Halkitis clarifies government’s getting back to business policy

by: Gena Gibbs, Bahamas Information Services

Rearranging the nation’s financial priorities to reverse the debt burden on the Bahamian people into a surplus is expected to get the country back to business with an organised system of checks and balances.  
Minister of State for Finance, the Hon. Michael Halkitis, told the media on May 29 that the budget communicated to the House of Assembly is “designed to get the country back to business with boots on the ground.”
“I am proud to be part of the team which is getting our country back to business, with boots on the ground, doing the heavy lifting to put this country back into the plus column,” he said.
Also at the press conference were Cabinet Ministers Ryan Pinder, Shane Gibson, Khaalis Rolle Dr. Danny Johnson, Melanie Griffin, Fred Mitchell, Jerome Fitzgerald and Allyson Maynard Gibson, who  individually commented on the multi-lateral agenda of the Prime Minister’s Budget Statement.  
Halkitis said, the Government is acting decisively to improve the health of the public finances and to pull the nation out of the “debilitating public debt spiral”  inherited after May 2012.  He said they are strengthening the foundations of the economy to secure steady growth and job creation in the private sector. 
The State Minister said the Government is now in position to have the resources with which to implement its mandate and strengthen the rule of law and order.  In addition, he said this promotes stronger growth and job creation that solidifies the Government’s firm commitment to maintaining and reforming the nation’s social safety net.  
Halkitis said the government is preparing for the effective delivery of relief to those burdened by poverty and disenfranchisement.
“The objectives of the budget cannot be clearer.  It takes into account the fiscal realities which face the country but it also recognises that there must be a growth strategy to put people back to work, to foster a climate of investment and entrepreneurship, to train the work force for the challenges to come, to strengthen the social safety net for the disadvantaged, and to ensure that there is law and order on the ground,” said Halkitis.
“When you go through what we have done, you will see that we have carefully crafted our way through the financial pitfalls and come up with the best of all worlds in a difficult time.  We will no doubt hear from the merchants of doom and gloom that this is wrong, or that this was done or the next was not done, but by any objective measure, the dispassionate will see that the revenue enhancement measures will not crimp the economy, but will provide a more equitable tax burden.”
Minister Halkitis stated that the first step to recovery is by addressing the issue of fiscal responsibility and revenue enhancement measures, without increasing the tax burden on already struggling Bahamians burdened with living expenses.  He said the Government is concerned about creating employment to further decrease the unemployment numbers, especially in youth unemployment. 
Halkitis said the budget extensive provisions for the National Training Council and its programmes provide substantial provisions for building schools and building education opportunities throughout the country.
“In this regard, the budget statement says the following:  ‘My Government continues to emphasise its commitment to higher educational standards and better outcomes, as well as more effective skills training, all of which are also vitally important to the future.  My Government has allocated, in the context of the country strategy agreed with Caribbean Development Bank, over $30 Million for education and this will be primarily directed toward special education and the transition of the College of The Bahamas to university status,’” said the Finance State Minister.
“‘In this Budget, my Government is also allocating $5.5 Million of our own resources to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in 2013/14 for the construction of new primary and secondary schools in Inagua, San Salvador, Gregory Town and Lowe Sound.  That is more than double the amount allocated last year and a virtual tripling of sums allocated in 2011/12.  We will maintain and expand these investments in future years.  As part of our broader education thrust, the Government will rent and renovate Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School to accommodate some 100 special needs children.’”
Halkitis said that it is clear then that the priority for the government continues to be education.  He said the Government continues to believe that education is the key to so many of the other issues which confront the nation.  He said the Government expects there will be significant growth in tourism and have allocated resources in anticipation of opportunities opening in the Baha Mar project, in addition to developments in Freeport and Bimini and throughout the country.
“Then there is the question of law and order, with a specific provision for more boots on the ground by hiring of more police and immigration officers in the country over the next fiscal year.  There is no question that the country will have to continue to shepherd its resources carefully, but we intend to work hard at that task.  Our eyes are on creating successes for job creation with special emphasis on entrepreneurship,” said Halkitis,
“At all times however, we are careful to remember that it is the least of those amongst us that will need our help and so we have in this budget struck the right balance between growth and discipline between aid and support and expansion.  I support this budget along with my colleagues and pledge to work during the year to see to its implementation.”

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