By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE Minnis administration may pay a political price for its value added tax hike, but it is better to pay that price than face the ramifications of not making the hard decisions, St Barnabas MP Shanendon Cartwright said yesterday.
As he made a case for his support of the 2018-2019 budget, Mr Cartwright yesterday told Parliament he does not like the VAT increase, but the decision to do so among others will result in a better Bahamas.
"I believe that the members opposite love this country just as much as us," the Free National Movement member of Parliament said. "I will never question that and I will never engage in anything that suggests that they don't because I believe them that the tough decision that the former administration had to make in 2015 on the implementation of VAT was a tough decision. They did it because they loved the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and they thought it was in the best interest.
"Likewise the hard choices that we have to make in this budget is for the future of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and is gladly a choice I will make."
He continued: "Mr Speaker, I am going to be very direct with this. Maybe there will be a political price for the hard choice that has to be made. Maybe I will have to pay that political price, but I tell you this: I would rather pay the price than the heavy price that the Bahamian people would have to pay should we not make that choice.
"I saw some strong words levelled at the hard choices we've had to make in this budget. I am obligated as a son of this Bahamian soil, as a representative of 5,148 Bahamians in the constituency of St Barnabas, as a member of this honourable House, to do not what is politically convenient, to do not what is easy but to do what is right for those 5,148 constituents in St Barnabas," he said.
"Not to act in this moment would be to use those strong words - treacherous, reckless and dangerous. Whenever my season is up in this honourable place, I want my God, my daughters, the people of St Barnabas, Bahamians everywhere and my conscience to note that I not only served but I succeeded on behalf of the Bahamian people."
Central and South Abaco MP James Albury, for his part, said he understood the need to increase VAT. However he voiced concerns about an insufficient constituency allowance given to MPs. Presently MPs receive $30,000 for their constituencies in every budget cycle. The 2018-2019 budget did not include an increase for constituency allowances. Despite this, Mr Albury said he supported the 2018-2019 budget.
Both MP's support for the budget and the higher VAT rate falls in line with the narrative from the Minnis administration that not doing so would result in higher deficits in the coming years. The decision was made in response to the need to pay down on the national debt, government officials have said.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said his job was to "save the country" when he was asked if he were concerned about losing political capital because of the VAT decision.
However, he dodged responding to questions regarding complaints about the government's lack of consultation on the move, which also saw some Free National Movement members of Parliament left in the dark on the decision.
"You'll get everything when I speak," was the prime minister's reply to these VAT related questions.
The government has been the target of intense backlash over its decision to increase VAT from 7.5 percent to 12 percent since Finance Minister Peter Turnquest made the announcement last week.
With the VAT increase, the government projects it will reap $1,115,007,455 in revenue in the next fiscal year, a 60 percent increase compared with the forecasted VAT revenue for 2017-2018.