Last year, I revealed to the country that in an unprecedented and historic move, the government stripped the Bahamian people’s annual fiscal budget (2014/2015) of its standard staffing and salaries documents known as the Personal Emoluments section of the budget.
The Personal Emoluments section of the budget details the staff count in each government department or Ministry, their salaries, what they are hired to do and promotions, re-classifications or transfers where applicable in the Public Service.
The documents enable the Parliament and the public to track how many people are either being added to or taken out of government departments and Ministries, how much they are being paid and what they are being paid to do. Such documents are a critical transparency and accountability facet of both the budget process itself and the presentation of the budget.
After I revealed this to the country, several Opposition members later followed suit on what I revealed and made mention of it during last year’s budget debate. The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance responded, saying the government would place the documents his government stripped from the budget on the government’s official website.
That never happened.
In last year’s budget, an extra $48.9 million was allocated for new hires, but with the Personal Emoluments stripped from the budget, it was then impossible to track how that money was going to be appropriated for these new hires. Now. Unemployment last year went up, not down. $48.9 million for new hires is a massive amount of additional money allocated in the budget. That figure actually accounts for more than half of the total amount in increased recurrent expenditure budgeted last year.
The question is – how many new people were actually hired by the government for all of that money? Where did that $48.9 million for new hires actually go? With the Personal Emoluments documents gone, the Parliament and the public can no longer see that kind of information.
As VAT approached, various groups called and continue to call on the government to draft fiscal responsibility legislation and to enact the Freedom of Information Act, to enable and facilitate Bahamians being able to know how our tax dollars are being spent.
It is a small wonder that such calls are going unheeded, when the government’s unprecedented budgetary move last year was a demonstration of a commitment to blocking transparency and accountability instead of creating or deepening it. The government must return the Personal Emoluments documents to the annual budget to be tabled in May.
It should also list in the budget how much money it is collecting in Environmental Levy fees. We were told that the Levy fees were for the environmentally sustainable disposal of items that would attract the fee. But the government never created the Environmental Levy Fund as required by an Act of Parliament, so as to administrate these fees.
As a consequence, the fees are going into the general Consolidated Fund to be used however the government sees fit. The environment is not benefiting from these fees as the government claimed it would, and the fees in truth to fact are nothing more than another tax paid on imports. More of our money is being taken from us in taxes, and less information is being given on what is happening with those multiplied millions in tax dollars.