By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE country’s national debt as of December 2018 stood at $7.5bn, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has revealed, meaning every Bahamian incurred a debt of nearly $7,000 each.
As he held town hall meetings over the weekend in Eleuthera and several parts of Andros, Dr Minnis made the admission, echoing the criticism that there was fiscal irresponsibility by the former Christie administration.
The tour is in keeping with his commitment to Family Islanders to keep them informed of government decisions and progress periodically.
He also used the tour to tout his government’s progress, while at the same time painting the Progressive Liberal Party as an organisation not concerned with the best interest of Bahamians.
“The total direct national debt ending in December 2018 was about $7.5bn,” Dr Minnis told those gathered at the National Arts and Culture Centre in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera on Saturday. “And so as you would understand how we got there: in 2012/2013 alone $539m was borrowed by the then government.
“In 2013/2014 $488m was borrowed, then ‘14/15 $381m was borrowed and then ‘15/16 $310m was borrowed, then ‘16/17 an additional $666m,” he said.
The Free National Movement was elected in May 2017.
“All during that five-year span they had borrowed about $2.38bn in spite of the additional $1bn that was obtained from VAT, our national debt still rose and individuals were still not paid,” Dr Minnis continued.
“What happened in that five-year span alone is every Bahamian and infant born at that time and those in their mommy’s womb would have incurred a debt before they even entered our shores. They would have incurred a debt of $6,800. That’s just within that five-year span, every Bahamian.
“Then they experienced a series of other events. We were downgraded at least four times and placed in the category of junk bonds making it extremely difficult to borrow — bad credit. Then when you borrow, you borrow at high interest rates, that’s the situation we were placed in.
“But now, the credit agency has moved us from negative credit outlook to stability. So we are moving in the right direction. We are not negative anymore we are considered stable.”
He continued: “But let’s look again at our economic indicators so you know how the economy is going. In 2013, our economy shrunk. There was a negative growth of .6 percent. In 2014 there was a negative growth of 1.2 percent. Then in 2015 there was a negative growth again. We were still heading in the wrong direction. There was a negative growth of 3.1 percent. Then in 2016 there was a growth of 0.2 percent.
“But 2017 our economy grew by about 1.4 percent. Then the IMF predicted that in 2018 our economy would have grown by 2.8 percent, then in 2019 2.1 percent, so now you see we are moving in the right direction.
“But that is still not sufficient. We still have a long way to go.”
The prime minister also addressed his government’s decision to secure a $100m credit facility from the Inter-American Development Bank.
The House of Assembly approved this resolution in late January.
It was this decision that showed the opposition did not care about Bahamians, Dr Minnis suggested.
“It’s always best to prepare for hurricane. When hurricane season comes you are told to prepare your homes, your roofs, your windows etc, that’s all prevention and precaution. The government must likewise do the same in the event that we’re stripped so we can recuperate as quickly as possible so that our quality of life does not diminish, so that our economy recuperates as quickly as possible, so that our guests can come in and we would all have our jobs (and) our schools can function, our hospitals can function. That’s the job and responsibility of the government.
“We went to Parliament to debate an IDB credit of $100m that we had to put aside. That credit facility was not to be used, only in the event of a hurricane. What it meant that if our airports were destroyed we have money immediately to fix it so that our guests could come in and our economy can function.
“If the docks are damaged we can repair it immediately so that our food can come in, our medicine, our ships etc. If the roads are damaged you can repair it.
“But we wanted to be proactive and have it set aside.”
He also said: “I am still trying to figure out the day when we went into Parliament to debate that to put that money aside to protect Eleuthera, to protect the airport, to protect your docks, to protect your schools, to protect your infrastructure, your telephone systems, the communication system, I don’t understand when we went to Parliament, the opposition ‘Brave’ Davis voted no, he did not want us to put a credit aside for you. That’s not a loan. You only use it if necessary.
“Chester who is young and they say he is up and coming, but is obviously down going voted no also. He don’t see why Eleuthera needs protection? He don’t see why Nassau needs protection? Let us all just suffer and we scrap with everyone else looking for money in the event there is a disaster and if it takes three years, no big deal we suffer. Every one of them voted no.
“So maybe they are hearing me tonight. They will explain to why we were not prepared in the event there is a disaster. So fortunately, we had the majority and we voted to protect our country.”