STATEMENT BY K. PETER TURNQUEST, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINSTER OF FINANCE
Today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the Government of The Bahamas. Most importantly, that means all the tax concessions included in the 2020/21 Annual Budget take effect today, including the duty reductions on construction material and those put in place to stimulate the fishing and agricultural sectors.
The expanded tax credit and tax deferral programme also takes effect and will include all VAT registrants and not just those with an annual turnover of $3 million or more. This will provide payroll support for hundreds more eligible businesses allowing them to keep more people employed.
The start of the new budget cycle means additional funding is now available to invest in small businesses, to maintain employment levels, and to expand the social safety net for displaced workers and other vulnerable Bahamians.
Today also marks the end of the official public education campaign, which we launched in May to create public awareness about “Resilient Bahamas: A Plan for Restoration”. This is the third consecutive year that the Ministry of Finance has implemented a budget public education campaign, as we deem these efforts to be a core part of our responsibility to make the budget more accessible to the Bahamian people. We are committed to creating a cultural shift in the way the government informs and engages the Bahamian public around its fiscal affairs.
Our budget public education efforts are inspired by the worldwide movement towards citizens budgets, which is an emerging best practice for promoting citizen engagement, budget literacy, and inclusion. This is another example of this Administration’s longstanding commitment to fiscal transparency and accountability.
We were the first government to implement quarterly budget performance reporting and to enact Fiscal Responsibility Legislation. And, in short order, we will be the Administration to enact Public Procurement Legislation to substantially transform and enhance how contracts are awarded throughout the entire public service. As promised, we will also report on our fiscal performance for the full 2019/20 fiscal year when we produce our fourth quarter report at the end of August.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen ample evidence to confirm that we are still in the middle of a global crisis. While our domestic economy is poised and eager to reopen, there is still uncertainty and instability in the global environment. Domestic travel has recommenced, and today the Lynden Pindling International Airport will reopen to international visitors. However, as we responsibly move to the “new normal,” we must also consider the fluidity of the situation, as we are seeing our hotel stakeholders do. Our ongoing vigilance will mean that we will have to continuously strike a in our decision-making between relieving the pressure on our economy and the safety of our citizens.
Last week, we acknowledged the decision by credit ratings agency Moody’s to downgrade the country’s credit rating as a result of the economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, Italy, India and even Canada have also seen downgrades.
I want to reiterate that fair-minded Bahamians know that our current state of fiscal affairs is a result of these extern shocks and not because of our performance as a Government. As Moody’s highlighted, this administration has shown leadership by significantly improving the government’s fiscal credibility and effectiveness through our accountable, and responsible fiscal policy framework and consolidation efforts.
As we learn of layoffs associated with the tourism sector shutdown, these unfortunate outcomes will no doubt continue to create hardship for our people. Those workers represent hundreds of households and thousands of mouths to feed. That is why we anchored our plan for the new fiscal year in the current realities. That is why we chose to invest in families, communities, and businesses, who need the support of their government to survive this crisis and emerge ready for new opportunities.
I want to implore Bahamians to take advantage of the available programs. Do not fall victim to the cynicism that often defines our local politics. Critics will always make the argument that the Government could and should do more. These critiques do not change the fact that this budget has an unprecedented, massive and necessary allocation for social support programmes to assist Bahamians in meeting basic needs. Bahamians cannot reap the benefits if they do not apply, utilize and take advantage. By all means, keep us accountable along the way, but I implore you to take advantage of the programs, and together we can and will overcome this crisis.
We have put in place a plan that is people focused and targeted towards the most important and urgent needs at this time. That means unemployment assistance, food assistance and other forms of economic support. These are not just helpful programs; they are essential programs.
As we look towards the new fiscal year, we will remain nimble as we continue to navigate this ongoing crisis. To meet the needs, we will adapt quickly to the evolving demands of the crisis. I will close by reiterating what I said earlier, I encourage Bahamians to keep the resilient spirit alive and to take advantage of the many forms of support that is available.