A Bahamian financial provider has praised the government for rejecting new or increased taxes in the 2020-2021 budget, branding its fiscal strategy as “very bold, creative, inclusive and collaborative”.
Robert Pantry, pictured, Simplified Lending’s chief executive, also backed the decision not to cut civil service jobs or payroll given the expanding 30 percent-plus unemployment rate stemming from the COVID-19 shutdown.
“I think not increasing taxes at this time is a very good move, which helps both individuals and business,” the 20-year financial services veteran said. “No public lay-offs was also a good move, and the fact that the government is leading by example relative to finding creative ways and areas to cut expenses, including suspension of non-essential travel, is also good.”
Mr Pantry, whose Simplified Lending business was one of government’s partners in the Business Continuity Loan initiative, providing low-interest loans and grants to keep small to mid-size businesses afloat, also praised the government’s expanded education funding together with the proposed two-week “VAT holiday” for back-to-school supplies. Scholarship funding increases for University of The Bahamas and BTVI were also unveiled.
“Those measures demonstrate the focus on education, which will be a key driver for the country’s long- term growth,” he added. “The government could have easily gone a different direction and pulled back on that to save money, but instead chose to focus on the future and I give them high marks for that.”
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, had described the budget as unlike any The Bahamas has seen before. This, he said, was “fittingly so, because the past 12-months have been unlike anything the country has ever experienced”.
He set out the 2020-2021 Budget’s five goals as protection for the health and safety of citizens; providing adequate social support to vulnerable persons; economic stabilisation; sustaining employment; and accelerating government reforms.
Mr Pantry also noted the introduction of customised vehicle licence plates that will sell for $200 per set, adding: “While it is small, it speaks to the government thinking outside of the box.”
“On the expense side, I think working with the unions to pause salary increases is an excellent move. The trade-off between not laying off and pausing salary increase is good, and I like the fact that the government is engaging the unions who would be pleased about this,” Mr Pantry said.
“The deputy prime minister should be congratulated for his stance on not going back to business as usual, and the fact that the government showed this by pausing the fiscal deficit strategy to focus on stabilising the economy. Ordinarily, I am a big proponent of government deficit reduction but these are once-in-a-century events, and require a once-in-a-century response.”
Mr Pantry also praised the government for its focus on micro, small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs). “When the larger businesses could not respond to changes quickly, small and medium-sized businesses quickly adjusted and were innovative enough to go after opportunities which, by the way ,help to keep the unemployment numbers down and less pressure on NIB and social services,” he said.
“Everybody knew how important supporting MSMEs were before, but now we know it is critical that they are supported and prioritised. We are now looking to ramp up our own efforts to support MSMEs. Overall, I must commend the government for such a bold budget, and I think the focus is in the right place, which is economic stabilisation and people.”