By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government must "come up with a game plan" for bringing The Bahamas out of COVID-19 lockdown and kickstarting economic recovery, a governance reformer urged yesterday.
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business that the government needed to lift its head from the immediate health crisis to communicate a strategy for social and economic revival once the pandemic threat had passed.
Warning that The Bahamas would immediately be threatened by other crises in COVID-19s immediate aftermath, Mr Myers said the government needed to bring both the private sector and ordinary citizens on board and give them an understanding of when business and daily life will start to open back up.
He added that all were "freaking out", and "on pins and needles", over continued near and mid-term uncertainty that could be eased if the Minnis administration collaborated with all stakeholders on a likely timeline and strategy for returning The Bahamas to some semblance of normality.
"I'd love to have greater depth on what the government is thinking," the ORG chief told this newspaper. "We've heard a lot about the current situation but nothing with regard to how we get ourselves out of this thing.
"What is the mid-term and long-term? Right now we don't fully understand the short-term plan. It would be nice to hear more on that from the Prime Minister rather than what we're shutting down, or that we're on lockdown and quarantine.
"We can't make any real plans or contingency plans until we have a better understanding from the government on what is going on... It's time the government collaborated and communicated with the people in business and the citizens of The Bahamas to create a better understanding."
Mr Myers spoke out after Carl Bethel QC, the attorney general, suggested in the Senate on Monday night that the government was seeking to open the domestic, non-tourism sectors of the Bahamian economy within two to two-and-a-half months' time if the COVID-19 pandemic can be brought under control locally.
That would place The Bahamas on course for an early to mid-June partial opening at best should this timeline prove accurate and the COVID-19 fight prove successful. However, that is also likely to mean many more businesses who are unable to hang on and keep paying their staff, which in turn places a greater strain on National Insurance Board (NIB) benefits.
The Government is today supposed to launch its $60m tax deferral and credit initiative, which is targeted at providing payroll support to medium and large-sized businesses who meet the criteria, in an effort to save 10,000 jobs and keep them off the NIB queue. The details for the initiative have yet to be released by the Ministry of Finance.
While declining to comment directly on the timeline provided by Mr Bethel, Mr Myers yesterday said the Government also has yet to publicly release any further details on the economic advisory body unveiled by Dr Hubert Minnis as a forum that will plot The Bahamas' course to recovery.
"That sort of thing is as urgent as the health crisis," he said, "because that is going to cause two more crises - that's a financial crisis, and a social instability crisis. If we don't start planning for the inevitable we're going to have deeper problems.
"That's what I'd like to hear more about: When we're going to do what, and how we're going to get ourselves out of this thing. We all know we're in a hole, but what's the plan in terms of recovery, stimulus, and all those things - generating new foreign direct investment, stimulating foreign direct investment and local investment?
"I think the Prime Minister and the Government have to understand that the private sector and citizen sentiment is critical, and that that is going to be a product of their communication. That has to be a priority at some time. They're not just managing a health crisis," Mr Myers explained.
"Citizens want to know when they're getting back to work, as well as how much they're going to spend and how much they're going to save to deal with their situation. Beyond the shutdown the Government has to communicate what it sees, as are other governments. What will the timelines be?"
Mr Myers emphasised that none of what he said was trying to be "antagonistic" or controversial, but rather to ensure that the Government brought all stakeholders on board to ensure The Bahamas' economic revival was as rapid as possible post-COVID-19.
He added that the Government had all the necessary health, economic and financial data that the private sector and citizens do not have access to, and suggested that this should be released so that the private sector and individuals can chart their own recovery plans.
"They're [the Government] doing the best they can, but we're all sitting on pins and needles waiting to find out and figure out what's going on," Mr Myers told Tribune Business. ""They can probably do better by pulling in more people from the private sector to help them get through this. The rest of us are not in the know.
"We're not expecting them to get through it on their own. It's all our problem. It's not just the Government's. It belongs to all of us as Bahamian citizens. The Government needs to recognise it can pull on all these resources to come up with a game plan. We're all freaking out and on pins and needles trying to figure out what's going on.
"We need to pull on all the assets the country has to offer, get the smartest minds in the room and let's figure this out. We must understand what the timeline looks like? If Carl Bethel is talking an=bout details, let's hear all of it, get involved and collaborate."