The Bahamian fiscal cliff
It is my sincere hope that most Bahamians, if not all, will enjoy the upcoming Christmas season and will find time for recreation, prayerful sessions and quality time with family and friends. We have much to be thankful for despite the personal and collective challenges.
After the festivities are concluded and all of the hams and turkeys eaten, the nation will have to confront some serious financial and fiscal issues in January 2013. Playing possum and seeking to bury one's head in the sand like the fabled Ostrich will not cut it.
Successive governments, headed by prime ministers who are lawyers by profession and who would have served as ministers of finance, aided and abetted by ministers of state for finance, who know or knew nothing about big business, have led us to our own looming fiscal cliff.
Sir Lynden, God bless his soul, was the most successful, visionary and pragmatic minister of finance this country has seen to date. Say what you may about Sir Lynden but he almost single-handedly created all of our national organizations such as: the National Insurance Board; the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the first government subdivision, etc.
At least if he spent the money one is able to actually see what he spent it on. Contrast the other two prime ministers ,also lawyers. Hubert Ingraham, a good Bahamian, may have meant well I am sure during his various terms in office. The question which begs an answer however is: Did we get value for the massive amounts of money he would have spent on our behalf?
The purchase of the so called Blake Road building was a boondoggle and one which I submit was done as a "favor" for the boys. It should never have been purchased with NIB funds, as it was never a viable building. Millions have been poured into the purchase and never-ending renovations to the extent, allegedly, in excess of $25 million.
Successive governments "stopped, canceled and reawarded "the renovation contracts to their alleged political associates and that building still appears to be in its original state.
Governmental operations and ministries are housed in leased and rented properties at great expense, allegedly, to the public purse. For instance, the Immigration Department has been in rented premises at Hawkins Hill for generations.
No one that I know of in the public domain knows exactly how much is being paid in rent and certainly not the terms and conditions or even the lifespan of the rental contract. The old City Meat Market Building on Market Street was purchased to be used, allegedly, as the site for The Registrar General's Department.
A renovation contract was granted and the building was duly gutted. Nothing has been done from then to now and the forlorn building remains a stark reminder of the waste of public funds. Yet another government-owned building is located on John F. Kennedy Drive to the immediate west of the Ministry of Works compound.
Constructed to the tune of tens of millions of dollars and lit up to the highest every night, it is under-occupied and under-utilized. Yet, major ministries, inclusive of our courts, remain in leased, cramped and totally inadequate quarters.
The Ministry of Tourism is on George Street downtown where staffers are obliged to work in an outdated environment. Potential foreign and local investors who are desirous of meeting with the minister of tourism and his senior officials would not be impressed with the ambience.
The ongoing roadwork here in New Providence is the single largest cause for the massive fiscal deficits we are saddled with. That this work had to be carried out cannot be denied but the cost overruns to the tune of $100 million are unbelievable. In too many cases, remedial work will have to be done costing tens of millions of dollars in the near future.
The civil service is top heavy and there are too many individuals deployed in ministries and departments doing absolutely nothing of value. A rationalization must be done and done soon. It has been estimated that 50 percent of the annual national budget goes to salaries, pensions and gratuities. Another 40 percent is required to actually run the government leaving less than 20 percent for infrastructure and other much needed societal and cultural works.
Yes, dear friends, countrymen/women and enemies we are between a rock and a very hard place due to the fiscal mismanagement of all of our governments to date. It is no use now, of course, engaging in a blame game as the Androsian buzzards have already come home to roost. It is what it is.
The gold rush administration must reach out to all stakeholders regardless of political persuasion and certainly, regardless of age. Early in the new year the prime minister and his economic team should convene a secluded conclave with business professionals, accountants, lawyers and the media to hash out viable solutions to our own fiscal cliff. There can be no other way.
Failure is not an option and we are in this slow boat over the cliff together. If it succeeds in averting this looming disaster, the gold rush administration and Perry Gladstone Christie (PLP-Centreville) could go down in our history as the government that made a difference.
In conclusion, then, I wish all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Despite it all, I submit that our best days are yet ahead of us.
To God also, in all things, be the glory.
~ Ortland H. Bodie Jr.
© 2013 The Freeport News