Monday, February 12, 2018
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Deputy Prime Minister last night said the Opposition's finance spokesman was effectively indicting his own party by describing a $25 million project as "a slush fund".
K P Turnquest told Tribune Business that Chester Cooper's criticism of the Government's resolution to borrow $90 million from the Inter-American Development (IDB) was "a teachable moment" for the Exuma and Ragged Island MP.
Mr Cooper had described the resolution, tabled in the House of Assembly last week amid the high political drama, as "fuzzy maths" given that the Government said it would not add to its 2017-2018 borrowing despite not being included in the Budget's financing provisions.
He also slammed one of the three-IDB financed projects, the $25 million investment in creating 'Skills for current and future jobs in the Bahamas', as "a catchy name for a government slush fund to facilitate political hires" given that this country already has the National Training Agency (NTA).
Mr Turnquest, in response, questioned whether his PLP 'shadow' was really indicting the former Christie administration with his 'slush fund' comment, given that the skills training programme and other two initiatives to be funded by the $90 million borrowing were all conceived and developed under the previous government.
"This entire loan was first introduced by the former administration," the Deputy Prime Minister told Tribune Business. "He's really critcising his own party."
Tribune Business first reported on all three projects, and IDB documents related to them, when the Christie administration was in office - including the $35 million loan for airport infrastructure upgrades in the Family Islands, which was developed by Mr Cooper's parliamentary colleague, Englerston MP, Glenys Hanna Martin.
"We held them back," Mr Turnquest said of the three projects and $90 million loan, "because we needed to have a look and see what we're signing up to, making sure the terms and the projects were viable and that we understood what we were taking on."
The third project, a $35 million initiative to upgrade coastal management and infrastructure in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Andros and Long Island, was also challenged by Mr Cooper who queried whether similar seawall improvements would be made throughout the Family Islands.
The Opposition's finance spokesman, while expressing gratitude for the fact some of the airport infrastructure funds would find their way to Exuma, queried why the Government had yet to "submit a plan for the Government building, police station and clinic on Ragged Island" in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
He also suggested that the Government "seriously consider a private public partnership (PPP) model for a package of Family Island airports", which would operate similar to the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) and the Arawak Port Development Company (APD), even though the IDB project calls for exactly that.
As for the borrowing resolution itself, Mr Turnquest said the Government was merely seeking Parliamentary approval and permission to enter into the respective loan agreements with the IDB.
He explained that the $90 million funding would not be 'drawn down' until the next Budget year, meaning that the borrowing will be incorporated into the Government's 2018-2019 financing operations - not 2017-2018 - thereby explaining why it is not included in the current fiscal numbers.
"This is one of those teachable moments where Mr Cooper should the time to understand government finances first off, and this deal in particular," Mr Turnquest explained. "This does not affect the 2017-2018 borrowing. It is a resolution that has to be debated and passed, and protocols signed for the drawdown. I would only say he first needs to get an understanding before commenting.
"What is particularly interesting is this loan is intended to provide a new airport terminal for Exuma as well as fire fighting equipment for Exuma, which he complained about not too long ago. The needs to be asked about Mr Cooper: Is he against the interests of his constituents?"
Mr Cooper, in his statement, charged: "The Government tabled a resolution to borrow an additional $90 million from the Inter-American Development Bank. Yet, somehow, the Ministry of Finance claims that this will not add to government borrowing as the money in question has already been factored into the Government's existing borrowing plan.
"This, frankly, is 'Fuzzy Math', and the public needs an explanation. If the Government is going back to Parliament to borrow money, then the Government is adding to government borrowing. Period. It is disingenuous to say otherwise.
"If there were already a resolution passed to borrow this money, then the Government would only need to draw down on the existing facility without further resolution. Clearly, that facility does not exist at this point. If it did, it would be in the 2017/2018 Budget. I assure the Government it is not."