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'Gone Cold': Fate Of Development Plan Concerns

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Jeffrey Beckles

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Chamber of Commerce executives yesterday voiced concerns that the National Development Plan (NDP) has "gone cold" and left The Bahamas without a road map to higher growth.

Jeffrey Beckles, the Chamber's chief executive, revealed to Tribune Business he had been informed by a University of West Indies (UWI) professor at a recent Trinidad conclave he attended that The Bahamas' prospects of achieving economic success had lessened in the absence of such a guiding strategy document.

"It's gone cold," Mr Beckles said of the National Development Plan, which was given high priority under the former Christie administration. "That's a concern.

"Just last month, at an economics conclave in Trinidad, a UWI professor at the campus where they were holding the event asked me if all the actions we were taking were in keeping with the national plan.

"I couldn't answer. He said: 'I take your pause as 'no' answer, but if you are not relating economic actions to a plan the chances are you will be unsuccessful'."

Mr Beckles and Darron Pickstock, who heads the Chamber's trade and investment division, both yesterday called for the Government to set out a structural economic reform road map to give the private sector and wider Bahamian society a sense of the direction it planned to take this nation in.

"When you speak about opportunities, empowerment, these things fall short if you have not clearly identified where the economy is headed," the Chamber chief executive argued.

"All of this is contingent on the Government's willingness to lay out an economic plan for the country. If that plan is not laid out clearly.... the path for economic reform, the path for legislative reform has to be tied to something. That something is a clearly articulated plan for the country."

Mr Pickstock added that The Bahamas' economic status quo "really points to a National Development Plan. We keep saying we need to plan, plan, plan, but we need a National Development Plan that clearly demonstrates to the public where the country is going.

"That is very critical. If we don't plan, we plan to fail. It's as simple as that; a simple business concept. We are currently experiencing ad hoc growth, and need a plan to succeed."

A veil of silence appears to have settled over the National Development Plan and its fate in recent months, with virtually no mention being made of it by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis or members of his Cabinet.

Much work was done on developing the Plan under the former Christie administration, and the effort was designed to be non-partisan, with the then-FNM opposition and other parties brought into the fold so that their input was incorporated and to ensure it survived changes in the political cycle.

It is unclear whether the National Development Plan has been discarded because it is perceived as a "PLP creation", but the secretariat that was formed to develop it appears to have been largely disbanded. It was headed by Dr Nicola Virgill-Rolle, who was subsequently moved to head the National Insurance Board (NIB) as its director.

The National Development Plan represented the first ever co-ordinated effort to plan the Bahamas’ development in a systematic manner using empirical data and analyses, while also obtaining input from private sector and civil society organisations.

Labelled ‘Vision 2040’, the Plan aimed to break with the Bahamas’ past ad hoc approach to national growth by setting a clear path towards a more sustainable future.

It also set out a ‘road map’, containing measurable goals and objectives for the Bahamas to attain, so that this nation’s progress towards achieving its development targets can be judged according to set timelines.

Vision 2040 focused on four main policy pillars - the economy, governance, social policy and the environment, both natural and built - in its first 400-page draft, which was publicly disclosed.

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