The Budget sets aside money to fund the ordinary expenses of the Government and to invest in special initiatives that advance its socio-economic agenda. Learn more about the Government's Special Projects.
The Budget also sets aside money to address a number of fiscal pressures, including the buildup of unpaid bills, other contractual obligations and the rising interest payments on government debt. The Government’s objective is to put the past practices of fiscal indiscipline behind and to set the country on a new course of responsible financial management.
Allocations to Wages & Salaries, $671.5M; Use of Goods and Services, $585.0M; and Interest Payments, $371.5M, are the largest individual recurrent expenses. The Budget features reductions to the Use of Goods and Services and Wages and Salaries in keeping with the Government's overall cost containment strategy. To prepare the Budget, the Ministry of Finance started the process of doing and in depth analysis of line items across each ministry. This process allowed the Government to identify line items that were over-budgeted, and to transition away from a historical practice of under-budgeting.
Recurrent expenditure is budgeted at $2,530 million, equating to some 19.0 percent of GDP. That represents an increase of $95 million over the projected expenditure for last fiscal year. As for Capital Expenditure, the Budget provides for a modest increase in 2019/20 over the current projected outturn. This category of spending represented some 1.6 percent of GDP ($207 million) in 2018/19 and the Government projects an increase to 1.8 per cent ($235 million) in the new Budget. That amounts to a $28 million increase.
Transition to New Chart of Accounts
Budget line items reclassified and significantly reorganised
Parliamentarians and the public will note when viewing the 2019/20 Budget that the classification of some items have changed, in line with the ongoing efforts around the implementation of the new Chart of Accounts (COA). In addition, the Government has started to shift certain budget items to the "Annex" of the Budget Estimates Document, which is located in the back of the Budget book.
UNDERSTANDING THE BUDGET ANNEX
The new Budget Annex displays the various ministry and department budgets according to what is known as cost-centers, such as an individual clinic on a specific Family Island, or programmes, such as national breast cancer initiative. Under this new structure, certain elements that would have been bundled together and listed as one large, general line item in the main section of the budget, will now be broken out into more detail in the Annex. This was the first year for ministries and departments to break out their budgets in this way. Much more work is still left to be done to provide increased transparency into where money is actually being spent, according to specific projects and cost-centres.
NEW WAY TO READ THE BUDGET
It is important to note this, so that persons who browse the Budget Document looking for a particular item, can be aware that this could have possibly been moved to the Annex. These changes are consistent with the Government's stated policy goal of greater accountabilty and transparency in government finances and operations. They are also in line with international best practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
The new presentation of the Budget, particularly the implementation of the new Chart of Accounts (COA) and the incorporation of the Budget Annex, has created what appears to be some anomalies in the new budget The following questions address the concerns raised by the public as it relates to these percieved irregularities.
The increase in this line item from $8.9 million in 2018/19 to $18.9 million in 2019/20 is due mostly to an error in reporting, in that the salaries for Urban Renewal which were actually supposed to be captured under Head 44, were mistakenly added to the Air Transport line item under Travel & Subsistence. This accounts for some $3.5 million of the $5.4 million increase in air transport for domestic travel.
PROPER BUDGETING - ROYAL BAHAMAS POLICE FORCE
Apart from that, the overall increase in Travel & Subsistence is not due to an immense increase in any one item, but instead reflects incremental increases across all Ministries, and in some cases, right budgeting. For example, the Royal Bahamas Police Force had budgeted $350,000 for air transportation for domestic travel; but had spent $393,180 in the nine months to March. This clearly shows that what they had budgeted was not sufficient to meet their needs, and as a result of employing right budgeting for 2019/20, their allocation for air transportation has increased to $509,200.
PROPER BUDGETING - ROYAL BAHAMAS DEFENSE FORCE
Similarly, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force budgeted $112,000 for domestic air transportation, and by end-March had spent a total of $170,000; again, representing a mismatch of provisions with real needs. Thus, in this Budget, we have allocated $190,000 for this line item.
REORGANISATION OF LINE ITEMS UNDER THE NEW COA
In addition, some Ministries may have reflected a large increase in travel allocations due to the fact that under the new Chart of Accounts, some line items would have been grouped together, that may have been recorded separately in previous Budgets. For example, in the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture, all of the travel for the National Arts Festival, National Youth Month, the National Cultural Festival, and a number of other cultural festivals were consolidated under air transportation for domestic travel under this Ministry. Thus, the increase in their travel and subsistence figures would look substantial, but in actuality does not reflect a real increase.
In fact, this was the case for a number of line items in this Budget, apart from travel allocations. So, when you see a huge increase from year to year, it may not necessarily indicate that more money is being spent on that line item, but simply that a number of initiatives, projects, programmes, and departments are now included under said line item.
Ministry line items have been cut across the board as a result of a preliminary line-item by line-item review that revealed a history of over budgeting. In the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture's Budget there had been an annual allocation for $1.9 million every year for the IAAF World Relays. However, that event is no longer being held in The Bahamas. The allocations for it have been substantially eliminated.
The same is true of the allocation that was previously provisioned for Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival. The Minnis Administration privatized this event; necessary adjustments were needed to reflect that Carnival is no longer a national priority for spending taxpayer money. These outcomes are what secured the reduction in the allocation, as opposed to the Government neglecting key youth and cultural programmes.
SOCIAL ASSISTANCE BENEFITS INCREASED
The total budget for Social Assistance Benefits increased by $1.6 million in the Budget, although the Department of Social Services overall had a 1.7 percent decrease. In line with the general practice of more precise budgeting, the Government found ways to trim the operational and administrative aspects of the Ministry, while increasing the budget allocation significantly in the most important areas.
Specifically, the overall social assistance benefits allocation increased from $19.5 million to $21.2 million. This was deliberate to ensure that those Bahamians who need to rely on the Government for financial help, in the face of hard times, can find the support they need. The allocation for the Food Assistance Programme was also increased by $1.4 million to $14.2 million, and the Subsistence/Support of Persons contract by $0.3 million to $2.6 million this year.
There are several line items in the Budget under the section for Social Assistance Benefits. One of the line items, 2721001, is also named "Social Assistance Benefits", which has caused some concern and confusion. The 2019/20 Budget allocates $488,951 for this line item, compared to $1 million allocated in last year's budget. Despite the name, this line item specifically relates to the Renewable, Inspiring, Sustaining, Empowering (or RISE) Social Safety Net Reform project, which was started under an IDB loan facility in 2012.
Beginning in fiscal year 2014/15, the PLP spent approximately $4.0 million on the RISE Project. However, due to the fact that the former Government could not meet the deliverables of the facility, the programme was stopped in August of 2017. The Government saw the value in the programme—which was centered on alleviating poverty in The Bahamas by changing behavior to bring about improvements in education and health, of those in the lower income class.
To this end, the Government took away some of the positive lessons from the RISE programme and integrated them into the core service offerings of the Minsitry, so that those who would have been assisted by the programme initially, would not lose their net benefit. To do this, the Government allocated $1.0 million in 2018/19 toward the services of the old programme. However, a careful examination determined that those services did not require that level of funding, as only $75,760 was spent as at March of 2019.
Despite the allocation for 2019/20 being much lower than the $1.0 million that was budgeted in 2018/19, the $488,951 actually represents a huge increase compared to the projected expenditure.
What are some of the major factors impacting recurrent expenditure?
Payment plan for arrears
The Government is on track with its payment plan to settle the buildup of $360 million in old bills. In addition to the $172 million allocation last year, the 2019/20 Budget contains an additional $100.4 million to pay off these old bills. While the Government continues to make good progress in settling the outstanding arrears, the level of expenditure on these old bills continues to take up a large percentage of the Government's total expenditures. This puts pressure on the Government to maintain fiscal discipline and practice expenditure restraint.
Payments to the BTC Legacy Defined Benefit Pension Plan
One important obligation yet to be factored into future arrears payments is the requirement for the Government to meet obligations relative to the BTC legacy Defined Benefit Pension Plan, based on the terms of the Shareholders' Agreement between the Government and Cable & Wireless Communications.
It has been determined that the Government never provided the $39 million to the Feeder Trust that was created to assist in meeting its obligations to the Plan, when the corporation was sold to Cable and Wireless for $210 million in April 2011. To commence meeting these obligations, the Government has provisioned $3.0 million in the FY2019/20 budget and over the course of the year will seek to devise a multi-year comprehensive strategy for settling the balance, once the full obligation has been determined. The Government will seek to provide an update on this matter in the upcoming Fiscal Strategy Report.
Subventions to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs)
The Budget allocates $413.8 million in subventions for State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Reducing the large funding requirement to support SOEs continues to be a key priority for the Government. Plans are underway to ensure that SOEs become self-sustaining in the long-term.
The Ministry of Finance is undertaking a formal study of SOEs with a view to providing recommendations for cost-recovery options and for better reporting to the Government and the public on their results and their outcomes. This initiative recognizes that, over time, the trend in SOE expenditure will be unsustainable.
The study will look for duplication of efforts across the range of Public Corporations, Authorities, Commissions and Boards to see where it is prudent to consolidate operations to better serve the public and meet their specific mandates.
The Government is also working to enact the Public Financial Management Bill (a replacement to the existing Financial Administration and Audit Act) to expand, among other things, budget disclosure requirements for and oversight of SOEs.
Public Hospitals Authority - Operation
University of The Bahamas - Operation
Water & Sewerage Corporation Development Projects
Bahamasair Holdings Ltd.
National Health Insurance Authority
Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority
The Bahamas Public Parks and Beaches Authority
Expenditure levels have been consistently rising in recent years with the exception of 2017/18 when the Government mandated a 10 percent reduction across all ministries. As part of its fiscal strategy, the Government's long term plan is to constrain recurrent expenditure levels to no more than 20 percent of GDP.
In doing a deep dive analysis of our fiscal indicators, it is clear now more than ever that our policy focus must shift toward the improvement in the administration and collection of existing revenue, while still paying careful attention to expenditure discipline. We expect that the continued revenue enhancement initiatives that we have employed to strengthen the overall revenue administration will help to boost the revenue to GDP ratio."