Government taking deliberate steps to cushion impact of fiscal measures on the poorest households

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. K. Peter Turnquest said in light of the fiscal measures, which call for a shared sacrifice from all, the government is taking deliberate steps to cushion the impact on the poorest households. The 7.5 percent cost savings on breadbasket items will directly impact the most vulnerable Bahamians in a tangible way, DPM Turnquest said during his Contribution to open the 2018/19 Budget Debate in the House of Assembly, Wednesday, June 6, 2018.

“Unfortunately, there has been a lot of sarcasm around the breadbasket with the inclusion of items like corned beef. This is somewhat understandable in the context of our healthy lifestyle push.

“But this exercise is not about corned beef. The breadbasket contains substantive items that many Bahamians want to consume and are financially constrained to consume. So let us not scorn those Bahamians whose lifestyles are based on the breadbasket.

“This government did not invent or create the longstanding breadbasket list. Rice, soup, cheese, evaporated milk, and yes, corned beef, are the basics that Bahamians, particularly poorer families, rely on for their survival.”

He said the 7.5 percent savings that the government is implementing by removing VAT from the breadbasket, as promised will make a difference. “Just think of the relief for a family when it comes to the cost of buying baby food; these targeted measures will make a difference for those families trying to sustain themselves with the basics.” The DPM said importantly, the Consumer Protection Commission and the Price Control Commission have an important role to play in ensuring the various tax exemptions are passed on to the consumers, particularly with these price-controlled items.  The Finance Minister said he could appreciate that for some Bahamians, these savings might seem meager and unimportant, but this government has committed to prioritizing the vulnerable and the neglected.

“Yes, we will re-shape the breadbasket over time, in concert with a public education exercise, but our immediate actions are designed to provide some cushion as the country goes through this period of shared sacrifice.

“We will not continue the past practice of neglect and we will not allow vulnerable Bahamians to be left behind or run over by the substantive changes that are now taking place.”

He said the same principle applies to the VAT savings on utilities. DPM Turnquest said social progress goes hand in hand with increased economic freedom, and this requires that Bahamians have more opportunities to create their own jobs and to be more competitive in the private sector. He said although the government is the primary employer today, it is laying the groundwork to flip this around. “In a healthy, vibrant economy, it is the private sector – entrepreneurs, small businesses and mature industries – that drive innovation and job creation.

“So, we have included in the Budget $2.6 million worth of investment in scholarships at BTVI so that the cost of skills training and certification is not a barrier for Bahamians seeking to increase their competitiveness.”

The DPM said the government has included in the Budget $5 million to launch a Small Business Development Initiative that will support small and medium-sized businesses, providing them with the incentives and assistance needed to survive and thrive.

“Under this programme, Bahamian entrepreneurs will have access to direct financing; we will also provide support for market research and financial management and other business support.

“In other words, the government is investing the people’s money to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation, and to increase the competitiveness of the Bahamian labor force.

“We want Bahamians to have access to more fulfilling jobs, better-paying jobs, and opportunities that will create social progress.”

He said, “To tie it all together, this Budget is a transformational budget because it establishes a new era of fiscal responsibility.  We are drawing a line under the mountain of payment arrears and unpaid bills left to accumulate shamelessly by previous governments.”

DPM Turnquest said, “We are implementing proper and right budgeting for all known spending commitments so that no further arrears build up in the future.”

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