Journal Staff Writer
In an impassioned plea, Prime Minister Perry Christie on Wednesday begged Bahamian taxpayers to meet their tax obligations in a timely manner.
“The taxes levied in the Bahamas are in accordance with the laws passed by this legislature, “ Mr. Christie pointed out, while making his Budget Communication to Parliament.
He said, “The monies raised are required to meet essential expenditures which are also approved by this legislature. We have an open and transparent budgetary system and the purposes of taxation are known.”
The 2004/2005 budget projects total expenditure of $1.324 billion and total revenue of $1.063 billion.
Mr. Christie – in an unprecedented move – departed from the custom of lengthy and involved reports on budgetary allocations, giving a brief overview of his government’s spending plan.
It was the shortest Budget Communication in the post-Independence Bahamas.
About an hour and 20 minutes after he started his much-anticipated communication, Mr. Christie, who is also Minster of Finance, ended by declaring that, “The 2004/2005 budget and the economic prospects on which it is based, represent yet another landmark in my government’s commitment to the interests of the Bahamian people.”
As expected, the country’s social sector – education and training, health, housing, social services and youth development – will receive a huge chunk of the government’s $954 million 2004/2005 recurrent expenditure, a figure totaling $428 million or 45 percent.
Mr. Christie further revealed that almost 20 percent of the recurrent expenditure would be spent on national security, including the police and defence forces, judicial and legal affairs.
Some $65 million, he said, will go towards infrastructure like works and transport.
Another $100 million will be spent on economic services, including tourism, trade and agriculture and fisheries; while $173 million has been allocated to administrative services like foreign affairs, public service, finance and local government.
According to Mr. Christie, another $500,000 has been earmarked for consultancy services for, amongst other things, planning the development of Clifton Cay National Park.
“The consultancy will provide an outline of how the Park should be developed and laid out so as to maximize public benefit from it,” he said. “In this regard, it is envisaged that the Park would provide a facility which would be of enjoyment to Bahamians as well as an attractive enhancement to the cultural experience of our visitors.”
There is also provision of $1 million for interest payment on the bonds that will be issued for the purchase of the Park.
“I am sure that the Bahamian public appreciates that while each priority is of equal weight, an appropriate balance must be maintained in allocating the increasing flows of resources between them in the coming years,” he said.
“This will involve some degree of patience because not everything can be achieved or accomplished in one single year. The overarching consideration, however, is that all of these priorities be steadily and concurrently addressed as the flow of budgetary resources intensifies, not from increases in taxation, but rather from the strengthening of the economy arising form this government’s policies and from firmer and more efficient revenue administration.”
During his address, the Prime Minister also unveiled a package of measures that are sure to cause certain sectors of the Bahamian population to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Among these are the removal of customs duties and stamp duties on imports from building materials used by private schools.
According to the Prime Minister, the new fiscal plan positions The Bahamas to take advantage of the country’s “imminent surge in economic performance” like that provided by Kerzner International’s Phase III $1 billion project.
He said it is this economic stability allied with political maturity that will make the country’s economy a magnet for investments.
Mr. Christie added that while geopolitical uncertainties like the continued surge in oil prices could result in early increases in interest rates, these uncertainties would have “diminishing implications as (economic) growth becomes firmly entrenched.”
“There is one factor working strongly to our advantage, and that is, the sizeable depreciation in the value of the United States dollar that has occurred since 2002 as a result of the expanding record-level Federal budget deficit and shortfalls on the US trade account,” Mr. Christie said.
“As these imbalances persist, the dollar is expected to remain weak in the year ahead, making dollar priced vacation destinations such as The Bahamas more affordable for people from North America, Europe and Asia.”
While on his feet, the nation’s chief also reiterated that the over-riding priorities for the economy, fiscal and non-fiscal, are to generate enough quality employment opportunities for all Bahamians.
“Our goals are clear-cut and unambiguous…” he said.
“Simply stated, they are to maximize the job creation potential of the Bahamian economy by strengthening the key sectors and encouraging the highest possible levels of employment-generating investment; accelerate the social advancement and inclusion of all members of society; ensure that every major settlement in The Bahamas participates in national prosperity and advancement and raise standards of delivery of public services so as to get the best possible value for the taxpayers’ dollar.”
As is customary, many Bahamians were drawn to the House of Assembly’s gallery to hear the budget communication first hand.
Among them were a key fiscal architect, Minister of State for Finance, Senator James Smith; former PLP Cabinet Minister Paul Adderley; government advisor Sean McWeeney; PLP Chairman Raynard Rigby; various FNM senators, including Tanya McCartney and Desmond Bannister, and other citizens.