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FNM claims Saudi loan agreement signed contrary to law

The Free National Movement (FNM) released a statement yesterday claiming the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government broke the law after Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper signed a $70 million loan agreement with the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) on Wednesday while in Saudi Arabia. The statement explained that only the minister of finance – who is currently Prime Minister Philip Davis – can borrow money on behalf of the government, as laid out in the Public Debt Management Act, 2021.

Opposition Leader Michael Pintard, who penned the statement, warned that if the government does not correct this “contempt for the rule of law”, the opposition will begin a legal review of the loan signing with a view to cancelling the arrangement.

Pintard wrote: “Section 16 (1) of the Public Debt Management Act 2021 (PDM) states the following: ‘The Minister [of Finance] shall be the sole borrowing agent for the government.’

“Section 17 of the PDM further states: ‘The minister shall not delegate the authority to borrow conferred by Section 16 to any other person.’

“Neither the minister of tourism, or any other minister other than the minister of finance can, according to Section 16 (1 & 2a) of the PDM, enter into a loan agreement for public purposes that encumbers the government in any way.

“We call on the government to reverse course, cancel the arrangement and follow the law.”

Pintard also called for the proceeds of the loan to be deposited into the Consolidated Fund per the PDM, and for the terms of the loan to be made public.

“In the interest of accountability and transparency, all agreements that commit the Bahamian taxpayer to future debt obligations must be made public in full, as soon as they are agreed by the government,” said Pintard.

“We must once and for all put an end to the notion that Bahamian taxpayers should not be privy to the details of how policy makers are committing and spending their money.”

The loan agreement with the Saudi Fund for Development is expected to go toward funding airport infrastructure in the Exumas, the Saudi Fund said in a press statement released on Wednesday.