BY ROGAN M. SMITH
Journal Staff Writer
Some opposition Members of Parliament on Wednesday called the government’s 2004/2005 budget a “sham” that is loaded with hidden taxes and too many unrealistic expectations.
But at least two Independent Members of Parliament pointed to positives in the new budget.
Their reaction came shortly after Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Perry Christie unveiled his government’s new spending plan in a packed House of Assembly.
Mr. Christie revealed that increases in bank licence fees will provide $3.5 million; and he revealed the plan to put in place the airport user fee. Revenue collected for this fee will be used to upgrade security at ports and airports, he indicated.
Mr. Symonette said facility fees are just another way of saying taxes.
“It leaves a lot wide open,” he said. “He (the Prime Minister) talks about coming back later to bring in further increases in fees and taxes. This indicates on cursory reading of it, that this budget is a sham just to fulfill the legal requirements.
“They say if the economy does not rebound the way they intend it to- they will bring in new taxes and whatever are necessary to fund the government’s expenditure.”
Mr. Symonette said the budget is not very specific, and strikingly resembles last year’s budget in that it makes promises that never seem to materialize.
“There are many ifs in the budget; if the economy continues to grow; if these developments come off,” he said. “To pin this budget on that is reckless, bearing in mind he had to admit there was some $50-odd million in flight oversight regulations that he put in the budget that didn’t materialize last year; plus the sale of Bahamas Telecommunications Company which did not materialize shows that there has been some reckless budgeting, and it’s continued in this budget.”
Leader of the Official Opposition Alvin Smith added, “Rhetoric and talk have become the trademark of the Progressive Liberal Party government.”
Mr. Smith said he is disappointed that the help and hope that the PLP administration promised back in 2002 has not yet been delivered to the Bahamian people.
Independent Bamboo Town MP Tennyson Wells said the prime minister seems overly optimistic and suggested that he should have been more cautious.
Saying no new taxes and no increase in taxes is simply a play on words, he said.
Another independent Member of the Parliament, meanwhile, praised the budget.
MP for St. Margaret Pierre Dupuch said that although he did not have enough time to study the budget communication, he thought the it was quite “innovative.”
“I was very impressed with several things,” Mr. Dupuch said. “The first was that he was not increasing taxes and that plans were underway to increase revenue by increasing the efficiency of the government and the tax agencies. I think that’s very important.
“He said that they were going to start an intensive training programme to prepare Bahamians to face the various challenges that will be coming, and the various job opportunities that will be available. That is one of the things that is very seriously needed in this country because we have lost track of a lot of training.”