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EDITORIAL: There may be trouble ahead

BEFORE the election, much was made of a photograph provided by the Progressive Liberal Party of leader Philip “Brave” Davis being embraced by union leaders.

A memorandum of understanding was reportedly signed with the umbrella unions, the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas and Trade Union Congress, committing the PLP to resolving long-standing issues if they won office.

It’s not looking quite so rosy now.

A new union congress was launched yesterday, with teaching union chief Belinda Wilson as its leader. It hasn’t even been a year in office and already there is a union split, it seems.

The new organisation, the Bahamas National Alliance Trade Union Congress includes six unions and two associations, covering airport workers, financial services staff, hotel employees, public service and taxi cab members, teachers, police and prison officers.

This follows on the heels of last week’s Budget in which the government put forward plans for changes to teacher salaries only to be bluntly told no by the union.

Ms Wilson said of that memorandum of understanding that the new congress would examine its components, and that the new congress would be making its own recommendations on the minimum wage and the liveable wage.

Asked about disunity among umbrella unions, she said: “Out of adversity, great things happen.”

Read into the situation what you will, but it seems clear that a number of unions feel unsatisfied with how things are going. Ms Wilson spoke to it herself by saying that “labour issues linger too long”, while the Minister of State for the Public Service, Pia Glover-Rolle, lashed out at the Bahamas Public Service Union last week, calling comments from the union “ungrateful”.

Where does this leave us? With some unions, perhaps, back to square one, before that memorandum was signed.

With a bunch of restless unions, though, and an administration that seems to expect gratitude, it seems clear there may be trouble ahead.

If things stay on this course and we end up with industrial action, then that photograph of Mr Davis being embraced will seem a very long time ago indeed.

Budget numbers

After last week’s Budget, we questioned in this column whether the numbers would add up – and wrote that there would be a closer look as details were released.

Well, we were of course far from the only ones taking that closer look – and some of those figures are starting to look a little optimistic.

One area of concern is that the government is owed more than $261m in “outstanding arrears” due for payment in three key areas – VAT, business licence fees and real property tax.

Of that sum, $95.1m was due for payment in the 2021-22 fiscal year. When it comes to real property tax, the biggest share of that was from commercial properties.

The financial secretary, Simon Wilson, said the government aims to “as much as possible ensure every dollar is collected” – but there will always be some level of default in these situations. Absolutely get the money from those who won’t pay, but there will be some who can’t pay.

Last week, credit rating agency Moody’s warned of “over-optimistic revenue projections” in the absence of a wider tax base, and of difficulty in controlling government spending. The Budget, after all, saw costs go up for state-owned enterprises.

Meanwhile, the government is projecting a $1bn increase in revenue over the next three years – with no new tax measures to get them there.

Miss those targets and it’ll come down to cutting costs or raising revenue by other means. Either option will be unappetising.