I rise on behalf of the wonderful people of Killarney to offer my contribution to the debate on the 2019/2020 National Budget. It is also my great privilege, as head of government, to contribute to the debate on a new and better direction for our Bahamas.
In place of the corruption, special interests, waste, mismanagement and disastrous governance of the last Government, the Free National Movement is investing in jobs, education and training, home ownership, and access to land for Bahamians. We are investing in the Family Islands, crime-fighting, social assistance, young people, roads, airports, Over-the-Hill development, Bahamian entrepreneurs and small business people.
From young environmental monitors Over-the-Hill, who have been employed to help rebuild their communities, to Spring City, Abaco, where young people in their 20s have received conveyances, and deeds for new homes, to preschool students in poorer neighborhoods, this Government is building a better, brighter Bahamas for all Bahamians.
We are building a more just society, in which the needs and the aspirations of the poor and the disadvantaged, are a priority instead of the grabalicious, wheeling-and-dealing of the PLP.
I wish to remind the House that it is the FNM that introduced minimum wage in order to help lift more Bahamians out of poverty. We introduced the minimum wage to help boost the incomes and better the lives of all working class Bahamians. But sadly and shamefully, over the course of 25 years, a full quarter century, the PLP failed to introduce minimum wage, even though certain PLPs were enriching themselves. The party that claimed to care about the poor and working class failed the poor and the working class.
Today, the FNM is investing heavily in education to help break the cycle of poverty. We know that while talent is equally distributed in a country, opportunity is not as equally distributed or available.
So our mission, my mission, is to provide greater opportunity for all, especially the more disadvantaged in our society. I am especially pleased that this Government is investing in access to free education from preschool to university. This will be one of the greatest investments in education in Bahamian history. We are investing more in preschool education and university education than the previous PLP Government.
When we say that we believe in Bahamians this is not simply a campaign slogan that we tuck away until the next election.
As our policies demonstrate: We believe in young Bahamians much more than the PLP.
Small Business Development Over-The-Hill
A few weeks ago we launched a branch of the Small Business Development Centre as a part of our Over-the-Hill initiative. As a result of $100,000 dollars in private sector donations we will provide grants to help develop micro and small businesses Over-the-Hill.
I emphasize that these will be grants and not loans.
There were originally 25 participants in the first group of classes that started on May 14th. Classes end on July 4th. Classes are being held at the Edmund Moxey Community Centre. Eighteen participants remain in the class. Participants have completed the formal curriculum. They are completing their business plans over the next two weeks. The business areas of these participants include:
Upon completion of this class, we anticipate awarding each participant $2,500 for a total of $45,000. Some of the participants will go on to the broader Small Business Development Centre program for additional funding needs.
This is what empowerment looks and feels like. This is what opportunity looks like! We are lifting all boats.
When we were elected to office by the Bahamian people two years ago, our country was at the doorstep of intensive care. The Bahamas was getting sicker and sicker by the day, after five wasted years of mass and widespread corruption, by the very same party that was in power, during the vicious and vulgar drug era, that destroyed many lives and ruined families. We are still recovering from the crack epidemic and drug era of the 1970s and 80s.
The opposition party has governed The Bahamas for 35 years. Each of their administrations ended in bitter disappointment for the Bahamian people. The highs of the achievement of majority rule and independence sadly gave way under them to the lows of the drug era, which laid the foundation for the crime problems and many of the social problems that we face today.
The current Opposition hates when I talk about this. They say it is the past. It is not. It is part of their record. The leaders they idolized and followed then caused the immense challenges we face now with crime and inner city dysfunction.
As a medical doctor I have been trained to save lives. Sadly, some people have used their professional training to represent those who deal in dark and corrupting trades. Under the wasted Christie/Davis years, scandals were exploding like land mines. The plunder and raid on the Public Treasury was killing our Bahamas. The country was losing jobs hand over fist. We were constantly being downgraded. Our economy was sinking, shrinking and headed over the cliff.
On our watch, the economy is finally growing again and the endless downgrades have ended. We now have the lowest annual deficit in 10 years, as the country turns the page on the reckless spending and financial wasteland that was a hallmark of the past Government.
As of May, 2019, approximately $8 billion in international investments have been approved. This includes the $100 million Carnival Cruise Port for Grand Bahama, and new developments throughout our island-chain.
We are in negotiations for a mega project that will transform Freeport, including the Grand Lucayan properties, into one of the premiere destinations in our region. The Bahamas has had two straight years of positive growth, after suffering through five years of near zero growth during the non-productive, disastrous Christie/Davis years. On their watch, crime and murder were spiraling out of control. Today, because of our crime strategy, crime is finally coming down. But, there is still much work to do to make our people safer.
During the last administration, Grand Bahama had been largely abandoned. The PLP couldn’t even finish the seawall at Smith’s Point, Grand Bahama, which we have completed in advance of the hurricane season. The PLP’s neglect knows no limits. The Family Islands were also suffering from neglect, including Cat Island and San Salvador. I am pleased that in 2018 under the FNM, a new Primary School was competed in San Salvador. We will also provide more Crown Land for the residents of San Salvador to build new homes.
How sad that San Salvador, which was represented in the House of Assembly by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Works, had to wait for an FNM Government to complete its primary school. How shameful and disgraceful, but not surprising. What does this neglect tell us about his commitment to education?
PLP leaders have a long, sad, and well-known history of neglecting their constituencies. For decades under Sir Lynden Pindling, Kemps Bay and South Andros were shamefully neglected and abandoned. Much of this seems to have been done on purpose in order to keep voters utterly dependent on the PLP. Perry Christie became the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat because of his shameful neglect of Centreville.
During a previous Hubert Ingraham Government, MPs were granted $50,000 a year for projects in their constituencies. For at least two years and perhaps more, Perry Christie did not use these funds to improve the lives of the people of his constituency, an area of New Providence in which some of the poorer Bahamians lives. This is shameful and disgraceful.
Just like Pindling and Christie, the current leader of the PLP has failed to significantly improve the lives of the people in his constituency. The PLP and its entitled and privileged leaders like to use poor people to win votes. But once in office they abandon the poor and the disadvantaged.
The FNM is different. Because of our former leader Hubert Ingraham, Abaco has been transformed. For my part, it is my mission to improve the lives of all poorer Bahamians, including the less fortunate who live in Killarney and throughout New Providence.
During the Christie/Davis years, millions upon millions of untendered contracts were being handed out like candy and favors at Halloween. On the Member for Cat Island’s watch as Minister of Works, approximately $200 million dollars in untendered contracts were awarded for contracts worth over three and a half million dollars.
The purpose for tendering contracts include accountability, fairness and getting the best value for money. But under the PLP and the former Minister of Works untendered contracts were being given out left, right and center. It was raining untendered contracts under the PLP.
New Era of Accountability
Today, accountability has replaced deals that hurt the people but benefited the chosen few and special interests. Now every tax dollar is accounted for, unlike the hundreds of millions of dollars our predecessors budgeted over the years.
During the Christie/Davis Government, fuzzy and funny things were happening at places like the National Sports Authority, which the Leader of the Opposition is refusing to look into as head of the Public Accounts Committee. The PLP inflicted great trauma and damage on our country. I've been advised, we are still trying to account for millions that went missing.
Some people turned a blind eye to oil from a gas station leaking into the ground, threatening the health and well-being of Bahamians. The Bahamian people had enough. The people wanted to desperately get rid of the entitled “All for me baby” party. So, they hired a medical doctor and his team to make our country better and healthier. And this is what we are doing.
We now have a much healthier, growing, economy. But we need to grow even more in order to lift up more Bahamians and to tackle the cost of living. More people need work and jobs. More people need money in their pockets. More people need to feel this recovery. But I will continue to remind the Bahamian people where we came from because the now Opposition that plunged our country into despair, sickness and poor health want to get their greedy hands back on the people’s money.
They have not changed!
They cannot change!
They will not change!
Stabalizing the Country
As a medical doctor for over 30 years, I know that when individuals experience great trauma, they first need to be stabilized. In two quick years, we have stabilized the Bahamas. We are now responsible for government, including cleaning up the unholy and wide scale mess left by the last administration.
Just like in 1992 and 2007; In 2017 the Bahamian people called on the FNM to rescue the country from the disastrous five years of the Christie/Davis government.
In the last two years we have improved revenue across the board. These are funds that can now be invested in young entrepreneurs, preschool students, Family Island airports, poverty reduction and Over-the-Hill. We have eliminated the reckless policies of the Christie/Davis regime that led to an unending cycle of debt and a very uncertain future for every Bahamian.
Paying off Old Bills
As a medical doctor I know all too well that nobody likes pills, injections or the taste of medicine. But sometimes we need to take medicine in order to get better and healthier.
The Free National Movement had to take some strong measures, like the Fiscal Responsibility Act, to make the Bahamas better after five years of unhealthy and reckless practices by the PLP. Disgracefully, the PLP left hundreds of millions of unpaid bills that were owed to over 1,000 people. A grave matter that seems to have slipped the full attention of the Member for Exuma.
Much of these funds were owed to many small business people. This was money people needed to pay for things like: health care, funeral expenses, mortgages, business supplies and inventory, salaries for employees, school fees and other living and business expenses.We are paying down these large bills left by the Christie/Davis Government.
The older we get we have to be more disciplined. We have to watch what we eat and exercise, especially, if somebody is struggling with high blood pressure or diabetes. Just like there can be heart and kidney failure, poor habits in government can lead to the failure of the vital organs of government. When people steal money in government there is less money for hospitals, for schools, for social assistance, for helping the poor and the vulnerable.
We still have much work to do, but our Bahamas is much healthier than it was two years ago. Over the next several years, things will get even better. There will be many more jobs and opportunities for Bahamians because of the $8 billion dollars of new investments across the Bahamas. And there is more to come, including more Bahamian ownership and investments, in areas ranging from agriculture to the creative economy, to financial technology and new technologies like blockchain.
Stimulating Investment and Tourism Development
To help boost Bahamian ownership in the tourism sector, and to significantly boost spending by Bahamians and cruise ship passengers, we are proposing the redevelopment of the area from Fish Fry to Junkanoo Beach to Long Wharf. This new entertainment area for Nassau will result in scores of Bahamians going to the waterfront for entertainment and relaxation on a weekly basis. We will enhance and beautify the area for Junkanoo practices, cookouts, festivals and other events. Like Saunders Beach and Montagu Beach, we will enhance the beaches and swimming areas for Bahamians and visitors.
The House will recall that it is the FNM that first developed Fish Fry, which has been extremely successful.
We now propose to expand the development of these areas into a major retail and entertainment center. There will be enhanced security and measures to ensure the proper and ongoing maintenance of this redeveloped area. The area will be Wi-Fi free. We will also use smart technology to ensure the safety and security of Bahamians and visitors.
These areas will be transformed into a major retail, restaurant, entertainment, and cultural area, in which businesses are owned solely by Bahamians. This area will be zoned for major tax concessions for Bahamian businesses. (Tax free Zones like the inner city)
We are still in the planning stages and will hold stakeholder meetings with various groups, including taxi drivers. What we are proposing will mean many millions more dollars for Bahamian business people. Again, I emphasize that this is still in the planning phase.
I note that there are plans in the works to transform Clifford Park into a central park for New Providence. To connect Clifford Park to the redeveloped waterfront area, we are proposing a sky bridge. This sky bridge will help with safety for pedestrians, and will provide a beautiful view of Nassau Harbour.
Our aim is to continue to beautify and enhance downtown Nassau. Downtown needs to be more exciting for Bahamians and visitors. We are also considering the best means possible for the ongoing maintenance of the City of Nassau, which would make the city attractive and more exciting. We must have a dedicated entity or public-private mechanism to ensure that Downtown is better maintained. Such an entity must work in tandem with the Downtown Nassau Partnership. This is a priority.
Further, to help drive cruise passenger traffic to the area, we are proposing the possibility of water taxis to a water pier. We intend to enter into discussions with the taxi union executive and taxi and tour drivers to become owners of these water taxis. This has the potential to boost income for many taxi drivers, with many more cruise passengers coming off the ships.
The Government will fund travel for union executives to visit St. Thomas and St. Martin to see how water taxis work in those destinations. Such water taxis will be done in tandem with current taxi operations. The idea is for many millions more to be spent from cruise passengers while in Nassau, because there is more to do throughout the City of Nassau and New Providence.
We are also moving on many other fronts to create opportunity and to boost economic growth.
Since June 2017, the National Training Agency has trained 1,640 vulnerable young Bahamians in basic life skills and technical skills. I wish to emphasize that “the agency's core focus is on youth between the ages of 16-30 who are unemployed and unprepared for the workforce.” These for the most part are individuals from inner city communities.
We have had great success at the National Training Agency.
Such programs offer new hope to young people and redirect some from a possible life of crime.
Boosting Economic Growth
A long neglected and abandoned Grand Bahama is being restored to new life and to life abundantly.
We are improving the ease of doing business for Bahamians and international investors.
To help small business people, there will be greater flexibility in business licence deadlines.
The new cruise port downtown Nassau will mean more money for hair braiders, for straw vendors, for taxi drivers and tour operators,
for small businesses and for retail stores.
A number of Bahamian retailers are already moving or planning to move back downtown Nassau because of the growing numbers of cruise ship passengers.
I wish to remind the House that it was a previous FNM Government that dredged Nassau Harbour so that the world’s largest cruise ships could visit Nassau. Let me remind those who suffer from amnesia in the PLP, that the late-again and mostly do-nothing PLP could not get around to dredging the Harbour.
We were severely criticized by the PLP just like they are criticizing us right now for many of the good things we are doing. If we did not dredge the Harbour back then scores of small Bahamian business people would have suffered.
This FNM Government is negotiating what will be one of the best cruise ports in the region and the best cruise port ever built downtown Nassau. We are boosting Bahamian ownership and empowerment for small business people. We are expanding the allocation to small business development from $5 million to $8.5 million. We are building 21st century infrastructure as a foundation for economic growth. This includes new Family Island airports in North Eleuthera, Long Island and Exuma, all of which the PLP failed to build.
We are a decisive government, unlike some of the indecisive former PLP ministers, who were constantly scared to make decisions, and who have plenty excuses for their poor record and inaction after they leave government.
Restoring Vital Infrastructure
In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew smashed into New Providence, destroying public and private property. The Children’s Ward at Princess Margaret Hospital was severely damaged and had to be closed. Instead of addressing the damage to the Children’s Ward, the PLP went on to spend millions of dollars on Carnival on Nassau and Freeport. They allocated $12-Million to Carnival, however, went on to spend $25,360,044 ($25-Million three hundred and sixty thousand zero hundred and forty four dollars). Apparently, the PLP placed a greater priority on partying than they did on sick children.
Of course, many of the vendors who benefitted from the PLP Carnival were well-connected special interests. If private citizens want to have a carnival, that is their right. But the Government should not be paying for such a party. So, this Government stopped spending the people’s money on the PLP Carnival.
In my recent National Report I outlined what we are going to do to restore Ragged Island after Hurricane Irma. We have provided $2.4 million to BPL for the construction of a fully contained solar power generating plant for Ragged Island. Work on this will commence in the coming months.
We are also in negotiations with an entity to restore and to reopen the Children’s Ward at PMH.
Perhaps the Member for Exuma might reflect on the utter hypocrisy of a party that failed to restore the Children’s Ward after Hurricane Matthew but continues to have all kind of talk about Ragged Island.
Some years ago, before coming to office, the PLP announced that it intended to double the national investment in education and training. They did not keep that promise. Instead, they cut the scholarship budget. The FNM is distinctly different. We promised that “young Bahamians [would] have access to quality higher education through scholarships and grants.” We have kept our commitment and our pledge.
For our Government Tertiary Grant initiative at the University of The Bahamas, this year’s budget includes $16.2 million. This covers both new and returning qualifying students, in addition to a $500 monthly stipend for Family Island students. I note that the academic year begins in August and ends at the end of April.
I know from very personal experience of the importance of education. It was my dream and my mother’s dream as Roman Catholics that I would go to St. Augustine’s College run by the Benedictine monks. My late mother was overjoyed when I was accepted to SAC.
To pay for high school, I sold The Guardian in the morning, and The Tribune in the evening. I sold Bahamian Times. I worked two days a week at a tailor shop. I shined shoes on the weekend. I pumped gas. But even though I worked hard and saved up to assist with my school fees, I didn’t always have enough money. So sometimes I would be sent home because we couldn’t pay the school fees. This made me work even harder to graduate from SAC.
A member in this chamber recently spoke of their connection to the grassroots.
I come from the grassroots. My navel string is buried in Bain Town, Over-the-Hill.
I don’t need a so-called connection to poorer Bahamians. I do not begrudge anyone their privilege. But I did not grow up with political or economic privilege. I did not come from a well-connected family. I had to struggle and to fight for everything I got in life, just like most Bahamians. The more obstacles I encountered, the more determined I became to succeed and make my family proud.
The privilege I had was a mother and sisters who insisted that I was going to get a good education. They insisted that I was as capable as anyone else’s child. My late mother instilled in me confidence to believe in myself. In gratitude to The Bahamas and to my family I am paying this forward as much as I can for many thousands of young Bahamians.
A young Bahamian now benefitting from the Small Business Development Centre recently told me: “Thank you for believing in me and thank you for helping me to believe in myself.”
There are some, from well-connected families, and people from privileged backgrounds, including some in politics, who look down on those, like myself, who were less privileged. They believe that they are smarter than the less privileged. They call them certain names and question their intelligence. The truth is, that deep in their hearts, they really believe that they are better than other people, especially those who come from modest backgrounds.
I remember growing up how some very privileged people liked to use words like, “dummy” or “stupid” to describe other people they looked down on. I believe in a different Bahamas. In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the founders of the Free National Movement, I believe in a country where people should be judged by the content of their character and not by race, gender, circumstance of birth or economic standing.
A child from Englerston, Bain Town, St. Barnabas, Grant’s Town, Gambier, Fox Hill or Kemp Road, inclusive of all Family Islands, should have the same opportunities as any Bahamian child.
I did not take for granted that I could go to university, unlike some, whose parents could easily afford their schooling, or who could use their connections in government and the banks to get scholarship money. When I went to the University of Minnesota to study biology, I had to work to assist with my own school fees.
I did not come home during summer holidays because I had to work to stay in school. I am forever grateful that my mother, father, and sisters used to send me money to help pay my fees and living expenses. I will never ever forget their love and their sacrifice.
So, I honor the sacrifice of Bahamian parents and guardians, who work hard to give their children an education. My Government will do everything in our power to help hardworking parents and guardians, who want a better life for their children.
Under our far reaching and ambitious preschool to university free education strategy we are aggressively promoting social mobility, social equality and social justice. Just like this country helped to lift me up, it is my mission to lift all boats and to lift up poorer Bahamians to lift up their heads to the rising sun of a better and brighter Bahamas.
By example, we are removing or reducing duties on a variety of school supplies, primarily for preschool, primary, and junior and high school students.
Tuition Grants: UB & BTVI
In this Budget, we have allocated a total of $21 million dollars for Tuition Grant Programmes at the University of The Bahamas and BTVI. Under these programmes, the Government will provide for the payment of tuition and mandatory course-related fees for all full time Bahamian students.
Under the UB tuition grant alone, we estimate that over 1,500 students will be eligible to benefit from this programme, as the University anticipates that there will be over 1,500 full time students enrolling for the 2019/20 academic school year. This includes both new and returning students.
Prior to this new program, the total spending on public scholarships and related support at BTVI and UB totaled approximately $5.8 million. We are now increasing it to $21 million to fully fund these expanded grant programs that will now effectively cover all Bahamian full time students.
The difference between the $21 million and the $5.8 million, represents $15.2 million in money that students would have otherwise had to come up with to fund their education.There will be some $15.2 million that will now be put back into the hands of these students and their parents, including working class and middle class Bahamians striving for better lives.
Think of the burden this lifts off the students or parents who would have had to pay $5,000 or $6,000 a year to UB. That is money they can save, or spend on critical items, or simply not have to borrow.
My Administration recognizes the value in ensuring that our citizens are given opportunities to advance themselves. Education, from the preschool level all the way to the tertiary level is absolutely imperative to the development of an individual.
That is why we have made it our goal to create an educational environment in which each and every Bahamian has access to quality education that will equip them for their future.
Problem-Solving in Education
In our 2017 Manifesto, we stated that our governing philosophy for education is in line with the 2016 working draft of the national development plan secretariat.
The draft identified five key areas or challenges in our country’s educational system. They included:
We continue to be guided by these core challenges in developing our educational initiatives each year.
It is the philosophy and vision of this government that full universal education must be accessible for all. We believe in taking care of Bahamians by actually equipping our citizens with the very educational opportunities that they need to create wealth for themselves, and to build this country up while doing so.
Education is a key tool to achieving this. This is why we have made it a top priority. The Free National Movement is committed to ensuring that over time all three- and four-year olds have access to a quality preschool education.
Free Vouchers for Pre-Primary Education
Our universal Pre-Primary Education initiative seeks to ensure that all Bahamian children have the opportunity to receive early education, which will prepare them for further education and training. To expand this initiative, the Ministry of Education will partner with approved private preschools through a voucher programme for 500 to 1,000 spots annually.
Upon application to the Universal Preschool programme, applicants will first be directed to government-operated schools. Once all of the spaces in government-operated public preschools are taken, we will provide vouchers for students to attend a private preschool that has met national standards and that has been approved by the Government.
The voucher will be worth approximately $2,000 per year and will be paid directly to the selected private preschool to cover tuition and learning supplies for the preschooler. This is a prime example of my Government’s commitment to expand the use of Public-Private Partnerships.
By using private preschools under this initiative, we can reach children in New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.
It also allows us to keep both public and private schools accountable. It will ensure that all preschools meet the standards set by the Preschool Council and the National Accreditation and Equivalency Council of The Bahamas.
It also acts as an incentive to entrepreneurs, as more Bahamians may now be inclined to start a preschool knowing that the Government will financially support students in their school, who are eligible under this programme.
Expanding Pre-School Capacity
Indeed, I am pleased to announce that as part of the expanded support to small businesses. My Government will set aside $1 million initially through the Small Business Development Centre and the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund for the development of preschools.
This funding will support equity and loans up to $150,000 to qualifying educational institutions that offer preschool education and that are participating in the Ministry of Education’s Universal Pre-school program. This is for schools that are participating as well as those that will participate in the program.
These sums will provide private preschool operators the means to expand their facilities, to meet the demand for preschool seats that will be created by this program.
We will also promote access to Crown Land for the development of preschools. This is especially important for our Family Islands. This is a prime example of my Government’s commitment to expand the use of Public-Private Partnerships. By using private preschools under this initiative, we can reach children in New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands. It also allows us to keep both public and private schools accountable.
It will ensure that all preschools meet the standards set by the Preschool Council and the National Accreditation and Equivalency Council of The Bahamas. It also acts as an incentive to entrepreneurs, as more Bahamians may now be inclined to start a preschool knowing that the Government will financially support students in their school, who are eligible under this programme.
Equal Access to Success
Participation in an early child education program for three- and four-year olds improves literacy, mathematics, and numeracy skills. What is perhaps the greatest benefit of preschool education, is that it can improve the lives of children across all social and income levels.
This is why we have made it our goal to ensure that children from low-income households are able to receive preschool education under this initiative. This may be one of the greater poverty reduction initiatives in the history of our country.
This means that children from working class households can be afforded the same opportunities as those in high-income households. This means that every Bahamian child may be prepared to receive equal access to success.
I used to hear that the only real estate is – real estate. When you own land you can build on it. You can build a house or some apartments or a business. You can farm on the land or grow food. You can use the land as collateral to take to the bank.
Some weeks ago, I went to Spring City, Abaco, for a ceremony for the handing over of conveyances, deeds and keys to new land and homeowners in Abaco. Three of the new owners were all in their 20s! They were young Bahamians who were excited to own a piece of property to call their own.
There are many Bahamians, still living, or through their wills after their death, who want to pass land onto their immediate family. To relieve all Bahamians of what can be quite a burden, my Government is eliminating the taxes on transferring or selling land to an immediate family member.
Access to Land
Access to land and the opportunity to own land is one of the greatest ways to generate and to build wealth across generations. In this spirit, my Government, in keeping with what former FNM Governments have done, is embarked on an ambitious effort to ensure that thousands more Bahamians have greater access to land. This process will take time and has a number of components.
There are many Bahamians, still living, or through their wills after their death, who want to pass land on their immediate family. What has too often made the cost of passing on such land a burden are the taxes families have to pay to pass on such land. To relieve all Bahamians of what can be quite a burden, my Government is eliminating the taxes on transferring or selling land to an immediate family member.
Imagine an older lady who wants to pass a piece of land on to her children after she passes away, or a father or mother who wants to pass on a piece of land to a son or daughter before an upcoming marriage. Quite often the taxes are too much and a barrier to passing on land to an immediate family member.
In removing these taxes we are making it easier and much less costly to pass on wealth from one generation to the next. This will be one of the greatest measures to help all Bahamians to have greater access to land. This will effect scores of Bahamian families.
I know a young Bahamian entrepreneur who wanted to purchase land from his father so that he could grow his business. He told me that he had to pay $50,000 in taxes. This was money he could not put into his new business. Under our reform, he would no longer have such taxes when getting land from an immediate family member. That comment speaks for itself.
After consultations, we have enhanced our tax reform on land transfers even further. For those persons who currently hold their land in a company, when they transfer land to an immediate family member from that company, they would no longer have to pay taxes.
Furthermore persons would no longer have to pay taxes when there is no change in beneficial owner on the transfer of land, this includes but is not limited to when the transfer is made from person to his company or vice versa.
Our mission in the FNM is to lift up all Bahamians, including the working class and the middle class. We believe in One Bahamas for all Bahamians.
Applying for Crown Land
When the FNM came to office in 2007, the conference room at the old Office of the Prime Minister was stacked up to the ceiling with files upon files upon files of applications for Crown Land. The PLP never got around to dealing with them.
Just as the FNM worked hard before to grant Crown Land to Bahamians, we are going to make sure that thousands more Bahamians have their own real estate in the form of Crown Land.
Access to land and the opportunity to own land, includes land reform. This is an initiative of my Government. I am pleased to report that efforts are ongoing with respect to the regularization of crown land leases and grants.
The Lands and Surveys Department is presently engaged in an intensive exercise which, in due course, will enable us to better manage the crown land leases and grants processes.
In particular we are carefully addressing outstanding approvals for crown land leases and grants. We are employing a systematic approach in this phase of our efforts. We will commence, in short order, with the settling of matters for approved crown land leases and grants within the MICAL district, the islands of Great Inagua, Mayaguana, Acklins, and Crooked Island. We will continue island by island, leaving no island behind.
I wish to inform those who have applied for Crown Land leases or grants that their applications will receive attention in the next phase. But it is only right and fair that we first deal with those who have already paid for their land or who have been granted land, but who are awaiting final documents. We will continue to do all we can to have Crown Land leases and grants in the hands of the Bahamian people.
My Government remains focused on fulfilling its commitments to regularize Crown Land matters. This will enable more Bahamians to have a stake in their country and be empowered by means of land ownership. We will keep the Bahamian public informed accordingly, as we carry out this particular exercise.
Our great challenge is to bring an antiquated and often outdated Crown Land system into the digital and modern world. As part of the process improvement efforts of the Lands and Surveys Department, manual records are being put into digital form. Many Bahamians as well as realtors and lawyers know well how backward the system has been and the need for ongoing reform. We want to be as fair and accurate in this process as we can.
I am also pleased to note that beginning with this budget, household furniture, stoves and refrigerators will now be duty free in Economic Empowerment Zones, and new Government Subdivisions. Amendments to the existing legislation will be made soon.
I also note that the following areas will soon to be newly designated as Economic Empowerment Zone areas: Fox Hill, Kemp Road, Saint Barnabas, Englerston and Gambier.
For all other Bahamians, household furniture will be reduced from 45% to 25 %. Home refrigerators and stoves will now be duty free.
However, there will be no duty on such items in the Economic Empowerment Zones and newly created Government Subdivisions.
Resorting Integrity to Government
It is truly amazing but no longer surprising that some of the former cabinet ministers of the Christie/Davis government that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Bahamian people, are continuing to root for failure.
Let us never forget that one former PLP cabinet minister boldly declared that God made the Bahamas for the PLP. No, no, no, Mr. Speaker: God made our Bahamas for all Bahamians, not just for PLPs.
They keep our country backwards – corruption, poor governance, lack of attention to infrastructure. During their time in office, there was no get-rich-scheme they didn’t like.Take, take, take was what they did. What was good for their entitled and precious party elite was the focus of their administration.
The last leader of the PLP side promised a new party before he was first re-elected. Bahamians won’t accept this Opposition Leader claiming to be fundamentally different from his former boss. They are the same. They govern for the same reasons.
I smile when I read comments from the Leader of the Opposition in the newspapers. He has much to say now. When there was PLP scandal after PLP scandal in the last government he was the number two in charge. He had nothing to say then.
Now that the economy is growing and tourism is booming, now that crime is trending down, now that infrastructure is being built,
they aren’t happy. We are not like them. The two parties are not the same. They cannot focus on the people because their special interests come first and foremost.
There were all manner of problems when the current Leader of the Opposition was the Minister of Works.
Bahamians can see the pattern of mismanagement here, Mr. Speaker.
Under the headline, “The Caribbean’s pioneering form of disaster insurance”, The Economist magazine in a 2017 article praised the region for the CCRIF.
The Economist article noted: “On September 12th, before it could reckon how much damage Hurricane Irma had caused, Turks and Caicos got some heartening news... Within a fortnight the tiny Caribbean territory would get $13.6m to pay for disaster relief. Days earlier, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis and Anguilla were pledged $15.6m.” The magazine stated that this was, “a reward for home-grown prudence.”
The Economist added this very telling point. It stated: “The Bahamas let its policy lapse and missed out on a $32m payout after Hurricane Matthew socked it in 2016.”
The Leader of the Opposition and the former PLP Government lack home-grown prudence. Because of our prudence we have restored this facility.
Will the Leader of the Opposition advise the House as to whether he would keep this facility or cancel it if he was in a position to make this decision? Instead of the roundabout language and fudging he likes to do when asked a simple question, a yes or no would be sufficient.
My government sees the great potential of our archipelago of possibilities. We know the Bahamas can be a developed country. We work every day to make sure Bahamians have the ability to advance.
We are a governing party that acts and does on behalf of the Bahamian people. We come to work every day for that purpose. The improvement of the lives of our people is our sole focus.
Renewable Energy Plans
My Government promised to create a renewable energy economy by supporting and promoting a nationwide renewable energy strategy. I am happy to advise that we are taking significant steps to make good on that promise. As was announced in the Budget Communication, we propose to invest over $170 million in renewable energy over the next decade.
Energy reform will enhance the daily lives of our citizens. Our renewable energy strategy will help the country to leverage an abundant resource to reduce the cost of living and to create investment opportunities for Bahamian entrepreneurs. Solar energy fosters a safer, cleaner environment by employing renewable energy as a source of power.
Last year, we imported approximately $761 million in oil imports for local consumption. This could be reduced substantially if we utilize more clean energy resources. Over time, lower oil imports mean lower energy costs, which will mean lower monthly bills, and more disposable income in the hands of Bahamians. Hence, we announced in this Budget a number of projects that would move us toward realizing this objective.
For example, our Street Light Retrofitting Project will see the conversion of our current street lights to LED lights. This will facilitate the installation of a smart street light grid system with central controls. The overall project is valued at $17 million, of which the sum of $14.6 million will be funded via a loan facility with the Caribbean Development Bank. We will provide $2.4 million in counter-part financing for the full project value.
This project will save the Government approximately $3 million per year in electricity bills over the next two decades. If this project is projected to save the Government $3 million per year in electricity costs, that means a prospective net savings of close to $40 million in taxpayer funds over the life of the project.
We are a country blessed by God with abundant sunshine. Indeed, The Bahamas has approximately 340 days of sunshine per year. We will invest up to $170 million in a Solarization Project that would see the establishment of commercial solar operations throughout the Family Islands. We propose to expand small scale solar production here in New Providence.
Our goal is to capitalize on the makeup of our archipelago of islands by generating a substantial amount of solar energy on our Family Islands, which have ample land and relatively low populations. In doing so, it is our intent to meet a significant amount of the power needs in the Family Islands via solar power.
Family Island solar generation will have a significant impact on the islands on which it is deployed. This will reduce the cost of electricity nationwide as the level of effective subsidies to those islands by BPL will decrease when smaller generating plants with limited economies of scale do not have to be utilized as much.
With the potential to impact approximately 54,000 Bahamians on the Family Islands, including 112 schools and 42 clinics, we are confident that this project will improve the standard of living on our Family Islands. It will ensure that our Family Islands become better platforms for investment and development by Bahamians and international investors. This will also help to establish The Bahamas as a “green tourism destination” with the advanced technology and innovation used to solarize the Family Islands.
We will increase the generation of solar power in New Providence, though on a smaller scale, given the dense population and insufficient land space. We will encourage the use of solar panels on rooftops, with a view to subsidize electricity generation for buildings and businesses in New Providence.
This will mean that more and more households and businesses can offset their BPL power consumption and sell the excess energy generated by their solar panels back to the grid.
This will result in lower monthly consumption bills for Bahamians.
New Budget Format
I wish to clarify some matters that have been the subject of public discussion, some of which have been purposefully misleading by individuals with certain agendas.
When the Minister for Finance laid the 2019/20 Budget Communication before this House, he noted that this Budget is presented in the new Chart of Accounts, which is compatible with international best practices. He also noted that under the new Chart of Accounts there would be some changes with regard to the classification of some items. This has resulted in some functional line items within a particular Head recording substantial increases in 2019/20; particularly under Head 14, which accounts for the Office of The Prime Minister. It is important to point out that overall, the allocation for the Office of The Prime Minister has actually been reduced.
In previous budgets, a number of initiatives and units were displayed as separate line items under the Office of the Prime Minister. For example, the Over-the-Hill Initiative, the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, the Bahamas Investment Authority, the Strategic Planning Committee – which was formerly the National Development Unit, and the BEST Commission, were all listed as individual and separate line items under Head 14.
This meant that all of the elements in their respective budgets, such as supplies and material food, services, travel, and so on, were presented within each of their individual line items. So, what previously accounted for travel for the Office of The Prime Minister, now includes travel for all of the Units and Departments I mentioned earlier.
Although it may appear that some items under my Office would have increased substantially over the year, this does not in fact represent a massive increase in the allocation.
For example, in this Budget you will see that the allocation for Printing and Duplication Service grew from $3,000 in 2018/19 to $242,250 in 2019/20. However, this now includes printing services for the following sections:
Similarly, you will see that the allocation for Domestic Travel and Subsistence increased from $74,000 in the last Budget to $256,738 in this Budget. Again, this line item no longer accounts for domestic travel for the Office of the Prime Minister only, but for all of the other initiatives and units, including, for example:
Again, these allocations for domestic travel were previously in the line items of each of these units in past budgets.
The same is true of Supplies and Materials, which includes allocations for food. As a subcomponent, food allocations appeared to have risen from $10,400 to $115,330. However:
One would sincerely hope that the Leader of the Opposition would properly study and understand the facts instead of misinforming the public.
Furthermore, there have been a series of misleading graphs on social media, which do not properly present the facts.
I once again urge Bahamians to be careful about the items they have seen on places like WhatsApp that may be very misleading and put out by certain interests in order to confuse the public.
The new Chart of Accounts is intended to increase transparency and accuracy.
It baffles me however, that even with supposedly full knowledge of a new system they say they initiated, they still lack the capacity to interpret it correctly.
One can only wonder why.
Prime Minister's Delivery Unit
Today I will table the first Prime Minister's Delivery Unit Annual Report, for the reporting period May 2018 to April 2019. The Annual Report provides details on the back ground of the Delivery Unit. The Report notes the methods employed by the Unit, specific baseline information, key performance indicators, targets and the progress of each of the priority areas.
I remind the House that the priority areas include:
I rise on behalf of the wonderful people
of Killarney to offer my contribution to the debate on the 2018/2019 National Budget.
This budget provides hope and opportunity for new homeowners, entrepreneurs, young people, Over-the-Hill communities, and hope and opportunity for our future.
The inspiration for my Government and for this budget is to leave behind a better, more secure, safer and prosperous country.
Our vision and mission is to provide opportunity and hope for current and future generations.
Our vision is taking shape.
During last year’s election campaign, the FNM pledged to introduce free tuition for qualifying young people at the University of the Bahamas, (UB).