By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
OUTSPOKEN Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine yesterday ridiculed his government’s budget, telling parliamentarians it appears Free National Movement politicians have reneged on their words.
As he laid out unflinching criticism of the government’s “unduly aggressive” fiscal strategy, Mr McAlpine stressed far too many Bahamians felt they were enduring “taxation without representation”.
Declaring the budget was devoid of transparency and compassion, and highly disrespectful due to the lack of consultation or notice on tax increases, the Pineridge MP projected the more than 60 percent increase of the “regressive” value added tax would prove to be disproportionately “onerous” on the poor.
He said his views came after consultation with his “economic advisor,” adding serious consideration should have been given to income tax as current targets appeared “unrealistic and unsustainable.”
“I know as a government we are relentless in our efforts,” he said, “nonetheless, with the people we are falling down. They see us who once preached transparency converted to secrecy.
“We told the people to take the jobs and vote FNM. The other people told them if they voted FNM they would lose the job. We told them not so. The people lost their job!
“We have appeared to renege on our words. We’ve switched positions without any explanation. What we fought yesterday we seem to embrace today.”
The Minnis administration has reversed its stance on several issues since assuming office. The administration passed the controversial “Spy Bill” last month, despite opposing similar legislation while in opposition. The FNM voted against the introduction of VAT in 2015, but announced last week it would be raised to 12 percent next month.
Mr McAlpine claimed the 2018-2019 budget produced more questions than answers - but noted there was “still time to fix it,” and implored the government to “pause, re-assess, re-evaluate and reconsider where we are in the hearts and minds of the Bahamian people.”
He took shots at the increase in customs exemptions, stating it would be good if the economy was booming but people can barely afford tickets to travel overseas.
Mr McAlpine added the VAT reduction on insured residential properties was not a priority as it was a luxury most Bahamians did not have.
“However,” he said, “the public could have used that little something on medical and life insurance, but instead we are taxed from the womb to the tomb.
“I can’t kill the government for trying, but without any economic stimulus and present economic growth this leads to a ‘shock and awe’ and perhaps this is why we’re feeling this stench and push back from the public.
“All I can say to our government and the minister of finance is it better work! If not, dog eat our lunch sooner rather than later. Many are of the view that we didn’t have to go so hard so fast in this regard.”
Mr McAlpine said he was emboldened not only by the emails, texts, calls and letters of his constituents, but also residents throughout Grand Bahama who have asked him to “stay the course.”
He spoke to an outpouring of support throughout the country for him to stay true to his convictions, and speak truth to power, adding that supporters knew the difference between service and disservice.
Mr McAlpine said he was an East Grand Bahama resident but could not condone “compromisation over salvation.”
The Pineridge MP hinted at the existence of a personal political agenda against him within his party.
“My survival depends on my truthfulness in this life and the life thereafter,” he said.
“It’s amazing, prior to election, all through the campaign, ‘It’s the People’s Time.’ Now that the people don’t see what we see, nor feel what we feel, they’re now labelled as fickle, impatient, ungrateful or uneducated; but they were smart enough to vote us in. What a difference a year makes!”
He said: “None of us are perfect! Notwithstanding, imperfections shouldn’t negate us from speaking truth, especially for the disadvantaged, dejected and demoralised of our society.”
During his contribution yesterday, Mr McAlpine was also critical of the proposed tax hike for web shops, asking parliamentarians who were businessmen whether they would seriously accept such an increase in their sector.
He called for the government to revisit the “mercenary, unconscionable, and obviously discriminatory” sin tax on the grounds of fairness and equity, adding that other “vice” related activities go unchecked.
Mr McAlpine also suggested non-Bahamians be made to pay registration fees for hospitals and schools at twice the rate for Bahamians.
“If it’s not going to be a free lunch for Bahamians, it shouldn’t be a free lunch for anybody else,” he said.
He furthered that it was a crying shame that Cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries were afforded insurance for their spouses and dependents but the same was not given to ambulance drivers, or parliamentarians.
He charged if the government could not pay for all, then it should not pay for any position with the exception of the prime minister.
Mr McAlpine also congratulated the government on its reduction in discretionary expenditure, and for having the political will to address the spiralling deficit and the issue of national debt.
However, he challenged there was a need for a more balanced approach when it came to the disengagement or displacement of workers, and in consideration of the availability of investment incentives offered to Bahamians.