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'Economic Implosion' Fear If Lockdown Not Relaxed

photo

Stephen Wrinkle

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas faces “an economic implosion” within weeks unless the government relaxes the COVID-19 lockdown for domestic industries, an ex-Contractors Association chief warned yesterday.

Stephen Wrinkle told Tribune Business that The Bahamas “doesn’t have the luxury” to remain under current pandemic conditions much longer given that the private sector, employees and households are “in dire straits”.

Speaking before it was last night revealed that New Providence produced a daily record of 51 new COVID-19 cases, the former Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) president urged the government to re-open all that remains of the domestic economy between 9am to 5pm daily otherwise “we won’t get it back”.

Pointing out that The Bahamas is likely approaching an unprecedented 50 percent unemployment rate, and with more than one in four Bahamians now requiring food assistance, Mr Wrinkle argued that the country can ill-afford to shut down for much longer as he called for the development of health and safety protocols that will allow all businesses to function safely with COVID-19.

While construction has been permitted to operate largely as normal, he said the supply chain disruption created by the restrictions imposed on hardware stores was impacting the cost and completion of his firm’s “several million dollars” joint venture with New Providence Development Company near the island’s western end.

The project, which involves construction of a storage warehouse and commerce park targeted at small and medium-sized businesses, has seen its completion date pushed back from summer 2020 to Christmas due to the delays caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns and associated restrictions.

Speaking from personal experience, Mr Wrinkle said “it can take several hours to get a couple of two by four’s (lumber) and some screws” from hardware stores as they are currently limited by the Government’s emergency powers order to curb side and pick-up service.

Besides the inefficiency and delay that contractors endure in obtaining building materials, he added that “more and more” hardware stores were likely to simply close down for the lockdown’s duration because the costs and logistical difficulties associated with providing such services outweighed the much-reduced revenue coming in.

Mr Wrinkle also revealed that the international supply chain has not been spared, as the time taken for building materials to be shipped directly from the US had increased at least four-fold, with product that usually took two to three weeks to arrive now taking eight to 16 weeks.

“Personally I would suggest that they open everything up from 9am to 5pm, and lockdown at 7pm at night,” he told this newspaper of the present COVID-19 restrictions. “This economy has got to be restarted. If we let this go on much longer there will be catastrophic repercussions in the private sector, make no mistake about it.

“We’re at a question of weeks before this economy collapses, implodes, and once that happens we cannot get it back. The sacrifice we’re making is minimal for the benefit. You cannot penalise a whole country for the problems a few have caused.

“We’re just not in that position. We don’t have that luxury. We certainly don’t have it any longer. We may have had it a few months ago, but people are now in dire straits.” Mr Wrinkle’s comment of “a few” refers to the Bahamians who travelled abroad to COVID-19 hot spots once the borders opened on July 1 and, aided by ill thought-out government restrictions, triggered the latest surge by bringing the virus home.

The Government, though, has always prioritised saving lives amid this pandemic. Its actions have always been driven by the underlying twin fears that the Bahamian population, with its prevalence of underlying non-communicable diseases, is especially vulnerable to COVID-19 while the already-weak public healthcare sector is simply unable to cope with a major surge in cases.

However, Mr Wrinkle argued: “I cannot fathom that the Government can’t comprehend the severity of this lockdown and the lag on economic impetus. It’s a high-risk game they’re playing.....

“It’s going to be a slow haul climbing out, and the longer you’ve locked down the local economy the longer it will take to rebuild. That’s the foundation we need for export growth. We need to get the local economy moving, because they’re talking about one in four people receiving food assistance and unemployment potentially being at 50 percent.

“I don’t see where the Government is cognisant of this in implementing protocols for the local economy. I don’t know where they’re getting their advice and information from. I just think the protocols could be put in place where the local economy could be reopened,” he continued.

“That’s a very important measure progress for the Government and the private sector. People go to work, don’t stay at home, get a pay cheque and the wheels begin to turn. That’s the start of recovery. Nobody’s going to come through and dump $100m in our lap. We have to stand on our own two feet. I hope they consider that very carefully before they extend the lockdown.”

Mr Wrinkle then backed Brent Burrows, CBS Bahamas general manager, in confirming the difficulties all retailers face in performing curb side and pick up services for clients. The ex-BCA chief said staff were constantly scurrying between customer vehicles and store, and having to take products back if they were incorrect.

“If the screws are the wrong size and they [staff] have to go back, they have 20 to 30 cars behind you to deal with,” he explained. “If they have written it up, they have to change it and do a credit. It’s not workable. The Competent Authority should be made aware by the large suppliers that it’s not workable.

“When you have 50,000 SKUs (stock keeping units) and are holding up 30 cars for $50 of stuff, it’s a big problem. It’s untenable. Realistically, it’s untenable. I think they really need to have another look at this lockdown situation they’ve put in place because I think it might be doing more harm than good on COVID containment. You’re backing people up and making them run around to get things.”

Turning to the impact on his firm’s current project, which is located near Mount Pleasant Village, Mr Wrinkle added: “We have trucks on the road every day getting a minimal amount of materials, and it’s unproductive time. We’ve suffered setbacks, and that’s going to have cost implications for the project.

“We also have materials backed up from US delays. When we used to have as two-three week delivery wait, we’re now up to an eight to 16-week wait. It’s a trickle down effect that is having serious repercussions on us because we’re low on the totem pole.

“We’re working the numbers now. We were going to be open in early summer and now we’re looking at Christmas.” Mr Wrinkle explained that the delay meant the project would be unable to lease storage space in the warehouse to business tenants this summer as planned, impacting both himself and potential clients.

The 100,000 square feet of buildings, which are set in several acres, are designed to meet demand for office and storage space in western New Providence as business and commerce expands in that area. The project, which has been underway for a year, employs around 40-50 construction, but Mr Wrinkle said he was unsure how COVID-19 will impact its prospects once completed.

Comments

ThisIsOurs 8 months ago

Good points but 7pm lockdown is crazy for people with office jobs. It may work for Mr Wrinkle because he either has helpers to run errands for him or he has the flexibility to leave the construction site if he has some personal errands to run.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

This has been an interesting series: Neil Hartnell interviews every rich white businessman in the country to hear them cry in their beer about how tough their lives are right now.

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Proguing 8 months ago

What happened to the weekly rant by the potcake?

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

I understand why people may seem to think that there is some underlying racial motive here, but think about this in a practical sense : Our conchy joe businessmen are the pulse of our Bahamian economy. They are a good barometer for what the current economic situation may be.

I would encourage the historically inclined readers on this forum to brush up on the history of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Sir Pindling idolized Mugabe so much that our nation faces/will face many of the very same issues that Mugabe's did/currently does.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

Bad analysis ... Zimbabwe’s economy was not rooted in tourism, which can bounce back quickly. Zimbabwe was an agrarian economy that was destroyed by Mugabe’s land redistribution policies (and rampant kleptomania).

Some of us can actually read a history book.

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

I meant in other ways.

1.) Hyperinflation is a very real threat if the dollar devalues. 2.) Most of the conchy joe businessmen have the capability to flee the country if things do indeed go south. If we lose them, say goodbye to massive amounts of capital that can be used to patch up the economy. 3.) Massive fiscal waste in the educational sector sponsoring studies abroad, only for Bahamian graduates to never return and live their life abroad, has lead to a brain drain of bright, young Bahamians. The clown show of politicians that we have today will be a joke to the ones that are coming up for the future (none). 4.) Crime and lawlessness will run rampant as the economic situation worsens. No foreign investor wants to inject apital into a lawless country, neither will any tourist want to visit.

It is not a carbon copy example, but I do see some similarities between the two.

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

I would also argue that we have no room to talk about kleptomania given the cadre of politicians that have had running the country for 50+ years.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

Bad as they may be, Mugabe makes our kleptos look like pikers.

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

At one point in time I would agree with you, but nowadays, I don't know lol. Far too many of them would sell their soul for a quick buck, makes me scared what they would do to people like me and you.

The land distribution thing probably isn't too far off either, in all honesty. All we need is some of those socialist wackjobs from the USA to start spreading their ideology here (it will eventually happen), and I can easily see many gullible Bahamians voting for some free land in Lyford Cay or Albany that they will never get. We already do the same thing now for some fried chicken, rum, and a hundred dollars in a hat.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

Agree with you on the criminal vote-buying ... but the USA is about as far away from socialism as you will find anywhere on the planet, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

... or Switzerland. My bad.

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

It is not a socialist country yet, but the progressive wing of the Democratic party is sure working its hardest to drastically transform it into one. November will be very telling for the future of the United States.

A few of these "progressive" (regressive) thinkers will eventually pop up here in the Bahamas. When the USA sneezes, the Bahamas catches a cold.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

Yes, yes, we’ve been hearing that the U.S. is just a tick away from socialism ... for about 130 years now. Gawd, I fear you read even fewer history books than Mr. Trump. 🤣🤣😎

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

There is no need to be snarky, we are all concerned with the future holds.

Do you think that history would have been different if Debs would have had the power of modern media back in his day? With the power of television, the internet, and modern social media, things are a lot different than they were 100 years ago. Yes, socialism is nothing new in the United States, but the way it is being received certainly is. There is no longer a Soviet Union to use for a Red Scare, and many indebted young people are looking for a quick and easy bailout of their financial problems. You surely must admit that the power of this ideology will only grow in the future.

How many people do you think would have labeled themselves as "democratic socialists" 10 years ago? The world has changed a lot lately.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

Eugene V. Debs’ opponents would have had access to that same vast media, so I don’t think the outcome would have been any different.

As you may have inferred, I have lived in both the U.S. and the Bahamas — I also lived/worked in Moscow for a time in the early ‘90s, and having seen “socialism” first-hand, I will confess that I get a little snarky when folks start wailing about the U.S. turning to “socialism.” Not. Even. Close.

Remember, the same arguments were made about “socialism” when vital programs like Social Security and Medicare were introduced in the U.S. Now, even conservatives fight to protect those important programs.

Screeching about “socialized medicine” has impinged many efforts to reform the U.S. health care system, which is burdened by horrendous costs and ridiculously high insurance rates. So, yeah ... I can get a little snarky when folks start ranting about “socialism.” Mea culpa.

But it is good to debate somebody here who has active brain cells ... wish we could gather over beers.

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

Its no problem, politics can be a hot topic. I wish we could meet up as well, this lockdown is starting to make me a bit itchy lol. Hopefully these cases drop off soon...

I understand your position fully, I am not one of those people that think social welfare programs are equal to full on socialism. The US is a long ways off from being a socialist nation in the vain of the USSR with state appointed housing, employment, secret police, etc.

I agree that the GOP has needed to evolve its position on healthcare reform for quite some time now, the medical industry in the United States loves to profiteer off of the backs of the sick and needy. Not sure the best way to go about doing it though. A Canadian style single-payer system would not work too well in the United States in my opinion, each state would have vastly different levels of healthcare quality. The issues in the Maritimes would probably be a joke compared to the quality of services that would be found in the poorest US states. Something certainly has to be done though...

I think that this century will repeat the last one in that we will see a rise in extremism from both the left and right in the coming years. The tension in the US is the highest that I ever recall it being in recent years, and difficult economic times combined with flaring cultural issues usually leads to the birth of radicalism on both sides of the spectrum. Way too many young people are in astronomically high levels of debt, and things will take a little bit to turn out brighter for them. Hopefully they keep a level head on.

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truetruebahamian 8 months ago

Clamshell - a racist pessimist?

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Jetflt 8 months ago

Clamshell.......you just don’t get it. This isn’t the US where the government is sending you a $600 stimulus check once a week on top of the unemployment insurance you can collect. Keep the economy shutdown in the Bahamas much longer and you’ll see what happens. The rich won’t be hurting but everyone else will. You can bank on it!

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Clamshell 8 months ago

Maybe I was unclear, and if so I apologize ... it just seems that Mr. Hartnell seems somewhat selective about which Bahamians he interviews about the Covid economic impact.

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

This is my point exactly : You cannot lock the country down unless you are going so subsidize your population with a Bahamian style CERB, which we cannot do due to economic constraints.

Bills do not suddenly disappear just because the country is locked down, and there are now no employment prospects for the vast majority of Bahamians thanks to the economic destruction wrought by these restrictive measures. I hope that Bahamians are prepared for 10-20 years of economic hard times, because that is currently what we have on the table.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

As my neighbor put it, “I’d rather be broke than dead. I been broke lotsa times, but dead is hard to fix.”

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FrustratedBusinessman 8 months ago

I understand you, but I won't lie when I say that the future of this country frightens me. The kind of poverty that Bahamians are going to have endure in the near future has not been seen for generations.

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Clamshell 8 months ago

I’m guessing you’re not from the Out Islands ... I agree with your fears for the nation in many ways, but the problems I fear run far deeper than temporary pandemic restrictions. And, by the way, this is a GLOBAL pandemic — it’s not impacting just the Bahamas.

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rodentos 8 months ago

I'll be rather dead than broke

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Clamshell 8 months ago

... be careful what ya wish for.

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rodentos 8 months ago

it collapsed already... could not get any quickrete last week after standing 2 hours in the line. what is this

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ohdrap4 8 months ago

They are hinting of a lockdown where foodstores and pharmacies are completely closed.

And mentioned it again this afternoon.

According to them you all going to the foodstore to socialize.

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trueBahamian 8 months ago

This current situation is a complex one. The government is trying to balance the medical vs. the economic picture. A lot countries are struggling with this. We can't afford a total destruction of the economy. But, at the same time a continual rise in the infection rate will not help us economically either. The biggest issue in this pandemic besides Covid-19 itself is non-compliance. If people complied we could take the risk. But, people don't come. Them those same people complain about the situation. The government is forced to take a decision based on the actions of the idiots in the country. Bad individual decisions led to the spike. The government in it's reopening for travel added to it. If we open now the numbers will climb because some people don't listen. Sick people can't work. Businesses with sick staff have to close because other staff may have been infected. So let's say you shutdown for two weeks. Someone else gets sick, you restart that 2 week business shutdown. If the countries numbers keep increasing we get musical chairs with business shutting down for a couple of weeks because someone is infected. I don't think this works economically either. Seems worse than simply shutting down, addressing the issue and opening when we're better.

I would like the country to get back to normal soon, but unfortunately a bunch of idiots are going to plan a party and share the Covid-19 love which leads to us battling a lockdown.

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ThisIsOurs 8 months ago

I don't think it's because people cant follow rules. I think the virus is doing what it does.. moving. I think the failure is in the govt to get ahead of it. Waiting on 3 week old data to take action. When we see the COVID dashboard it's old data but Dr McMillian making conclusions about a 40% decline a week ago, this week it's a 40% increase, it make a no logical analytical sense. How can you make z conckusion on incomplete data without even acknowledging what percentage of the results are yet to come in? If they had done what they should of, testing and removing the infected we wouldn't be here.

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trueBahamian 8 months ago

Late data is definitely a major issue. Listening to US news it appears that they have some similar issues. So, it's struggle. It's time for them to listen to suggestions and work on a better strategy.

While we tackle the medical.side, I'm just pissed at the joke of a committee called the economic recovery committee. Such a waste of time. Such colossal incompetence. I can't believe some of the supposed intellectuals sitting on that committee is allowing their faces to be associated with it. As a buddy pointed out to me, the sitting Central Bank Governor should not be sitting on this committee. It's a conflict. I wonder if he really believes that this dumb idea that is circulating is a smart one. If we will.lose let's say more than 1.5 billion in tourism revenue and someone shows up I believe if two guys and a monkey.arrive here and pay us in bananas we can cover our shortfall. That's how I see the statement from the Financial Secretary. We're in so much trouble.

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DDK 8 months ago

TOTALLY concur with Mr. Wrinkle. Anyone in business who had been going through the ridiculous frustrations and time and money stealing constraints imposed by a few so-called medical experts and the largely ignorant and self--important politicians would agree. Others should go into self-imposed exile on the grounds of aiding and abetting the death of our Country.

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Entrepreneur 8 months ago

Narrowing the lockdown to latte afternoon and only 3 days for groceries is probably counter productive in 2 clear ways: -

    • it creates crowding at the groceries thereby increasing transmission
    • shortening the days has the same effect in a more limited sense by compressing what time we can be out.

Clearly the increase in numbers over the 2nd week of lockdown indicates that way this lockdown has been done may have been counter-productive.

Would it not be better to open more widely so as to disperse crowding which is better for business also, but ensure it is mandatory to wear masks in any store or business, and clamp down on the partying and lack of social distancing!

Some business activity and being a bit of a hermit while wearing a mask are not incompatible if done correctly while regrettably still making sure bars and other crowded evening entertainment centers and so forth, sadly, can not operate.

Just my 2 cents...

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rodentos 8 months ago

obvious! lock down is a forced inefficiency! nobody ever solved a problem by being ineffcient! these morons should better study some basic economics

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