THE announcement of extra borrowing by the government – to the tune of $587.9m – will, no doubt, bring a sharp intake of breath from many.
It is a huge extra amount – the budget target was borrowing of $137m, itself a sizeable sum. But then, of course, that target was blown away by Hurricane Dorian.
This borrowing then comes as a very expensive plaster to cover up the wound carved in our nation’s skin by that storm.
It will pay for repairs, certainly, but it will also cover lost revenue from the businesses out of action on Abaco and Grand Bahama. Every day businesses are closed down is a day of no VAT, a day of no business licence renewals, a day of no Customs payments for imports – and that’s not even taking into account a shortage of NIB payments with workers laid off either temporarily or permanently.
We all understand the impact Hurricane Dorian had on our country and, by extension, our country’s finances. And while we appreciate Finance Minister Peter Turnquest saying that this borrowing “will not be used as a pretext to go on unnecessary spending binges”, there is one question that this leads to. It is this: What’s next?
Heaven forbid another storm hits us next season, or the season after that – but where do we stand if one does? This borrowing patches us up to get us back to where we were before, but we talk often about the threat to our nation from climate change so how do we plan for the financial impact on our nation to go along with the physical impact?
Last November, we published a report on research that showed that most of Grand Bahama, Abaco and Spanish Wells could be under flood levels by 2050 because of climate change. That seems far away, but it’s the same distance in time from us now as 1990.
In November, a Bahamian expert, Dr Adelle Thomas, warned that “we cannot continue with a business as usual approach” and yet here we are, with extra borrowing that only gets us back to “as usual”.
Reconstruction needs to go hand in hand with rethinking – whether the designs of our buildings should change, whether we should be zoning some areas as flood zones, whether some parts of our islands are so vulnerable that relocation is the best option.
The researchers who predicted the possible effects of climate change, Climate Central, warned that residents of small island states – that’s us – “could face particularly devastating losses”.
It’s not as if the concern isn’t known by our leaders, either – last September, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis asked at the UN: “How will we continue to exist?”
So as we assess the money being borrowed to cover the costs of Hurricane Dorian, we must be aware that it is a drop in the ocean that threatens to swallow us.
Our future depends on a plan and a prayer – a plan for how to deal with the likelihood of future storms and rising waters, and a prayer that we might be spared the worst.
Never mind the astronomical cost of dealing with Dorian, what will be the cost if we don’t plan to deal with what is still to come?
Did the Earth move for you too?
The Earth may not have shaken, rattled or rolled too much here in The Bahamas – though sufficient for government workers to get the rest of the day off – but the earthquake that took place off the coast of Jamaica has pricked up the Prime Minister’s ears.
Our building codes might need attention! So he declared yesterday in the wake of a quake that barely trembled the windows here.
Fine enough, Dr Minnis, where do we start? Which of the many government buildings in disrepair is up to earthquake code? I mean, we can understand the Churchill Building having a bit of a tremble – it does that when a lorry passes. Or in a strong breeze.
We suspect this lies in the category of looking busy until everyone forgets and moves on – but goodness, if The Bahamas has to replace all the buildings that aren’t earthquake compliant too, the bill from Dorian is going to look tiny by comparison.
As it is, as many of us didn’t feel a tremble, this is one disaster we probably don’t need to panic about just yet.