By NICOLE BURROWS
ACCORDING to Free National Movement and Opposition Leader Hubert Minnis, Prime Minister Perry Christie is missing the point as regards the Bahamian people.
Dr Minnis gave an interview recently wherein he stated that “the problem is the economy”.
“They need jobs. That’s what they need – jobs.”
Meanwhile, PM Christie is over on the other side signing yet another Heads of Agreement (HOA) for yet another tourism anchor project.
When will he ever learn? When will he get this point: The Bahamas does not need another tourism anchor project – aka hotel-resort-marina-casino-golf course – regardless of which one of our beautiful and expensive islands it sits on.
I would have thought that, after the near-developments and the failed resort developments of Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, New Providence, Exuma, Mayaguana, etc, we would have learned our lesson about tourism anchor projects which often stall in the development stages, sometimes kicking over too many years later or, more often, not at all.
But Christie is hell bent on tourism anchor projects and as long as he keeps driving us in that direction, we’ll continue to suffer loss in time and money, some of which can never be made up for in the end. I just don’t understand; when he’s six feet under, who does he think will be paying for these expensive decisions?
We have a growing fiscal deficit, religiously overspending and under-earning, and our debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio continues to climb. The latest estimate is that it sits at 73.4 per cent at the end of 2014. Understand what that means.
Our country’s debt to GDP ratio represents what we owe as a percentage of what we make. That is, $73 and 40 cents of every $100 worth of what we produce, goes to pay down one or more of the many loans we owe. Said another way, for the majority of Bahamians who don’t have the luxury of thinking in blocks of $100, 73 cents of every one dollar worth of what we produce goes to pay down a loan.
I would ask “how would it make you feel, if that was the condition in your wallet or in your household”, but I suspect many of us are already in that predicament.
Think about it; every time you get paid $100, you have to take $73 and 40 cents to pay off a loan. Almost three quarters of every dollar. What does that feel like? If you don’t find yourself there already, what do you imagine that feels like?
But the government continues to spend more than it makes, and borrows to cover the shortfall. Is there any wonder or surprise that the citizens operate their personal finances in the very same way?
I know that some expenses cannot be avoided, and some cannot be reduced. But, in that case, the only sensible option is to increase earnings … increase what you make … increase what you produce. But the government’s answer to increasing its earnings, since it cannot reduce its spending, is to raise money through taxation. That’s the government equivalent of going out and getting a second job, which becomes such a burden that you are forced to question its usefulness.
Sure, you can increase government revenue through public taxation, but who are you taxing?
As anecdotal and repetitive as it sounds, the people who have to pay the tax are the people who are already struggling, making less than they have to spend. And I’m not talking only about people who choose to live beyond their means, which I know accounts for a ridiculously large number of Bahamians; I’m talking about people who still do everything “right”, but whose opportunities for (legally) increasing their earning power are severely restricted by their present economic environment.
If the government is trying to increase revenue from taxes, where do they think the taxes are coming from? And what are you collecting taxes from if production does not increase? The taxes are coming from the same people whose already strained incomes have decreased in value and purchasing power.
You cannot realistically increase revenue without increasing production – to do otherwise is sheer madness. And look, we are in the asylum.
How can you ever create wealth in this type of environment? You can’t. Your only option will always be to increase productivity.
So, in walks Christie with his stack of HOAs. First up, the $100m Cotton Bay-Four Seasons development in South Eleuthera, touting 100 rooms, 100 villas, and a golf course, courtesy of Colombian developer Luis Carlos Sarmiento. This injection is hoped to increase annual visitors to Eleuthera to 7,000, provide 200 temporary construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs.
Thomas Sands, President of the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce, says the resort will create opportunities for entrepreneurs. Sands is well aware of the fact that this development is “another tourism anchor project … to stabilise the region.” But that doesn’t stop him from being excited about the project, because he believes there is a need for immediate action “to stimulate the local economy”.
Well, unless there is “an act of God”, the need for immediate action is the result of a consistent and historic failure to plan. Most of these actions to boost the economy are quick attempts to fix the drawn-out failures of the economy. But the failure to devise and implement a sensible and sustainable development plan seals the fate of The Bahamas economy and the Bahamian people.
Can we get someone with sense in a position of power to do what is needful to set this country on a real path to growth? Whose balls will be big enough to address this once-and-for-all in a way that is sustainable in perpetuity? The development plan of The Bahamas has thus far been a decades-long series of creeping, stop-gap measures.
Damian Gomez, South Eleuthera MP, says “right now our main concern are jobs. You’ve got to creep before you walk, and you’ve got to walk before you run, but we are on the ball”. But if successive governments were as forward thinking as they believe themselves to have been, The Bahamas wouldn’t be creeping at age 42. Who knew the ball could take 42 years to roll?
The Cotton Bay-Four Seasons development, which Mr Gomez is undoubtedly pleased about, of course ushers in more requirements of spending by The Bahamas government, along the lines of physical infrastructure. To make another large-scale tourism project a financial success, they will have to ensure that points of entry (air and ocean) are fully functional, and that healthcare and other welfare necessities are in place.
To facilitate Cotton Bay-Four Seasons, what will The Bahamas government have to borrow and from where will they borrow it? Because we all know what our debt to GDP ratio is. But still this is the path we choose to development.
Hotels and resorts bring “jobs”. But if you don’t arm your people with more than jobs, they’ll forever be dependent on others to provide for them. You give a man a job and he has money to pay his bills. But that is the sum total of his life; grow up, get a job, fill your pockets, pay your bills, get a mortgage, pay it off until you’re 70, then die.
The Bahamas is a country not training its people to be self-sufficient or to live and work sustainably. Maybe once upon a time this happened, and maybe it still happens in some remote parts of The Bahamas, but that way of thinking and that way of life is all but eroded.
We have not created natural avenues to ingenuity and innovation and growth; we have developed a culture of subjection and dependency. That is the real problem with “jobs” and hotel anchor projects … creating a mind-set that is stuck on waiting for something to happen for you instead of making something happen, a mindset more concerned with the preservation of average thinking than actual achievement.
Anchor projects are needed, but not those of the Christie variety. Anchor projects need to be had for education facilities, infrastructural development, healthcare and food supply.
As long as we keep adding “marina, golf course, hotel rooms, casino” to the list of constituent parts of an anchor project, we will have many high-end visitors and many, many more low-end Bahamians.
As Bahamians, if this is okay with you, keep bending down and bending over. No creativity, no vision.
Oh – and no start date either; Mr Christie “hopes” that Cotton Bay-Four Seasons will break ground at the end of the year.
Here we go again.