0

Editorial: We Can’T Rely On The Wheel Of Fortune To Build Our Future

IN the flood of overseas assistance which poured into The Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian we expect few of us will have noticed one of the biggest individual contributions made towards disaster relief.

Guyana, the once impoverished northern South American country which faces the Atlantic, announced it was donating $3 million through the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry.

This incredibly generous aid dwarfed that put forward by other nations who many of us would naturally have thought could have easier afforded such a level of assistance.

So, what is it that has allowed this tiny country with a population of just 800,000 – not much greater than our own – to be so generous.

The answer is oil.

This year the first barrels of crude from massive oil fields off Guyana’s coast will come ashore and, if properly managed, will change the face of Guyana for ever.

As the nation accepted the argument to go for oil against all environmental protests its economy began to change as the drilling companies moved in.

This year its growth in Gross Domestic Product is forecast by the World Bank to stand at 4.6 percent.

And next year? An astonishing 34 percent increase is forecast.

Compare Guyana’s experience with where The Bahamas sits today.

Yesterday Finance Minister Peter Turnquest presented his 2019 Fiscal Strategy Report and Fiscal Adjustment Plan in Parliament. It makes for unhappy reading when you delve into the detail.

On top of our existing national debt of $8.2 billion next year we will be going out to the banks asking them to lend us another $508 million. We’re already spending $377 million just to cover the interest payments due on the existing deficit and this will grow to $400m by 2023/24.

There’s a big hole in BTC’s pension plan which is going to require $20 million being set aside for the next eight years.

Add in another $100 million provision in 2022/23 to cover a promisory note which will fall due for Bank of the Bahamas. This will be needed as it’s forecast only 40 percent of the loans made by BoB are going to be recovered.

Now take in another $130 million for HR reforms and increased technical capacity across the public sector to enable the government to deal more effectively with its administrative and policy agenda.

There’s the elephant in the room which no recent government has a clue how to tackle, only the knowledge it’s out there - a $2 billion deficit in civil servants’ pensions.

It’s likely at some point the government will introduce what’s called a Defined Contribution Scheme for civil servants still at work which will put them in a new ‘pension pot’. That stops the deficit getting any bigger and pays for future pensions but it does nothing to cover the shortfall.

Mr Turnquest has warned these and other factors will derail the government’s planned fiscal roadmap for five years, then we’ll be back on track.

It’s a fine ambition but we fear it’s a bit like playing roulette at Baha Mar. The government is betting on winning every spin of the wheel, nothing else going wrong – no global downturn in coming years to put a brake on tourism, no (God forbid) hurricane of the scale of Dorian.

Mr Turnquest has shown himself to be a capable and cautious Finance Minister but we believe it is time both he and the government start to think big – to look at beyond tomorrow.

We know that with one eye on the next election they don’t want to risk defeat at the polls by putting too much strain on families and businesses.

Look what happened with the VAT increase – outrage.

Half a year of sitting in the dark and now the public is going to be saddled with cleaning up BPL’s appalling history with an increase in their bills to cover new debt!

Inevitably there is going to be an increase in National Insurance contributions. There has to be and almost certainly it will be in the aftermath of the next election.

There’s no escaping these problems but as it stands we don’t see anywhere that blue-sky thinking which is going to get us to a position where we can actually feel we are getting somewhere, not just treading water trying to tackle each crisis as it smacks us in the face.

We need to be prepared to do something radical. The electorate will go along with whatever government offers as a viable alternative to drag us out of the morass we find ourselves in.

Whether that’s starting again in Grand Bahama, letting go of the shackles to Nassau and embracing massive unrestricted foreign investment and personnel.

We should be asking things like – what do we need to do to get Amazon to Freeport?

Why not send some of our government departments to Freeport – the influx of hundreds of jobs igniting the economy?

Grasp the nettle – or in this case a cannabis plant – and turn Andros into the Caribbean’s biggest exporter to the exploding markets for the drug in the US, Canada and elsewhere. Just get on with it (for export only of course!)

There should be enough wise heads in government – and outside – to have big plans in their heads they believe could work. Let’s hear them.

It maybe though, Mr Turnquest, Dr Minnis and Brave Davis too are all at the roulette wheel waiting for one number to come up and then we can all stand easy.

That’s Bahamas Petroleum Company.

Next year BPC will be drilling in our southern waters looking for oil.

Maybe, like Guyana, they’ll strike lucky and – environmental concerns fully discussed – our number comes up.

If it does pray we have the sense – and honesty – to manage such wealth. Also, that we remember those who helped us when we needed it and are prepared to do the same if our fortunes change.

Comments

Giordano 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Ok. I agree. There should be enough wise head in and outside government to set up a strong standard of Transparency as well as a strong culture of claiming,decensy,integrity,dignity & respect also wish to see all POLICE PATROL VEHICLES FLASHING THEIR COLORFUL LIGHTS ALL OVER THE NIGHTS AND DAYS ON THE STREETS OF NEW PROVIDENCE. That's returning feeling of confidence and sense of public safety is badly needed and the government don't have any excuse not to satisfy this claiming,DEMANDS from all of us. Overfloodding of overseas help,double VAT, loans here and loans there. Need to see TANGIBLE RESULTS.!! There should be not turning back in fighting corruption at government CABINETS' Members. How rich are they now? Let's apply "The Public Disclosure Act" and put an independent effective group of auditors,independent responsible television including ZNS,willing not to be in complicity with the wrongdoing by simply exposing it. They should be EFFECTIVE and NOT LIKE the so called INDEPENDENT PROSECUTION. There is no change,we still see a bunch of drunkers in public areas like corners and public parks illegally ,in the open,drinking liquior,smoking dopes and disturbing the peace, starting and harassing young girls passing by. We still see cars bad parking on corners,provoking accidents. Why the prosecution got independent then? This is demagoguery from government. Anyway,sticky fingers still out here abusing the public pulse.

0

Giordano 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Look at Peter,!! , in the picture above. He looks like he doesn't live here anymore,managing so much money WITHOUT showing any TANGIBLE RESULTS.! And, WITHOUT ANY TRANSPARENCY.

0

Porcupine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Editor," You state, "So, what is it that has allowed this tiny country with a population of just 800,000 – not much greater than our own – to be so generous. The answer is oil." No, the answer is generosity, as you rightly point out in comparison to the many other rich countries donations. And, if Guyana was hit with a major catastrophe, and The Bahamas was in their shoes, would we expect similar generosity from The Bahamas? Hmmm.

While you complain about relying on Wheel of Fortune thinking, isn't this what you are advocating? You are betting against those most knowledgeable on sea level rise and its causes. You are betting against the rapidity of these suggested changes. You are betting that those who lead this country will behave better and do better than they ever have before in our history. You are betting that there will not be an oil spill, or other untold environmental impacts which affect our #1 Industry, tourism. You are betting that there will be no other serious deleterious impacts of drilling for oil in our waters. You thinking is not blue sky, it is peppered with a cry for help that won't come.

'We need to be prepared to do something radical. The electorate will go along with whatever government offers as a viable alternative to drag us out of the morass we find ourselves in.", you say. No it won't. The populace has a second grade level of thinking, you the editor have shown a third grade level. We see this every election time. Children, not adults. You are still willing to gamble the existence of our entire nation, for the spin of the wheel that would benefit no more than a handful of people. Every honest thinker in the world agrees with the majority of climate scientists that the world must divest itself of fossil fuels. Yet, like a drug addict, you are advocating to, just this once, do it again for our collective benefit? And, you would call this "blue sky thinking"? Yikes. We have so far to go. And, time is short. Yet, we still have to contend with juvenile thinking such as this editorial. And, we wonder why we are in such terrible shape. Just can't figure it out with our blue sky thinking, hey?

0

proudloudandfnm 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Suppose oil becomes our number one industry?

1

Porcupine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

We simply shorten the amount of time The Bahamas remains above water. Both literally and figuratively. We refuse to take responsibility for our own actions. Every daily paper reports on this each and every day. Yet, we still cannot connect the dots.

0

DonAnthony 2 weeks, 6 days ago

That’s a double negative which is a positive. We gonna be rich😁

3

Well_mudda_take_sic 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Nothing but pie in the sky wishful thinking. Besides, every Bahamian knows the double negative "ain't no" is the stongest and most definitive outright "NO!" one could ever expect to hear in the Bahamian vernacular. LMAO

0

ThisIsOurs 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The problem with all of the initiatives listed by the editor is they will ALL follow the path of the gaming industry. If they find oil which block of Bahamians will be employed in large numbers to the high pay engineering jobs? Which block of Bahamians will have significant shares in the company? Which block of Bahamians will be given a dividend cheque monthly from the billions in profits?

If marijuana is legalized how many farms will be allowed to operate? How many dispensaries? How many millions will you need to qualify to start? Who is getting the head start with inside information? How many Bahamians will end up nothing more than happy mind dulled users?

If Amazon were allowed in Freeport guess what the jobs will be? Low paid factory workers

The game on these initiatives is rigged. The only avenues from which regular Bahamians in large blocks will benefit are entrepreneurship or education and from what I've seen the givt is doing enough in those areas to ensure that they can use their meagre efforts as campaign talking points. They bought ipads for school children. Great. what's the plan. They started the SBDC and for months touted the number of persons signed up, then kept opening offices everywhere inviting more people to sign up. last week they told us 78 out of 5000+ people got funding. The question is how is this any different from the 10 million put in UR?The companies are given 3 months of support..it's a recipe for being given just enough to get into trouble. Startups need operating capital. Who thought this program through before launching it? clearly no one.

What's the solution? I stick with education and that runs the gamut from learning to read, to plumbing to rocket science. Second, a Peoples Movement. If the govt is failing to offer the services we need to move forward then a Peoples Movement organizes, plans and executes to help our people. At this point having seen the "final solution- professionals" line up behind tax them some more, but increase our salaries and give us new office space, I do not believe any govt will ever move the country beyond 1965 outdoor toilets status. They need a majority struggling populace to maintain their oligarchy. let them have their titles, lets work on substance.

1

banker 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Totally concur with the education bit. Human capital can command the highest economic value if it is educated.

However, at this juncture, we could use a thousand warehouse jobs, just to lift the systemic unemployment out of the doldrums, and employ the level of human capital that we have.

0

Bahama7 2 weeks, 6 days ago

You see Porcupine - this man knows his stuff.

THE ANSWER IS OIL !!

1

Porcupine 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Quite scary actually. Shouldn't we wonder why we are so backwards, failing so miserably on so many metrics? How is it that a whole country can get it so wrong as we have? We just don't even let it bother us, do we? Is there a better example and recipe for failure, then continuing to think as we have? We just don't see it, do we?

0

Clamshell 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Uh ... no, oil is not the answer, even if we had any. The price of oil is at historic lows when adjusted for inflation, and even Saudi Arabia — yes, SAUDI ARABIA — is looking forward to a future when they can no longer rely on their oil wealth as a nation. Fossil fuels are not the future.

0

sheeprunner12 2 weeks, 5 days ago

OIL has created the Persian Gulf states ........ who have taken their oil fortunes and have invested in every known futuristic industry ..... Compare that with the corruption and dysfunction of Nigeria, Trinidad, and Venezuela where poor or shortsighted governance has wasted their oil fortunes.

0

Sign in to comment