LET ME ask you a personal question: How well do you get along with your bank?
Just suppose you borrowed some money from that bank – that’s fair enough, lots of people borrow money when needed for a project. You sit down, work out with the bank how it’s going to be paid back – it’s a straightforward process.
But suppose then you came back the next year and asked to borrow some more, almost as much again as before.
Then again the next year.
And when the bank asked you how you were going to pay for it, suppose you said to them well, you know, times are a bit hard, my income’s gone down so I don’t have as much money coming in as when I took out the first loan.
How do you think the bank is going to like you now?
That’s pretty much the situation the Bahamian economy has been in the past few years. Borrowing, borrowing and more borrowing – and the amount of income going down in years when the economy shrunk.
As Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis pointed out in meetings in the Family Islands this weekend, every Bahamian effectively now owes nearly $7,000 each to clear our national debt.
Year by year, the total has gone up – with Dr Minnis highlighting the borrowing by the previous PLP government, $539m in 2002/13, then $488m the next year, $381m the year after that, then another $310m, before a devilish sum of $666m in 2016/17.
That’s despite an extra $1bn from VAT. It’s no wonder some months are longer than the contents of our pockets.
Of course, Dr Minnis’ view of the rising national debt is focused on his political rivals, but the national debt has long been on the rise, under FNM and PLP both.
The Central Bank’s website handily charts the figures, from a national debt of $606.6m in 1987, rising year by year through to the final figure noted on the site, of $5,585.2m in 2013. Like all nations, The Bahamas is affected by the turbulence in the global markets, so the rise in some of those years can be attributed to outside factors – such as the global recession in 2008 which saw a jump in the national debt of more than $700m in a single year – but seeing that steady upward march does make one wonder when exactly respective governments were planning on starting to pay the debt down.
The current debt stands at about $7.5bn. Break that down between us all and it comes to $6,800 each. What could you do with that extra money? Would it go to your children’s education? Investment in a business? Think of the advantages having that extra money in your hands would give you – rather than it being banked up in government debt.
It is encouraging to hear the prime minister speaking about that debt, and to see the Bahamian economy shift from shrinking to growing. It is also encouraging to hear the prime minister admit that “we still have a long way to go”.
We must admit, though, we would be more encouraged still to see consistent, steady progress in reducing that national debt – and for that to be a commitment on the part of all our political parties.
After all, wouldn’t it be better for us to have that money to invest in our children’s futures - instead of hanging it as a financial burden around their necks?