IF there was any doubt about the economic mountain we have to climb to recover from COVID-19, the International Monetary Fund ought to have put paid to it yesterday.
The fund again cut its predictions for the Bahamian economy, and called us “one of the hardest hit countries in the Caribbean”.
That last part is perhaps no surprise given how heavily we lean on tourism, an industry that ground to a halt this year the world over.
But the recovery is not expected any time soon – with the IMF predicting only a two percent growth next year, and saying it would take four years to get back to where we started before the pandemic.
That will mean some tough questions ahead – not least of all about how we pay for the debts we are incurring now as the deficit balloons.
We have already seen the problems of a lack of income for the government and essential services, while at the same time officials paying out more to keep people going through unemployment and to pay for food parcels.
Less money in and more money out means the debt goes up – and that will have to be paid for at some point.
With a four-year recovery time predicted, and an election due in 2022, a large share of that will fall on the next government, whichever party forms that. There will be questions about increased taxes, payment of existing taxes that have gone unpaid, paying back student loans, and even the prospect of new taxes – such as an income tax. That’s a discussion which will cause a significant backlash, particularly among residents of richer communities.
We can’t pretend the economy is healthy, though. We know unemployment has soared – although the government has not provided exact numbers after postponing its unemployment survey. There has been talk of 40 percent unemployment, but we would not be surprised if it were more – or at least had been at some stage of the pandemic.
The glimmer of light is that hotels are starting to reopen, and businesses are starting to take workers back on after their extended furlough. We shouldn’t focus on the glimmer and neglect the storm cloud, but any ray of sun is welcome after so long.
Every election is about the economy – but the 2022 vote will focus on that more so than ever. The winner will have a great burden to carry thanks to COVID-19 – so a clear plan will be more crucial than ever before.
Not just for the electorate, not just for the nation’s funds, but also so international organisations can see we are moving in the right direction. We really have no choice but to get it right – even if that means asking the toughest questions.
Vaccines for all
At last, vaccinations are about to begin – but not for The Bahamas. Not yet.
Indeed, while the United Kingdom is the first out of the gate with offering vaccinations, The Bahamas will have to wait until Spring.
It’s going to be very hard indeed watching as we see other countries around the world getting their jabs while we sit and wait.
It could be even worse too – if we start to see exorbitant prices being charged here for early access to the vaccine for the rich and well-connected.
We hope the roll-out is not uneven, and that a clear plan is in place for distributing the vaccine. We would suggest, in fact, that we’ve known all along who should get the vaccine first. It’s those on the list of essential workers – the healthcare workers, the supermarket staff, the gas station attendants… all the people who have kept us going while we’ve been waiting indoors. That’s who should get it first, not those of us who can wait a while longer indoors until more supplies are available, and not those who can jump the queue with a wave of the chequebook.