When the 2016/2017 Budget Debate opened in the House of Assembly yesterday, Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Leader, K. Peter Turnquest reminded colleagues that despite continued promises by the government, Grand Bahama’s economy continues to suffer serious drought.
“Stop-over visitors are down and the effects of the all-inclusive concept are permeating throughout the island,” added Turnquest as he made his contribution in the afternoon session of the Budget Debate.
“As an aside Mr. Speaker, I have been directed to inquire of the Minister of Immigration (Fred Mitchell) and the Minister of Tourism (Obie Wilchcombe), how is it possible for a Bahamian guest services manager to be terminated and replaced by the foreign spouse of the General Manager of the Memories Resort?
“Who are we working for Mr. Speaker? This is unacceptable and we hope this situation will be looked into immediately.”
Noting that there is a critical unemployment problem in Grand Bahama, Turnquest maintained that no Bahamian should be displaced to make way for the spouse of a foreign Manager. “Unacceptable!” he declared.
Speaking to matters in the constituency he represents, East Grand Bahama, Turnquest said that there have been many promises made. “The two most significant of which from an infrastructure point of view is the extension of potable water mains and the construction of a sea wall at Smith Point. I am informed that the water mains are progressing and we look forward to a timely conclusion.
“The sea wall seems to be an issue, however. This is a critical piece of infrastructure and we are again calling on the government to fulfill its commitment to the people of Smith’s Point, outstanding for over three years.
“This must be done urgently as we are losing our road due to erosion and once that happens, the properties on the front road will follow,” said Turnquest.
“Mr. Speaker, the economy of Grand Bahama needs support and the system of government administration on the island needs to be streamlined and business friendly.
“We need the new hospital promised and not in the limited space we understand has been selected. We can do better,” Turnquest noted.
“Mr. Speaker, the government touts its apprentice program at the G. B Shipyard. While I commend the program as a general idea, there are some issues that cause concern. First, I understand in order to have been invited to participate in the program; you had to apply through the Ministry for GB.
“This created an unfair and political process where participation is primarily from two constituencies and from a special kind of family. This is unfair to the many young Bahamians who would ordinarily qualify for this program and would excel if given the opportunity,” Turnquest maintained.
Noting that the summer is quickly approaching, Turnquest said that there is no word yet of the usual Student Employment Program. “Can the Minister give us the information on this program and if all constituencies will be allowed to participate?” he questioned.
In concluding his presentation, Turnquest noted, “Mr. Speaker, mercifully this is the PLP’s last budget. It is unimaginative and it lacks the stimulus hoped for by nearly all sectors of our country. It does nothing to help the ease of doing business, nor does it help to facilitate or empower young people or Bahamian business.
“With growth rates projected at 0.5 percent this year and a continued stalled Bah Mar project, if this budget was prepared on the basis that oil prices are less than $45.00 per barrel we are in problems. OPEC is looking for $65.00 per barrel and we know it will eventually increase, yet we have not been provided with any alternatives or energy saving initiatives.
“Additionally, when you have an increase in interest payments at a rate higher than GDP growth, you have a problem. I fear we are at that point,” said Turnquest.
“I say all of this to say, we have to cause some paradigm shifts in our overall economic structure, public education, training and empowerment by true financial and resource incentives, which must be budgeted and provided to Bahamians.
“Energy cost must be controlled and reduced in line with competing jurisdictions. I am advised this can be done in a 90-120 day time frame with a signed PPA at no cost to government.
“We need a Family Island Tourism Agenda – rather the two fly and flies free – Vincent Vanderpool’s model, we need to identify a reason for being. What the Family Islands need is their own identity and marketing … maybe we can use the Cuban model of allowing native Family Islanders to open their homes to tourists allowing them the opportunity to ease into the hospitality industry,” Turnquest suggested, adding that this is being done in Cuba with tremendous success.
“The moneys have an immediate effect of going into the local economy and helping to build wealth.
“Mr. Speaker, the retail commercial banks for the most part are earning roughly 11 percent interest rate spread between the weighted average interest rate on deposits, and on loans and overdrafts. Simultaneously, they are enjoying fee increases and introduction of new fees while basically holding the line on their non-interest cost.
“It is therefore necessary to regulate bank fees and used moral suasion to claw back fees not charged by the retail banks in other Caribbean jurisdictions given the price rigidity created with the interest rate spread and bank fees.
“ The government should use its moral suasion on the Central Bank to either reduce the prime discount rate and to introduce the credit bureau now rather than later, which will have a positive effect on mortgage rates,” said the FNM Deputy Leader.
“Pursue a tax policy on commercial banks aimed to incentivize them to fund agriculture and production residential construction as well as boutique resort development
“Mr. Speaker, the Bahamian people have had enough and they are ready to move on. When one reviews the PLP’s Charter of Governance, the record of failed promises is extensive and growing. We expect no better over the course of the next year and this budget gives us no reason to expect better. Mr. Speaker, it is a matter of trust,” said Turnquest.
Published Thursday, June 9, 2016