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BAHAMAS: Deputy Prime Minister’s Remarks and Draft Legislation – Fiscal Responsibility

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#Bahamas, May 16, 2018 – Nassau – Press Conference on Fiscal Responsibility Legislation – Public Consultation – Peter Turnquest, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

I invited you here today to present a landmark piece of legislation that honors a significant commitment made by the FNM Administration to the Bahamian people.  We promised to make fiscal discipline a central component of our Economic Action Plan, and today we are demonstrating that commitment in a very specific way.

Last week, Cabinet approved the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, 2018 for public consultation.  Today, we present that Bill to the Bahamian people.  The Bill sets guiding principles and rules for the way the government spends and accounts for the people’s money.  Instead of relying on governments to exercise fiscal discipline by choice, the new legislation constrains spending by the force of law.  It is a forward-looking bill intended to reshape the culture of public accountability.  Doing so with legislation means it will commit all future governments and not just this administration.  This is a built-in safeguard to ensure continuity, sustainability, and commitment to fiscal discipline.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this legislation. Once passed, it will subject this Government and all successive governments to new standards of public accountability and public sector financial management.  And perhaps, more importantly, from the public’s point of view, it will empower civil society and the Parliament to participate in the system of accountability in a robust and comprehensive way.

To give you an idea of how this works in the new law, it will establish an independent five-member Fiscal Responsibility Council comprised of civil society professionals with specific areas of expertise in law, business, economics, accounting, and finance.

The Government does not nominate these professionals.  In each respective category, they will be nominated independently by the Bahamas Bar Association, The Chamber of Commerce, the University of The Bahamas, the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Certified Financial Analysis’ Society of The Bahamas.  The Fiscal Responsibility Council is mandated to conduct periodic and ongoing assessments of the Government’s finances and to make its assessments public.  The Government is also mandated to provide its fiscal strategy reports to the Fiscal Responsibility Council and to also to the Parliament.

The new law will require the Government to submit a Fiscal Adjustment Plan to explain any proposed deviations from its Fiscal Strategy Report. The law will require the Government to present a Fiscal Impact Analysis along with any new spending proposal that falls outside of the approved budget.  The proposed legislation is very specific and clear: All of these documents are to be made public on specific dates or time periods, and; the contents of each document must conform to the guidelines in the law.

Simply put, the proposed Fiscal Responsibility Legislation reinforces transparency and responsibility in the management of the fiscal finances and strategically enjoins the participation of Parliament and the people in holding the Government accountable for achieving its fiscal targets and objectives.

Because the new fiscal and debt targets will require a significant adjustment from the current fiscal position, the Bill contemplates a three-year transition period to ensure this is done in an orderly manner.  This timeframe will also allow the Ministry of Finance to align its internal resources to deliver on the more rigorous reporting requirements necessary for the public’s assessment of the Government’s fiscal strategy and performance.

While all aspects of the Bill are essential to the fiscal responsibility principles, the overarching strategic goals pivot on the fiscal objectives, which are to:

  1. Lower the deficit and maintain a sustainable fiscal balance
  1. Lower debt to sustainable long-term levels
  2. Maintain current expenditure growth in line with growth in nominal GDP

We believe that this combination of fiscal objectives will achieve sustainability in the Government’s finances and ensure the long-run stability and viability of the Bahamian economy.

For the benefit of the public, I will provide a few more specifics in two critical areas of the Bill: Fiscal Targets and Oversight of Pre-Election Spending.

I want to emphasize, however, that the Bill is very comprehensive, so my highlights this morning will be supplemented by additional information published by the Ministry of Finance over the course of the week, and leading into the budget debate.  The public can find this information on the Ministry of Finance Facebook Page, on the Government’s website – www.bahamas.gov.bs – and through traditional media outlets.  The draft Bill is available for download starting today, and the public can submit comments to fiscalresponsibility@bahamas.gov.bs.

Fiscal targets and limits that constrain government spending

Picking up on my introduction to the fiscal objectives…

I want to emphasize, the overarching strategic goal of the legislation is to achieve specific fiscal objectives. By fiscal objectives, I am referring to the government’s fiscal balance or deficit, the national debt and growth rates in expenditure.

FIRST: After the law’s implementation, the government would be required to reduce its debt to GDP ratio to a maximum of 50% of GDP over time. It is currently at 58%.

What does this mean? It says: If we can keep our debt at a manageable level, our economy can generate enough revenue to service them comfortably. At 50% of GDP or less, we can maintain macroeconomic stability, avoid spiraling interest charges, maintain market confidence in the Government’s fiscal policy and have space to respond to unforeseen shocks.

If we let our debt levels grow at an unchecked pace, then we run the risk of effectively leaving the bill on our children to pay off. No government should have the power to saddle future generations with burdensome debt, dooming them to a diminished standard of living. We must start taking the necessary steps to pay our bills up front and contain the growth of our national debt.

SECOND: After the law’s implementation, the government would have three years to lower the fiscal balance from a deficit of 5.8% of GDP recorded in last fiscal year 2016/2017 to no more than 0.5% by 2021/2022.

What does this mean? It means the Government has to live within its means. We can no longer continue to put the country’s bills on a virtual credit card and continue to have expenditure outpace the revenue on a consistent basis. The proposed law sets a cap on the deficit.  Every year, the Government will have to abide by this limit when it designs its national budget.

Every day we teach our children to live within their means. We regulate banks so they cannot lend money irresponsibly. The operations of the Government should be no exception.

THIRD: Once the fiscal balance reaches target levels, the Government would have to constrain its growth in current expenditure. Year over year increases in current spending cannot exceed the long run growth in nominal GDP.

What does this mean? It means the Government has to control its annual spending levels. Nominal long run GDP growth currently averages some 3.0%, which takes into account the historical and projected path for this indicator. Using this benchmark, it would mean the Government cannot increase its current expenditure year over year by more than 3%.

The Government set all of these targets after conducting a comprehensive economic analysis with technical assistance from the multilateral community.

The Ministry of Finance is not waiting on the new legislation to start walking the walk.  We are developing the 2018/2019 budget based on the standards set in the new bill, even though the law is not yet on the books.  We don’t expect it to become law until after the budget debate next month; however, we have chosen to be forward-looking, and see no reason to delay the practice of sound fiscal management.

Our budget will embody the principles of accountability, intergenerational equity, responsibility, stability, transparency and inclusive growth, as the Bill calls for.  Our budget will lower the deficit, and; it will control the growth in current expenditure.  Our budget will make tough decisions to place us on a path to fiscal sustainability.  Sometimes that means difficult adjustments in the short and medium term, but real leadership is about making those decisions in the best long-term interests of our county, and not about seeking short-term political gains and popularity.

The management of our fiscal policies will take into account the welfare of current and future generations of Bahamians. It will account for our public assets, liabilities and fiscal risks in a way that maintains fiscal and environmental sustainability.

We will apply these principles without delay, and we are proposing to enshrine them into law so that it is not just a matter of discretion, but it is, in fact, the standard of good governance.

Oversight of pre-election spending

The new fiscal responsibility law will create an important public document called the “Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update” that will give Bahamians a new tool for oversight of pre-election government spending.  If we use the former administration as an example, it is clear why this provision is needed in the legislation.

The former government’s deficit in the year before the election was 5.8% of GDP, almost double the deficit in the previous year.  They projected the deficit at $100 million and overshot this target by over $500 million or 600 percent.  They managed to miss their budgetary estimates by over a half a BILLION dollars.  And this took place without the public having any idea of the state of the Government’s finances.

Let me break this down from the point of view of the draft legislation. As I mentioned before, the Bill sets the deficit limit at 0.5% of GDP, based on a comprehensive analytical exercise done with multilateral partners.  If the draft legislation were in place under the former administration, their deficit in the election year would have gone over the limit by 1060%.  By any measure, this demonstrated recklessness and a disregard for fiscal responsibility.  Worse than that, the spike in this spending has created obligations on this government and the people of The Bahamas that will remain with the country for years to come.

In the ordinary course of our lives, we all build in contingencies and tolerances for our spending, anywhere from 10-20%—whether it’s budgeting for our monthly expenses, our children’s school fees, or construction of our first home. Overshooting your limit by 1000% showed a total lack of fiscal discipline, and quite frankly the Bahamian people deserve better.

During the upcoming budget debate, we will explain, in detail to the Bahamian people, how the arrears and commitments made years ago by former administrations created burdens for all of us today. As a responsible administration, we want to ensure that such a thing never happens again.

The draft legislation provides a mechanism for transparency and accountability that will effectively constrain government spending in election years. The proposed law mandates that the Financial Secretary prepare and publish a Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update before the Election. This report on the state of the economy and government finances will be available for the public to review.

With everything I have shared, I hope it is clear; this landmark legislation on fiscal responsibility will have no small impact. It represents a deliberate and transformational cultural shift in the way the government spends and accounts for the people’s money.

The proposed Fiscal Responsibility Legislation:

  1. Honors a campaign commitment to make fiscal discipline a central component of our Economic Action Plan
  2. Establishes sound governing principles to guide the process
  3. Creates an ongoing system of checks and balances
  4. Sets limits to control the deficit
  5. Establishes caps on debt levels
  6. Reins in overall government spending
  7. Mandates an unprecedented level of transparency
  8. Addresses the risk of pre-election spending sprees
  9. Puts civil society front and center in government oversight, and
  10. Strengthens the overall system of accountability.

With that, I encourage the public to review the Bill and provide feedback to the Government during this period of public consultation.

 

Release: Ministry of Finance

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CARPHA Team undertakes Assessment of Guyana’s National Surveillance System for Non-communicable Diseases

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October 14, 2021 – The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) conducted a technical mission to Guyana from September 22nd – 25th, 2021 to undertake site visits as a part of an ongoing assessment of six (6) Member States’ systems for the national surveillance of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors. This activity was implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Health Guyana through an Agence Française de Développement (AFD) – funded project.

The aim of the assessment s to provide evidence in support of the development of a Regional Surveillance System for NCDs, a priority under the regional health framework Caribbean Cooperation in Health IV (2016-2025).

During the mission, the CARPHA technical team reviewed the capacity of existing surveillance mechanisms in Guyana to collect, analyse and report on the NCDs and risk factor indicators proposed for the regional surveillance system. These indicators were recommended by a multi-stakeholder meeting series convened in 2020 under the AFD project, which reviewed global, regional, and sub-regional mandates, targets and practices in surveillance for the prevention and control of NCDs.

The CARPHA Team along with senior officials from the Ministry of Health conducted visits to two (2) health centres, the National Cancer Registry, Ministry of Health Surveillance, and Statistics Unit.  The results from the overall assessment will be presented to the Ministry of Health Guyana and will also be reviewed alongside results from similar assessments in Anguilla, Aruba, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname to inform the finalisation of the regional surveillance system design through a regional stakeholder meeting.

The regional NCDs surveillance system would facilitate the reporting and availability of data to inform policy development, planning, and tracking of progress towards meeting for targets NCDs at Regional and National levels.

Through funding from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), CARPHA is leading the Region in Strengthening Strategic Intelligence and Partnership Approaches to prevent and control NCDs and Strengthen Regional Health Security in the Caribbean. This project, signed in 2019 with a value of €1,500,000.00, demonstrates the commitment of the Government of France and the French people to supporting the public health priorities of the Caribbean Community through CARPHA.

More information on the Project can be found at: https://www.carpha.org/Projects/Ongoing-Projects/Strengthening-Strategic-Intelligence-and-Partnership-Approaches-To-Prevent-and-Control-NCDs-and-Strengthen-Regional-Health-Security-In-The-Caribbean

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World Sight Day: Love Your Eyes

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Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.  14 October, 2021.  In the Caribbean, the leading causes of blindness are glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy (a complication of diabetes).  According to the Vision Atlas, 6.2 million persons in the Caribbean were reported to have vision loss, with an estimated 260,000 persons reported to be blind in 2020.

Information gathered from eighteen (18) Caribbean countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago) with a population of 44 million, showed that the crude prevalence of blindness was 0.60%, and the prevalence of all vision loss was 13.20%. Many of the persons affected were females at 52%.

Global statistics reveal that for 2020, a total of 596 million persons had distance vision impairment worldwide, of this number 43 million were blind.  Projections for 2050, indicate that an estimated 885 million persons may be affected by distance vision impairment with 61 million expected to experience  blindness.

CARPHA’s vision for the Caribbean is a region where the health and wellness of the people are promoted and protected from disease, injury and disability, thereby enabling human development in keeping with the belief that the health of the Region is the wealth of the Region.

Although there are no projects that directly address vision impairment, CARPHA in collaboration with its public health partners is implementing initiatives to address risk factors such as unhealthy diets, use of harmful substances and poor physical activities. This in turn, will help reduce the risk of disability due to complications associated with poor blood sugar and blood pressure management.

Efforts to improve the standards of care for diabetes through the implementation of the CARPHA Guidelines on the Management of Diabetes in Primary Care in the Caribbean, and training of health care workers from the CARPHA Member States will also contribute to the prevention of vision impairment and blindness due to diabetes.

Access to eye care services can reduce visual impairment.  CARPHA urges Member States to strengthen health systems to improve eye health services with emphasis on reaching the vulnerable and those most in need.  Governments should commit to integrating eye care into the universal health care system.

World Sight Day is celebrated annually on the second Thursday in October.  The focus of the day is to bring awareness to blindness and vision impairment as a major public health issue and blindness prevention.

The 2021 commemoration observed on 14th October, seeks to encourage persons to think about the ‘importance of their own eye health.’

Our eyes are working hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been indoors, in front of our screens, and probably missed our eye test appointments. Now more than ever, we need to protect and prioritize our eyesight. There are simple things you can do for yourself to prevent the development of serious eye issues:

  • Take screen breaks for at least five minutes every hour
  • Spend time outside.  Increased outdoor time can reduce the risk of myopia (near-sightedness)[3]
  • Get an eye test. A complete eye exam can detect eye conditions such as glaucoma before it has an effect on your sight. The earlier an eye condition is identified, the easier it is to treat.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet and engage in physical activity. These are crucial steps in maintaining a healthy weight, controlling obesity, and preventing diseases such as diabetes, all of which can impact eye health.
  • If you have diabetes, you should have your eyes checked every year

Your sight cannot be taken for granted.  It is time to LOVE YOUR EYES!

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RBDF Congratulates Retired Commander Defence Force on National Honour Award 

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#TheBahamas, October 13, 2021 – The Royal Bahamas Defence Force congratulates Commodore Retired Leon Livingstone Smith, who was a recipient of the 2021 National Honours Awards on October 11, 2021. 

During a ceremony at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel, West Bay Street, Commodore Smith was presented with the Order of Distinction within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, by Governor-General, the Most Honorable Sir Cornelius A. Smith. Also in attendance were his daughter, Mrs. Italia Seymour, and the Commander Defence Force, Commodore Dr. Raymond King.

Commodore Smith was one of sixteen other deserving individuals recognized on National Heroes Day for the vast contributions they made to the development of the country. The first Bahamian Officer to be appointed as Commander Defence Force, he is the longest-serving Commodore to serve this office from 1983 to 1997.

Throughout his military career, he received numerous awards and accolades, and his career in public life spanned over forty years, and on September 19, 2014, an RBDF Legend Class Vessel bearing his name was commissioned. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is truly grateful for the devoted services of Commodore Smith to the organization and his country.

Commander Defence Force, Commodore Dr. Raymond King extends congratulations on his behalf of the members of his Executive Command, Officers, Senior Enlisted, and Junior Enlisted members of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, to Commodore Retired Leon Smith, on his great accomplishment.

 

Header:  Commodore Retired Leon Smith being presented with the Order of Distinction within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, by Governor-General, the Most Honorable Sir Cornelius A. Smith on October 11, 2021, during a ceremony at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel, West Bay Street.

Insert: Commodore Retired Leon Smith along with recipients of the 2021 National Honours Awards on October 11, 2021, during a ceremony at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel, West Bay Street.

(RBDF Photos by Able Seaman Paul Rolle II)

 

(For further information please contact the RBDF Public Relations Department or visit our website: www.rbdf.gov.bs, follow us on FacebookTwitter and view our Youtube channel) 

-rbdf- 

#GuardOurHeritage 

#MarlinSpike 

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