By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
TAKING issue with Prime Minister Perry Christie’s job boast, Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation Chairman Gowon Bowe regretted that policy makers and the wider public have fallen into a trap of sensational “punch line rhetoric”.
Mr Bowe questioned whether the nearly 32,000 jobs said to be created between 2012 and 2016 had improved conditions for the average job seeker, and whether this figure took into account the quality of those jobs and their permanence.
Mr Christie highlighted official figures released by the Department of Statistics during his speech at a prayer breakfast on Sunday to mark the start of the Progressive Liberal Party’s 52nd national general convention. The figures indicate that there has been an increase of 31,735 employed persons this term, a point Mr Christie said evidenced that the country was on the path to recovery.
Yesterday, Mr Bowe called for the establishment of monthly Cabinet briefings for the media and wider public, replete with resource materials that provided for informed discussion and potential challenge on issues.
He pointed out that unemployment rates were stubbornly high despite the thousands of jobs created.
“When we talk about 32,000 jobs being created,” Mr Bowe said, “what does the number represent? Is that a net increase versus a growth increase, is it representative of recycling of jobs that happen every year as opposed to new sustainable jobs over a period of time? We know that (Junkanoo) Carnival employs a number of persons every May and the persons that work for that event may not work again until the next May.”
He added: “It lacks clarity in the composition, it has to be put into context of what the average man is feeling as it relates to the ability to find jobs and to feed families. In the absence of those jobs, conditions would be much worse for sure, but are we at the point that we should be bragging about job levels if we are in a situation where we still need jobs.
“When you put job creation into context, how bad must the rest of the economy have been to still have (nearly) 12 per cent unemployment with the creation of that many jobs?
“That’s not a criticism of one government, but of the way we have evaluated information in the past. It has always been by punch line rhetoric.”
According to official figures released by the Department of Statistics, the number of employed persons grew from 160,650 in May 2012 to 192,385 in October 2016, the last time the Labour Force Survey was carried out, representing an increase of 31,735 employed persons.
The latest Labour Force Survey, released last month, also indicated the unemployment rate between October 24-30, 2016 was 11.6 per cent, a 1.1 per cent decline from the last review in May of that year.
Mr Bowe spoke on the sidelines of the Chamber’s annual Bahamas Business Outlook.
He underscored that the figures do not show how many businesses have closed due to economic strain, tax compliance and the introduction of a new tax system, or jobs lost from widespread outsourcing in the financial services industry.
“We know that there are new enterprises that have come on stream in the past but how many businesses have shuttered as a result from economic hardship just because of the recession or from doing business in the Bahamas, tax compliance introduction of new tax system, how many jobs lost to outsourcing . . .
“There are three questions: does it represent the creation of jobs fast enough to make a significant dent in structural unemployment, or long term unemployment rates, not the one done at points in time,” Mr Bowe said. “Secondly, raising questions of what is the true loss of jobs as a result of external factors and also internal factors like the ease of doing business. And third, is it really demonstrating where we are strategically making best use of resources…towards the goal of Bahamian owners of businesses employing Bahamians?
“We really have to now elevate discussion and debate, and there is no need to point fingers but to look in the mirror and ask ourselves are we participating by making sure we elect the best people to the House, are we sitting down and understanding national development goals? How do we own our economy if we stay consumer-based, are we trying to become owners of our own society instead of just participators on the fringes?”