Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Cabinet ministers and private sector executives yesterday said the Bahamian economy had "dodged a bullet" after Hurricane Isaias inflicted minimal damages and loss on this nation.
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, told Tribune Business that the storm had "for sure given us quite a reprieve" with no indication yet that it will cause any adjustments to the Government's spending plans and allocations just one month into its 2020-2021 fiscal year.
He was echoed by Jeffrey Beckles, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation's (BCCEC) chief executive, who described the storm's outcome as "the gift of the year" given that the private sector and wider country had all been bracing for a major hit given initial projections of its path and intensity.
That collective assessment, though, occurred before the Prime Minister announced a new two-week national lockdown even tighter than the restrictions initially imposed in late March and early April in a bid to counter the second wave of COVID-19 infections now spreading rapidly through New Providence, Grand Bahama and multiple other islands (see other article on Page 1B).
Mr Turnquest acknowledged any further lockdown, which included "limitations on commerce", would have an impact on the Government's 2020-2021 fiscal forecasts although he suggested this would be limited given that the Ministry of Finance had already budgeted to earn minimal revenues through the period to November as a result of the ongoing tourism shutdown.
However, the deputy prime minister voiced gratitude that Isaias had not added to The Bahamas' already-deepening economic and fiscal woes. "For sure, absolutely for sure. I would say that's a good description of it, yes," Mr Turnquest replied when presented with the "dodged a bullet" analogy.
"We are certainly very grateful and thankful for the storm having not matched the intensity that had initially been projected and then basically shifting west of us, which gave us quite a bit of reprieve. To the extent we have not suffered any further damage from a capital expenditure point of view will help us to track and maintain our commitments in this period when we anticipate some level of business will start to come back."
Asked whether Isaias will likely force the Government to adjust its spending plans, Mr Turnquest said: "Nothing has happened of significance that has been brought to our attention to-date. We will have to see over the next week as the various teams go out and assess, but nothing of significance has come to my attention over the last day."
He added that the temporary High Rock clinic, which was a tent facility, had been torn down and would have to be replaced, while a coastal road in his east Grand Bahama constituency had been washed away in the absence of protection from a sea wall. And Mr Turnquest acknowledged it was "worrisome" that The Bahamas still has the peak of hurricane season lying ahead of it.
Carey Leonard, the Freeport-based Callenders & Co attorney, told Tribune Business that Isaias would have "done in completely" the island's already-fragile economy if it had struck as a major storm.
"I think we've dodged a bullet," he said. "We've been extremely lucky. We've taken Dorian and now had a double COVID-19 hit, and then this hurricane. We've been really fortunate to get away with what we did. We couldn't have taken a hurricane. I really think that would have done us in completely.
"It was absolutely critical we didn't get it. The financial resources aren't there. Most people spent their money after Dorian, and then could not earn any money because of COVID-19. Then, just as things started to get going, they were shut down again. After the hurricane they just didn't have any more money for it."
Mr Leonard, though, said he "shuddered to think" about the effect Isaias' rainfall may have had on the numerous homes and businesses whose roofs were still covered by blue tarpaulin as a result of Hurricane Dorian damage.
He was echoed by Greg Laroda, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce's president, who said: "This was a big relief. We really didn't need any major damage at this time. I think we dodged a bullet and are pretty grateful for that.
"A lot of us would not have been able to come back from that if we had major damage.... We were in bad shape prior to Isaias, and we are still in bad shape. A lot of folks are on their last legs in terms of being financially able to recover, so that would have been a crippling blow."