By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government is being urged to “drive confidence” by using today’s 2020-2021 budget to show the private sector it will do whatever it takes to “undergird the economy” and prevent its collapse.
Jeffrey Beckles, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chief executive, told Tribune Business that the Minnis administration needs to use “the budget of all budgets in recent memory” to send the message that it has the business community’s back on the road to COVID-19 recovery.
“The budget is an exercise to demonstrate they’re going to boost confidence, drive confidence that the government is prepared to support the economy, support the business community, and make the decisions necessary to undergird the economy beyond the initial shock,” Mr Beckles said.
“We’ve been saying words after Dorian such as sustainability and resiliency. This Budget had to do just that; help us become more resilient. The expectations are high, naturally so, because we’ve never been a crisis before with this much at stake. The expectations are that the government will invest in initiatives to undergird the economy, provide support to businesses, ensure the MSME community is provided with funding.”
Mr Beckles added that The Bahamas “has a tremendous opportunity since the vast majority of our islands our COVID-19 free” to promote itself as a COVID-19 free destination to a tourism market where there may be significant pent-up demand for vacations due to the worldwide lockdowns and restrictions implemented in recent months.
The Chamber chief spoke out as K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, admitted that the Bahamian economy and government finances were “in dire straits” as a result of COVID-19’s impact. Echoing Mr Beckles, he said the theme of today’s Budget is one focused on creating a “resilient Bahamas” and setting out a plan for the country’s restoration.
“We are not out of the emergency yet, and the new Budget represents our answer now to the difficult challenges we still face,” Mr Turnquest said in a statement. “I want to reiterate that we are going to provide an honest take on where we are as a country. There is no need to sugarcoat the situation because we all understand the dire straits we are in.
“The reassuring takeaway I want to leave with citizens and residents is that the Government is singularly focused on protecting families, communities and businesses, and stabilising our economy. We demonstrated these priorities in our immediate response, and if there are two words to define the Budget I will present tomorrow, they are ‘protect and stabilise’.
“The Budget will show our commitment to providing relief now by protecting citizens and residents who are suffering hardship and coping with many levels of uncertainty, and to stabilise the economy that is weakened but resilient,” the deputy prime minister added.
“Tomorrow I will present a plan for a resilient Bahamas. That is what the new Budget represents. In fact, that is what we call it: Resilient Bahamas: A plan for restoration. And I want Bahamians to remind each other we are all in this together.
“As we have proven in our proactive and focused response to our ongoing emergencies, our Budget priorities will reflect our values, and lay out a path for transforming this crisis into an opportunity for our future recovery.”