Fiscal Council’s reports ‘not a flip of the switch’


Gowon Bowe


Tribune Business Editor


A Fiscal Responsibility Council member yesterday said there was nothing sinister about the body’s delayed publication of two key reports, and asserted: “This is not a flip of the switch.”

Gowon Bowe, who represents the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) on the fiscal watchdog, told Tribune Business it had not held back its assessments of either the Fiscal Strategy Report 2021 or 2022-2023 Budget because of findings that might be perceived as “negative” for the Government.

Speaking after Michael Pintard, the Opposition’s leader, demanded that the Council explain why publication was months’ late, he said the body was provided with further information and access by the Government in summer 2022 that was likely to improve the content of its analysis.

The fiscal watchdog thus opted to produce a more complete report, rather than rush to meet a deadline, with Mr Bowe pointing out that its work continues to be a “building block exercise” given the tremendous cultural shift it demands within the Government over transparency and information sharing.

The BICA representative, noting that the Council only had access to the actual report itself for its 2020 Fiscal Strategy assessment, said co-operation and collaboration by the Government over the 2021 report had been much improved albeit late. He added that deficiencies in the Government’s own financial reporting systems were another impediment, which the Opposition would be familiar with as several members sat in the Minnis Cabinet.

Mr Pintard, though, yesterday used the delayed publication of the Council’s reports - as well as the continued wait for the 2022 Fiscal Strategy Report - to blast the Davis administration for again violating the disclosure timelines set out in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

“The Davis administration continues to display its contempt for the rule of law and the Bahamian people by its now habitual refusal to abide by even the most straightforward legal requirements to report to the country regularly on its financial affairs,” the Marco City MP asserted.

“By law, the Fiscal Strategy Report 2022 was due in November of last year. It is now months late. Not only has the government not produced and published the report, the minister of finance (also the Prime Minister) has yet to explain its tardiness nor provided a timeline when we will receive the required report.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman yesterday informed Tribune Business that the Fiscal Strategy Report 2022 “will be tabled next week”, thus following a timeline similar to last year when it was released at end-January 2022. The Fiscal Responsibility Act, though, requires in section 10 (3) that the report be laid in Parliament by the third Wednesday of November each year - a deadline that has not been met.

Mr Pintard, in a January 24, 2023, letter to the Prime Minister that he publicly released yesterday, questioned when both the Council’s two reports and the Fiscal Strategy Report 2022 will be released. He said the Council’s assessment of the 2021 Fiscal Strategy Report should have been disclosed no later than two months after that document’s release, and the analysis of the 2022-2023 Budget by the end of last July.

Pointing out that the latter report is now six months’ late, and that both disclosure deadlines were mandated by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Mr Pintard queried: “Is the Government aware of any impediment that is preventing the Council from meeting its statutory obligations? If so, what is the Government doing to remedy these impediments so that the Council can fulfill its legal obligations and provide the required reports?

“Prime Minister, your failure to ensure that your ministry fulfills its statutory obligations is unacceptable and, frankly, untenable. You can provide the Bahamian people no good explanation or excuse. On behalf of them, we demand that you do better.”

Mr Pintard’s letter was also copied to Kevin Burrows, the Council’s chairman. However, Mr Burrows in a messaged reply to this newspaper confirmed he is no longer involved with the Council, and it is understood the representative for the financial analysts may have changed.

The Opposition leader, meanwhile, in his statement on the matter, charged: “The Fiscal Responsibility Council was to have published its assessment of the Government’s Fiscal Strategy Report 2021 from the first quarter of last year. They were also to have published its assessment of the Government’s 2022-2023 Budget by last July.

“We have yet to see any of these reports in the public domain. The Council must advise the public as to what is fuelling their delay in publishing their reports as required by the law.” As for the Government, Mr Pintard added: “More often than not, the Davis administration has been late in the submission of its monthly and quarterly budgetary reports as required by the Public Finance Management Act.

“The report for November 2022 should have been published within the first week of this month. We have gotten no explanation as to why this report is late. We remind our jet-set Prime Minister that as the minister of finance, these failures fall directly under his charge. As we have said before, he needs to curtail his extensive globetrotting and instead focus on the statutorily required work that Bahamians are paying him to do.

“The Prime Minister remains the very picture of rank hypocrisy when he tells Bahamian small businesses to abide by the law while he fails to ensure that his government does the same.” Mr Bowe, though, argued that there were valid reasons for why the reports had been delayed given that the Council was handed an opportunity to provide more complete analyses to the Bahamian public.

Acknowledging that the late provision of extra information was “not the most ideal”, he explained: “There was an opportunity where the Government opened up further information and details in summer 2022. There was greater access to the Department of Customs, Department of Inland Revenue, and some exchanges with the Debt Management Committee and some exchanges of the models used by them in the Budget exercise.”

Acknowledging that it is now the Council’s responsibility to “close out” its 2021 Fiscal Strategy Report review, Mr Bowe declined to “pre-empt” its findings but said the additional access will enable a more complete and thorough assessment. “Some of this is the 80/20 concept,” he said. “If it’s 80 percent complete, do you finish it if 20 percent is not finished for closing open questions, or do you close the open questions?

“The Council has not delayed reporting because of any negatives or any information the Opposition deems as concealing or deferring details from the public.... The only thing we had in 2020 was the report itself. 2021’s initially started in the same vein and then there was access to more information.

“I think there is some merit in terms of adhering to timelines. There is also a need for understanding that this is not a straightforward flip of a switch and perfect situation.” Mr Bowe said politicians from both sides were well aware of “system deficiencies” in the Government’s financial reporting, and ongoing efforts to upgrade the chart of accounts, the enterprise resource system and general ledger so that information quality is improved.

“You’ve got to be careful. Garbage coming in, garbage going out,” Mr Bowe warned. “Yes, there is a delay in us finalising our report, but because we’re getting additional information in that we could analyse and factor it into the report. People can say issue a report, but if it’s a superficial document they will be critical of that as well.”


DonAnthony 2 months ago

Mr. Bowe seems to be exceedingly slow in many respects. He offers opinions almost daily in this newspaper but not one word about the Fidelity Bank share split promised to shareholders at the last AGM but which has inexplicably been delayed again. Would the tribune please ask him to update shareholders?


DWW 2 months ago

Funny that systemic deficiencies are well known in the financial aspect of govt for 50 years but yet everything stays the same. I say let's all just stop paying taxes entirely and see what happens.


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