By Malcolm Strachan
LAST week’s announcement of deals in Abaco and Grand Bahama by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis may have provided residents there hope after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian. Surely some comfort was provided by the prime minister’s announcement of the signing of a Heads of Agreement for a $580m resort and marina development on South Abaco. This, along with the signing of the long-awaited Heads of Agreement for the sale of the Grand Lucayan offer reassurance our second and third economies will be rebuilt in the hopefully not too distant future.
Notwithstanding the absence of definitive timelines, residents can look forward to thousands of jobs being available once these projects are underway. In addition to $2.2m in funding approved for Abaco and Grand Bahama, the government has kicked off the year the right way – with a focus on rebooting these economies.
As for when these projects will manifest into real jobs for Bahamians, based on the prime minister’s bold proclamation of slashing unemployment to six percent by the end of 2021, we can assume that between now and the end of next year there will be a lot of movement taking place on that front. Indications made by Prime Minister Minnis imply that much is in store.
“What we see on the ground in both Abaco and Grand Bahama and what is happening in terms of rebuilding, I think our unemployment rate would come down dramatically,” he said. “No politicians like to make such statements, but I can make a bold statement and state that by the end of 2021, the unemployment rate I’m certain will be around six percent or less.”
Many have scoffed at the idea that unemployment, 9.5 percent before Hurricane Dorian, could drop so far, and one must wonder if this display by our prime minister is too huge a gamble. With 2022 right around the corner, Prime Minister Minnis is essentially betting on himself. And as farfetched as such a dramatic decrease in the unemployment rate may seem, would that be enough to secure an election victory?
It is quite possible. However, is it doable?
Opposition leader Philip “Brave” Davis made no bones about betting against the prime minister in this regard. When given the opportunity to comment on the prime minister’s announcement, Davis had some questions of his own.
“Who listens to the Prime Minister?” he asked. “Just think about what he has said, look at where unemployment is at this time, look at how the economies of Grand Bahama and Abaco have been sidelined and look at how the economy is today.
“Where in the world could you expect such a drastic reduction to unemployment to six percent within the next several months as he’s putting it?”
Definitely, what has been announced thus far certainly doesn’t amount to a dent in our unemployment woes. On top of that, factoring in the thousands of young people who will be looking for jobs after graduations this year and in 2021 and it sounds a tough bet.
What is most likely the case is the government must have more announcements to make and this past week was just the tip of the iceberg. Simply put, there is no possible way the prime minister could realistically think employment will decrease to six percent by the end of 2021 without massive wheeling and dealing being done on the government’s part.
And if that is the case, how much of an impact will it make heading into an election year?
If we are listening to our guts, it makes a lot of sense that this is what is at play. Prime Minister Minnis’ brassy declaration and recommitment to government communications may not have come at a better time. Still, we have seen this movie before – strategies that can otherwise be effective but falling short of successful implementation.
Prime Minister Minnis’ must know how pivotal this time is and the opportunity that lies before him and his administration – as much of a gamble as it is. It is certainly a “go big or go home” mentality on display. And why not? With the government falling out of favour with so many Bahamians over the course of the first half of its term, a radical approach would have to be taken to regain their support.
The truth of the matter is that everyone loves a good story where the unlikely hero saves the day.
As much as Dr Minnis was thought to be a longshot at ever becoming prime minister, he outlasted those within his party trying to remove him. And although, the election was a referendum on Perry Christie’s leadership, many Bahamians were confident in Minnis to be an agent of change.
Now, as we sit two and a half years out from the next election, is the prime minister trying to create pressure on himself to deliver what would be his greatest accomplishment, or that of any other prime minister?
It won’t take us long to find out. And for Minnis and the entire FNM’s sake, we hope our gut is right.
With the stakes this high, he has to know what he’s doing by making such a promise to the many Abaconians and Grand Bahamians who’ve already lost so much.