By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government will have to “trim our sails one one more time” and reallocate spending to deal with the potential damage and fall-out from Isaias, the deputy prime minister said last night.
K Peter Turnquest told Tribune Business that the Minnis administration would yet again adjust its spending priorities to cope with the predicted hurricane’s impact which seems likely to spare almost no island in The Bahamas’ chain based on its projected path last night.
Acknowledging that the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions would minimise the revenue losses for both private sector and the government, given that tourism is virtually shutdown at this time, Mr Turnquest said the potential category one hurricane’s emergence represented a “potentially significant setback” for Grand Bahama, in particular, in its post-Dorian recovery.
With the entire Bahamas “watching with bated breath”, the deputy prime minister added that Isaias had created a further dilemma for the government in its bid to contain the latest COVID-19 surge. While residents and businesses now needed to stock up on hurricane supplies and materials, this risked a further spike in the already exploding infection rate that saw 24 new cases yesterday.
“The intensity of the storm is what is going to make the difference,” Mr Turnquest said. “We know even a category one storm going over some part of New Providence is going to cause tremendous issues with respect to flooding and some of the structures that have not kept up with The Bahamas Building Code, so that’s a significant concern as is Grand Bahama.
“They have a lot of weakened structures, a lot of debris that is still lying around, and [Dorian] restoration efforts were only just getting to the point where we can start to see the way forward. It’s obviously a significant potential setback. We’re sitting here with bated breath hoping something changes its trajectory either further east or west. It’s a matter of hoping for the best.
“There’s not much we can do about it obviously other than do what we can to protect life and property. The insurance coverage is in place so we’ll see what happens.” The reference to insurance alludes to the Government’s policy with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Fund (CCRIF), from which it received around $12m for Hurricane Dorian.
“We’ve had a series of terrible circumstances with Dorian, going into a pandemic and now another storm,” Mr Turnquest added. “The pandemic has not only caused us tremendous cost and lost productivity, but also hampered some of the ability and effort with the recovery from Dorian.”
While the COVID-19 restrictions and tourism shutdown will minimise any revenue-related losses from Isaias, the deputy prime minister predicted that the main impact would be felt on the $1.3bn deficit Budget’s spending side should the storm significantly damage public infrastructure and create further economic dislocation.
“We are finalising our funding efforts or provisions, so we should have funding available, but it would mean we have to reallocate expenditure again,” he told Tribune Business. “Again, in any Budget, there are needs and then there are critical needs.
“While we certainly have some commitments and priority programmes we’d like to do, we have to bear in mind that, unfortunately again, if it comes to that we’ll have to trim our sales one more time. This is the last thing we need, and we will have to deal with the consequences.”
Jeffrey Beckles, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chief executive, told Tribune Business that Isaias’ projected Category One winds of 64 miles per hour or greater were “still significant in an already-weakened economy that is as fragile as ours”.
He added: “We’ve been told that hurricanes will become more fierce and more frequent, and that is the environment we have to live in. As much as we talk about a new normal with COVID-19, we have a new climate environment which suggests we have to be more nimble and more attuned to the impact of climate change because we’re going to live with these storms more frequently. That’s the new environment we’re in.”