Residents hopeful government will see GB Island as a priority

GBIA CHANGES HANDS – On Thursday, April, 29 2021, the Grand Bahama International Airport (GBIA) changed hands from former joint owners, the Grand Bahama Port Authority GBPA), and Hutchison Whampoa, to the Government of The Bahamas. Pictured is Acting Chairman of the GBPA, Sarah St. George at the signing over event. (PHOTOS: TFN FILES)

Grand Bahamians are hopeful that the new Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will make addressing plans for the island, a priority.

In the recent Speech from the Throne – Wednesday, October 6 – the government pledged to give attention to the revival of the Grand Bahama International Airport; build a new hospital; and complete the sale of the Grand Lucayan Properties.

The aforementioned are thought to be are critical to the island’s economy. The Freeport News did a random poll earlier this week.

One female resident speaking under anonymity said: “I know they just took office, but I hope they get to work on Grand Bahama quickly.”

She was not alone in her sentiments.

“We need the new government to move immediately in Grand Bahama, especially with our airport and hospital,” said John Basden, a staunch PLP supporter.

“I am happy my party won this election, but I voted so that some things could get done on this island not for me but for my children and grandchildren,” he added.

All hands are not “on deck” with the government’s plans.

The official opposition, Free National Movement (FNM) released a statement a day following the Speech (Thursday, October 7), which was read by Governor General Sir Cornelius A. Smith.

The FNM is of the view that much of what was outlined in the document does not lend to the true progress of the nation, in order to advance the country and bring significant economic relief. The FNM asked pertinent questions.

“The Speech from the Throne, unfortunately, does not provide the necessary plans and policies that will maintain the significant economic recovery started by the Minnis Administration, that is evidenced by recent Central Bank reports and the healthy tourism numbers.  The speech fails to address the seriousness of our fiscal situation. It does not address the ongoing necessity for tax reform and for reform of the state-owned enterprises that are critical to fiscal consolidation over time.

“The PLP has, again, promised to reduce VAT (Value Added Tax) without providing any clear plans on how the reduced revenue will be replaced.  It failed to provide a timeline on when this will be done. 

“The PLP has promised to increase old age pension benefits but has not said how the same will be funded. Do they intend to increase NIB (National Insurance Board) rates? 

“Why didn't they say so?”

The statement went on to question the PLP’s intention to introduce a catastrophic health insurance plan. “Do they intend to have all Bahamians pay a monthly insurance premium to cover this insurance?  Why didn't they say so?

“The Speech also provides for exponential increases in expenditure without a clear plan or even mention on how they are going to pay for such a dramatic increase in expenditure.  The PLP government has put together plans to add hundreds of millions of dollars in spending during its term while seeking to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue at the same time,” the statement read.

"It is an impossible calculus that speaks to their irresponsible approach to governance.

"The government appears to be making promises it cannot or has no intention of keeping.  

“The speech makes it clear that there is a dramatic shift from the fiscally responsible policies that are required for a robust recovery. The Fiscal Responsibility Act was introduced to prevent arbitrary shifts in economic policy. The reduction in VAT will result in an estimated $160 million annual revenue - or $800 million over five years - at a time when the country's resources are strained.  The PLP policies have only signaled more and more spending but have been silent on how it is to be paid for. The government must account to the people and require by law how they intend to justify the reduction in revenue.

“The PLP seems determined to pursue fiscally irresponsible policies to accomplish a reduction in Value Added Tax, further reduction in business related taxes to be provided as incentives and proposed social and infrastructure spending.”

The opposition did, however, note that it supports the present government’s plan to move forward with both social and structural plans that the FNM Government proposed during their tenure.

“We support the government’s plans to push forward with social and structural initiatives that the FNM commenced or previously proposed.  This includes the FNM’s program for expunging of records which has already benefited many young people; the regulatory framework and draft legislation for the marijuana industry left in place; the FNM massive digitization program; codifying the work underway for various levels of universal preschool; various infrastructure initiatives, including airports; the FNM program for advancement of renewable energy; strengthening the industrial sector and promoting Grand Bahama as a Maritime Hub, further strengthening the scope of the Fiscal Responsibility Act; strengthening the Sovereign Wealth Fund legislative regime; and draft legislation to replace Emergency Orders.   

“All of these are FNM initiatives. We are pleased that the government will continue on with them despite the failure of the PLP administration to give the FNM credit for the same.

“We support plans for magnet schools and the proposed Community Youth Service and National Youth Guard.  We will work to advance opportunities for young Bahamians.

“Details are critical. This is especially true on the matters of tax reform and fiscal policy where the government must explain how it intends to both cut taxes sharply and introduce major new spending initiatives.  Either they are not telling Bahamians the whole story that we will have to pay more taxes and fees to cover their promises, or they do not intend to keep the promises they have made.”

The statement concluded: “The opposition will work with the government on these matters and other policy proposals that advance the interests of the Bahamian people, while opposing policies we will harm our economic recovery and the needs of Bahamians.”

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