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Avoiding Downgrade Vital ‘At All Costs’

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Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes.

By RICARDO WELLS

Tribune Staff Reporter

rwells@tribunemedia.net

THE conservative fiscal measures undertaken by the Minnis administration were introduced as a means to avoid another downgrade, according to Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, who yesterday contended that the nearly 6,000 public service hires by the Christie administration played a significant role in past credit downgrades.

In an interview with reporters outside the Office of the Prime Minister on Tuesday, Mr Foulkes, responding to calls by the Department of Statistics for more resources, insisted the government remains “hard pressed” to meet its financial commitments and stands unable to “add people to the government payroll”.

“We want to avoid another downgrade at all costs,” he said. “If we begin to add people to the government payroll, it will not be favourable for us (as it relates to) the international ratings agencies.”

Mr Foulkes pointed to the Christie administration’s hiring strategy as “one of the reasons” the Bahamas was downgraded twice during its tenure and teetering on a third shortly after being voted out of office in May.

To that end, he maintained the Minnis administration would rather limit public service hiring than face another downgrade to the country’s sovereign credit rating.

“If we are to avoid a downgrade, a further downgrade, we have to tighten our belts,” the senator said before heading into a Cabinet meeting.

“The prime minister said it in his national address, the deputy prime minister and the minister of finance has said it and that is the reality,” he added.

“The whole point is for the economy to get strong. That is what we are trying to do. The key element in this is the private sector.

“We are very pleased that Baha Mar will employ an additional 2,500 persons by the end of next year. All three of the hotels will be operational by the end of next year and that will be a massive injection in our economy.

“There are some big plans that will be announced shortly in Grand Bahama, I am not at liberty to say anything, but the appropriate minister will make an announcement shortly.

“There are a lot of good things happening as far as the economy is concerned, a lot of opportunities for Bahamians,” Mr Foulkes said.

Last Friday, the Department of Statistics reported the country’s unemployment rate dipped below 10 per cent for the first time since the 2008 recession.

The Labour Force Survey, conducted between April 24 and April 30, put the country’s unemployment rate at 9.9 per cent – a 1.7 per cent decrease from the results of October’s survey.

The decline came as 7,770 people gained employment while there was a decrease of 3,485 unemployed people.

According to the survey, the unemployment rate in New Providence was 10.4 per cent; in Grand Bahama it was 12.4 per cent and in Abaco it was 7.8 per cent.

In a statement released Monday evening, Mr Foulkes applauded the report, but called for adjustments to survey’s methodology.

He continued yesterday: “The significant amount of those jobs were temporary jobs related to (Bahamas Junkanoo) Carnival, the 52-weeks programme and election hiring; especially in Abaco, Grand Bahama and New Providence.

“A significant amount of those persons are now unemployed; those who were employed on a temporary basis,” Mr Foulkes added.

“As a government, Prime Minister Minnis has instructed all of us to do whatever we can within our ministries to create jobs; permanent jobs, not necessarily government jobs, but private sector jobs.

“Our economy is generally driven by small businesses and by large businesses.

“We are trying to do everything in our power to encourage the business community to employ Bahamians and to increase the employment base.”

In the months since taking office, the Minnis administration has overseen several layoff exercises, the latest coming Monday at the Bahamas Agriculture and Industrial Corporation.

Fifteen workers said to be hired on three-month contracts were let go Monday after their contracts expired.

According to a well-placed source in the Minnis administration, the workers were Progressive Liberal Party “operatives” all hired just before the May 10 general election, a claim Mr Foulkes denied yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest, last month denied claims that the Minnis administration is seeking to inflict “pain” with its conservative fiscal measures, insisting the government will not participate in “any action that is going to further cause the Bahamian people to suffer.”

Mr Turnquest, also the minister of finance, said the government will “not be using a blunt instrument for which a precision scalpel is required” as it attempts to reduce spending, but will aggressively seek to “bring discipline to government finances and rationalisation of the programmes we are engaged in.”

Mr Turnquest also said the government was not seeking to stifle the essential services provided by such entities as the Department of Social Services and Ministry of Education in its attempts to introduce fiscal reform, but is more focused on “the wastage and the excess in these ministries.”

Comments

John 1 month, 1 week ago

Sometimes you have to tell the international world politely to kiss ya a$$ and just do you Bahamas. When Hubert Ingraham did all that to try appease them with offshore banking regulations see what we ended up with? So take a day on the beach, build our farming and fishing industries and don't pay too much mind to them regulators. Their agenda is already written for the most part.

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baldbeardedbahamian 1 month, 1 week ago

Yeah, great idea, John, let's try it....but let me emigrate to some other country first.. I do not want to go hungry when we have no foreign reserves left to pay for our imported food. That should be in about 8 months time without international support.

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Bonefishpete 1 month, 1 week ago

In 2015, the Bahamas exported $1.87B and imported $8.67B, resulting in a negative trade balance of $6.8B.

Doubt the Bahamas can export their way out of this.

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birdiestrachan 1 month, 1 week ago

It the peoples time. Good for all of them. but while others are out of jobs. Foulkes and doc have jobs.

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John 1 month, 1 week ago

'Control their food supply and control their energy supply and you have control over them.' Isn't that is what is happening in the Bahamas right now? Where does most of our food come from? Remember when tinned and tonnes of Bahamian produce was dumped into the sea or otherwise discarded in favor of imported, mostly junk food? Food that make you sick, angry and non productive? So much so that basically everyone has stopped farming. Then what is this BEC /BPL fiasco? Two years in and the US management company is yet to say how they plan to reduce the cost of electricity. How they plan to increase capacity and how they intend to make the supply more reliable. That's because it is their intention to make your a$$ sweat. There is nothing at BEC that needs to be fixed that cannot be fixed. There is nothing at BPL that's needs to be done that cannot be done. And it can be done with no additional cost to the consumer. By replacing one of their generators at Clifton BPL can save enough on fuel to finance that generator over a period of 3-5 years. By continually replacing generators every two years it can completely renovate its New Providence plant and supply cleaner less costly electricity and increase its capacity. And It can replace and upgrade the smaller and less costly plants on the Family Islands simultaneously. Do you know any part of the US of any country where BPL operates that the peer supply is unreliable that the capacity is lacking or that the cost of power is as costly as it is here? You should have known these people were jokers and clowns when they came here demanding the government make solar power illegal when half New Providence was still in darkness. This new generation of Bahamians ain't gonna stand for the Bull$hit! Either you do what you were hired to do and you do it well and you do it quickly or you carry your a$$! Why is the country what right next door to America one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, especially for its citizens? This gonna get fixed in this same generation. No more invisible masters!

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John 1 month, 1 week ago

Do you know any part of the US of any country where BPL operates that the power supply is unreliable or that the capacity is lacking or that the cost of power is as costly as it is here? One of the greatest benefits to any company is when the market is demanding more of its product than it is currently supplying. That gives room for growth and allows for greater economies of scale or efficiency. You should have known these (BPL) people were jokers and clowns when they came here demanding the government make solar power illegal when half New Providence was still in darkness. This new generation of Bahamians ain't gonna stand for the Bull$hit! Either you do what you were hired to do and you do it well and you do it quickly or you carry your a$$! Why is the country that is right next door to America one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, especially for its citizens? This gonna get fixed in this same generation. No more invisible masters! One of the greatest economic periods in the history of the Bahamas came when Sir Lynden Pindling told Brian Ross of NBC news, You expect my small little country to do what your great, big country, with all of its resources, army, navy, air force cannot do?' And he had the Bahamianization policy (immovable properties act) in place. Unlike today where everything is being sold off to the first bidder. Foreigners who don't pay their fair share of taxes. Stop it!

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Jonahbay 1 month, 1 week ago

John, imagine if there was some kind of ambitious/radical solarization scheme in the works for the Bahamas! I for one like the plan that makes BEC/BPL redundant. It goes like this... Government offers some kind of rebate or subsidy on solar panels, every house that can afford it has it installed, the GRID is brought up to standard to accept grid tie in, demand on BPL is less, people have more money to spend on food and entertainment, economy starts moving, small businesses start hiring, BEC can retire the bunker C generators, they can also stop polluting the Earth at Clifton. #winning Any idea why this can't happen?

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Jonahbay 1 month, 1 week ago

We know the problems... Besides the lack of jobs the next thing killing the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is the high cost of living. Imported everything, a lack of 'Buy Bahamian" mentality and the idea that foreign is better is killing us. When we buy Bahamian made products we keep the money in the Bahamas. So much of the money that is made in the Bahamas is spent in Walmart or some online shop. We send our wealth out of the country and then wonder why our economy is stagnant. Buy local, eat what is produced and sourced here. Support Bahamian businesses; visit the local bakery and corner shop, go down Cowpen Road and buy from the farm stands. Buy Bahamian, it is a simple thing that every one of us can do.

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John 1 month, 1 week ago

I agree with you on all points. The truth is Bahamians go abroad to indulge in many things tourists come here to avoid. Fresh and natural foods for example and clean and unpolluted air for the most part. But (US) marketeers have used their skills to convince us that their products are better so we dump our own fresh and natural produce for processed and artificial foods. Then spend most of the rest of our lives paying doctor bills.

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