed? Do We?

Fixing our financial free-fall is not going to happen by making a bunch of us happy in the short to medium term. To get our financial house in order will take making many of us angry – very angry. It is going to take MPs and Ministers who are prepared to become unpopular with their constituents and the general public as hard and painful decisions must be made. It’s going to take Ministers being prepared to become the enemy in some of our eyes in order to reverse our downward trends. It’s going to take national sacrifice – and this is what the public is not being told. Continue reading

Public Service Employee Spending – Figures

Since the start of the 2017/2018 Budget process in Parliament, there has been much talk about hundreds of persons hired into the Public Service prior to the General Election and the millions such hiring is said to have cost taxpayers. Ever wonder what we pay to and for current public sector employees and sector retirees?

2017/2018 Budget Allocations:

Salaries & Allowances – $753.5 million
Non-Contributory Pension Payments – $95 million
Health Insurance Premiums – $71.7 million
Gratuities – $33 million
NIB – $31.3 million
Parliamentary Pensions – $1.7 million Continue reading

Make Tabling Specific Information A Legal Requirement For Gov’t Resolutions To Borrow Money

We haven’t been told if a review of our financial administration laws is planned, but I believe we need to look at legislating the caliber of information that must be submitted to the Parliament along with Resolutions to borrow sums of money. That way, there would be no argument about what should be brought by any given government – a standard and requirement in law would be set. In order to borrow money, the Minister of Finance must bring a Resolution to Parliament requesting the consent of Parliament to do so. Since Parliament must give the approval, then Parliament should be given all the requisite information to support such a request by the government. Continue reading

Our Annual Office Rental Bills & Other Utilities – Budget 2017

The Bahamas government spends a substantial amount of our tax dollars in office rent for its Ministries and Departments. Based on the information that is available in the new 2017/2018 Budget, over $45.8 million has been allocated for office rental payments. Budget Heads for areas such as the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) which were removed from the national Budget by the former administration have not been re-instituted for the 2017 Budget, so any rental allocations that may exist under the PHA and other such areas cannot be seen by the Parliament and public and hence, are not factored into that $45.8 million figure. We also have not been told whether any of the newly discovered contracts entered into prior to the General Election include office rental contracts. Continue reading

Constituency Office Allowances: We Need to Finally Hold Our MPs Accountable – Budget 2017

All MPs receive a $2,500 allowance each month ($30,000 per year) that is designated via the Parliamentarians Constituency Office Allowance Act to finance the operations of their constituency office. The monthly allowance was increased to $2,500 from $1,500 back in 2015. All MPs are required by law to keep all receipts and proper accounts of the use of this allowance, which are to be audited annually by the Auditor General. The allowance in law is set out for rent, upkeep and maintenance; salaries, bank charges and NIB payments; utilities; equipment and supplies. In the Family Islands (except Grand Bahama and Bimini) the allowance is also set for transportation within the constituency. Continue reading

Accountability Moving Forward – Budget 2017

Deficit Spending – For too long now, Bahamians have had to rely on the mere word of a government Minister regarding key aspects of how our money is being spent, because such information is not available in print for us or even the Parliament to see, analyze and hold officials to account. It does not matter whether or not you trust a Minister or think he or she is honest. A functioning system has to be built on laws, procedures and standards that everyone must follow no matter who you are or how the public may feel about you at any given time. We cannot hold a government accountable if we have nothing to hold them accountable with. Continue reading

New Administration Must Return To The Budget Accountability Documents Removed Last Term

Salary & Staffing Details – As readers here may recall, this blog highlighted to the public back in 2014 the historic removal of the salary and staffing information from the national budget referred to as Personal Emoluments. This critical accountability plank of the Budget tells Parliament and the public how many people are employed in each category of the Service in Ministries and Departments, how much they are being paid and what their job titles and scales are. The documents show the changes year to year in the employment numbers as well as salaries, etc. Once this information was stripped, it was no longer possible for the Parliament or the public to account for the number of hires and what they were being paid. Back when I raised this matter, the former Prime Minister later responded, claiming that removing the documents that enabled the Parliament and public to track how our money is being used in this critical area, made the Budget “more modern”. Continue reading

Value Added Tax (VAT) – Round 2

As we await the presentation of the 2017/2018 Budget, and as discussions on the cost of goods and services and the cost of doing business continue, here are several key questions we will be awaiting answers to:

1 – Is the government considering a repeal of the Value Added Tax Act provision that mandates VAT be charged on customs duties?

2 – When will we see further and substantial elimination of customs duties?

3 – What will be the specific considerations given to the current levy of business license fees?  Continue reading