The government’s huge budget blunder, where it allocated higher salaries for state ministers than they should have gotten, “smacks of carelessness,” according to a former cabinet minister.
The government recently admitted that it made “an error” by allocating a $6,000 annual salary increase for ministers of state in the 2012/2013 budget.
In fact, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis gave assurances that a correction would be made prior to the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Desmond Bannister took the government to task over the error during his contribution to the budget debate in the upper chamber yesterday.
“The government will have to amend the schedule because it unlawfully provided salaries of $66,000 for ministers of state. Chapter 10 of our laws, Parliamentarians Salaries and Allowances Act became law in 1992 under the FNM. It set the salaries for all parliamentarians, including us in the Senate who get $12,500 a year,” he said.
“Ever since that, as far as I can see, no minister of finance has contravened those provisions. Yes, ministers of state have been paid allowances from time-to-time, but never before has the government blatantly, in this schedule, inflated the salaries of ministers of state in the schedule contrary to the law.”
Mr. Bannister continued, “It smacks of carelessness. It is a breach of the law and the Opposition has a duty to bring it to the attention of the government so that the law may be amended. This government can’t keep the electricity on, the island is filthy, the verges are overgrown, they are letting teachers’ aides go, [refusing] to feed children in school, [refusing] to hire janitresses and at the same unlawfully sneaking extra money into the budget to inflate the salaries of their ministers of state, while at the same time Bahamians do not feel safe in their home.”
Mr. Bannister, who previously served as minister of education, also urged the government to create a school breakfast programme for underprivileged schoolchildren.
“Many of our lower performing primary schools are in the inner city neighbourhoods. One of the difficulties that these children face is that so many of them come to school without a proper breakfast or breakfast at all because their parents can’t afford it,” he said.
“The same is true in many of our Family Islands where the child goes to school without breakfast and that child is at an immediate disadvantage. They cannot concentrate properly; they cannot think, they cannot compete and they are more likely to cause disruptions in the school day. And that is why the FNM committed to providing breakfast in schools.”
Debate on the budget continues today at 10:00 a.m.