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Bahamas Faces 'Now Or Fail' Predicament

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Marlon Johnson

* Recovery proposals no single-shot cure

* Aim to 'accelerate' post-COVID rebound

* Execution and political will deemed 'key'

Pics of Marlon Johnson, Robert Myers and Branville McCartney

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Economic Recovery Committee's (ERC) co-chair yesterday said none of its proposals will cure The Bahamas' ills by themselves, amid warnings that the country must "reform now or fail".

Marlon Johnson told Tribune Business that the recommendations set out in the committee's 63-page executive summary, which was released yesterday, were not intended to be a panacea or magic bullet that solves the country's current and post-COVID-19 challenges.

Acknowledging that this was "absolutely clear cut", he instead said the proposals will help "accelerate" The Bahamas' economic recovery from COVID-19 even if just some are fully implemented by the Government.

The Committee's report, which was tabled in the House of Assembly, contains no revolutionary game changers or so-called 'home runs' that can instantly turn around the Bahamian economy in the short-term.

Many of its proposals are ideas that have been suggested, arisen and debated in the past - sometimes over decades. A variety of political observers yesterday argued that the key lies in the 'how to' - namely whether the Government has the execution ability and political will to properly follow through and implement them.

"We have got a number of really good ideas put forward to the Committee, but there is no one single thing this or any government can do to emerge from this," Mr Johnson told this newspaper.

He described the Committee's work, and that of its sub-committees, as being "what are the kinds of things that can make us accelerate faster in terms of recovery?" Echoing Dr Hubert Minnis, who yesterday said Bahamians "must prepare ourselves for the reality" that previously-record tourism numbers will not return for some time, Mr Johnson said the post-COVID recovery will likely take years.

"It's important to temper people's expectations because the recovery will take some time," he added. "Every international institution, every commentator has been clear on that. We cannot get back to pre-COVID times in a matter of months.

"It will take years, but imagine doing so in a way that's more resilient, more dynamic and more viable. We see this as an opportunity to do some things that have been deferred for some time, and others we can do differently."

Mr Johnson conceded that proper implementation of the Committee's proposals is now critical, and added: "We have been very clear to the Government that the key to the success of any of the recommendations will be the executing capacity.

"As far as political will, our job was to supply the recommendations. There is only one Government of The Bahamas at any one time, and they have to take the recommendations and see how they fit with their policy priorities and what they deem to be the most critical."

The Prime Minister yesterday conceded the importance of execution, and how the Government and wider Bahamas has lacked in this area for some time, disclosing that a "unit" will be formed with responsibility for overseeing implementation of the recommendations.

The proposals were unveiled as some observers suggested that The Bahamas was now in a "do or die" position when it came to transforming its economy and rebounding from COVID-19, as the changes wrought by the pandemic mean it will never have a better opportunity to reform.

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Robert Myers

"It's not now or never; it's now or failure," Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business. "It's that black and white. We always had the headroom before. Now we have no headroom, so it's do it or fail.

"We're teetering on the edge of fiscal destabilisation, in my view, so getting the economy moving, and foreign direct investment and US dollars into the system are absolutely critical at this point. Everyone knows we're in a very treacherous position, so I think this administration and, quite frankly, the Opposition know we're on that precipice and inaction will result in failure.

"Let's hope they move rapidly. That's the only answer. We've got to get people back to work, the economy restarted. We have social and economic instability right now. We have got to get things moving."

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Branville McCartney

Branville McCartney, the former DNA leader and ex-Cabinet minister in the last Ingraham administration, also acknowledged the issues surrounding execution. "The ideas, you're right, have been there before," he said of the Committee's proposals.

"It's putting them into action and trying to make it work. I totally agree. Having the political will to execute upon it is a whole different story. We quite often fall short in that respect."

Dr Minnis yesterday said the Government had already rejected one of the Committee's immediate recommendations, which called for the elimination of the $500 Customs duty exemption threshold on goods brought back to the country by returning Bahamians and residents.

"Suspend the $500 personal border tax allowance for returning residents for a period of six months," then report had argued. "The border tax allowance of $500 per traveller encourages persons to travel and shop abroad. To discourage shopping trips and to promote domestic purchases, the allowance should be suspended for a period of six months."

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, said the committee had focused much of its immediate attention on speeding up the processing of construction permits plus domestic and foreign direct investment (FDI) applications.

It called for all existing building permit applications to be processed within 20 days, while the Prime Minister yesterday indicated that the Government had accepted the Committee's call for a restructuring of the investment approvals process by revealing that all projects valued at $10m or below will not be required to undergo the National Economic Council (NEC) process.

This was lower than the $20m threshold suggested by the Committee, which also urged the Government to "adjust the requirement for classification of a Bahamian owned business from 60 percent of common ownership to 50 percent of common ownership".

"This will allow Bahamians to have greater opportunities to access international capital and expertise for the full range of economic activities," it added. "Create a new statutory body called ‘Invest Bahamas’ to facilitate the investment process from conception to implementation. This new independent agency will include the BIA (Bahamas Investment Authority) as the promotional unit.

"A New Investment Area Units and Policy and Research Unit will be established for the collection and provision of insight from FDI statistics, and to produce the annual report. Invest Bahamas will increase the staff complement with more diverse staff as it relates to expertise.

"The focus of the projects approved under Invest Bahamas should be on high-tech (FinTech, Biotech, Distributed Ledger Technology), alternative/renewable energy and sustainability/ climate adaptability."

Comments

Clamshell 2 months, 3 weeks ago

If the only options are reform or fail, we’re screwed.

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happyfly 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Wouldnt it be nice if these clowns actually shared their ideas with the public rather than having this bizarre conversation about whether their (secret) ideas can work or not ? If the people in this country do not stand up and demand to be treated like grown-ups, we seriously are doomed for a long slow painful descent into the third world.

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MountainMan 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Where's the hope, just seems like a-pile-of-ticks.. With too much hot air.. Grandstanding... What are the ideas?

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tribanon 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Stupid people generally don't like to have their stupidity aired in public. This explains why Minnis gives as few lengthy press conferences as he possibly can. Minnis only wants to speak to the public when he's barking his orders and protocols that he will not allow to be questioned.

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Porcupine 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Branville said it right, "The ideas, you're right, have been there before," he said of the Committee's proposals. "It's putting them into action and trying to make it work. I totally agree. Having the political will to execute upon it is a whole different story. We quite often fall short in that respect." Yet, I would question the word "often". Perhaps better words would be "nearly always"

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Dawes 2 months, 3 weeks ago

All they appeared to have done is take all the ideas of the last 20 years that have never been acted upon and put them into one document. This document in turn will not be acted on except to be able to form a new committee for each idea which of course will be filled with the same old people who have not done anything to help this country. Then all that will happen is they will make plenty money and there will be no change. I am becoming more sure that we will have to collapse completely before we can rebuild better as our politicians have neither the brains or the will to do it themselves.

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Porcupine 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I tend to agree Dawes. And, the collapse has already begun

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Dawes 2 months, 3 weeks ago

What is the point of the ERC if Government can decide not to implement certain ideas. Surely if there is the an economic case for it then it should occur. As soon as Government starts to reject ones it is based on politics, which is exactly why we are in this position.

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GodSpeed 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This is an age where countries are printing money endlessly to kick the can down the road and the Bahamas can't do that so this country is finished. Within the next 25 years we'll be a UN colony.

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tribanon 2 months, 3 weeks ago

25 years my arse! Don't be so silly. Minnis is already negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party the terms and conditions of the agreement he will sign on behalf of his government and the bahamian people that will make the Bahamas a satellite police state of Communist China. LOL

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benniesun 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Any plans based on persons traveling here is not feasible for a few years. That leaves increased taxes on banking (which wont happen) and clawing back our natural resources (which also wont happen). Then there are the air space and shipping lane usage tariffs, which will take some time to implement if TPTB allow them.

Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that we have nothing to generate significant income under the present conditions.

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Anthonydupuch 2 months, 3 weeks ago

These political appointees are just going through the motions. None of these recommendations will make a significant difference in the short term Anthony Dupuch

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JokeyJack 2 months, 3 weeks ago

These lofty ideas have NO CHANCE of being implemented, let along achieve success, in a country in which the Speaker of the House of Assembly does not have a toilet, and cannot buy a set of refills for his stapler without permission from the Cabinet.

Our problems are NOT BIG. Our problems are a WHOLE BUNCH of small ones, which add up to disaster.

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John 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Is the Economic Recovery Committee the same as the FNM’s election machinery? ‘Oil dem up baby, time to roll into battle, soon!’ But on a less serious note: The government failed to realize this this covid-19 virus was a progressive event ( no pandemics due to viruses are not new its nature of their behavior are well documented). So when this government did the first set of lockdowns and were able to contain the virus and flatten the curve, they jumped in the air clicking their boots together and celebrating victory. And even more foolishly, they opened the borders and a second beaver washed in, destroying ALL the hard work and sacrifice and effort that went into beating and containing the first wave. Realistically, that time should have been spent preparing for the second wave. That was just a lull the eye of the storm passing and guess what? It caught this country less equipped and more ill prepared than the first one. Persons are literally dying on the doorsteps of the hospital, some are being sent home to die and the economy is in shambles. It doesn’t seem even a slight chance of schools reopening for face to face, at least until March of next year. But this government in its infinite wisdom, plans to swing the borders open again, in just a matter of days and invite in strangers from all aspects of the globe, under the guise of reopening tourism or restarting the economy. HAVE THEY FORGOTTEN ABOUT The THIRD WAVE? Unless it only involves locals, please rethink the startup of any economic activity, including wholesale tourism until, at least March of 2021. Put your hopes of a safe and effective vaccine even beyond then. ( one of the volunteers in the vaccine trials had died, but the the university responsible wowed to continue those trials. In short, the focus for the next six months should be keeping Bahamians alive and safe and keeping food on their tables. Stay in your homes for a while little longer and keep the doors of this country closed for just a while longer. Hide yourselves from the world for just a few more months, until this wrath has truly passed.

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benniesun 2 months, 3 weeks ago

@John - I have tried many times to impress on everyone that the pandemic will never be over; there will always be a mutation. Lockdowns are here to stay. Greater events are in play and this is just the beginning.

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John 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I don’t agree that lockdowns are here to stay or that covid-19 is here to stay.

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John 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The more important thing is to keep the population as a whole isolated from strangers, who may bring in other strains of the virus. Lockdowns, at this point, do not have to be intensified or made more stringent beyond the present weekend lockdowns. These are effective in that, by their very nature, they curb or prevent activities that may draw large crowds or induce the breaking of social distancing and orthe safety protocols.

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tribanon 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Right John.....and you also don't believe influenza is here to stay. Take your meds and get a grip on reality.

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sheeprunner12 2 months, 3 weeks ago

If there is NO real national strategy or solution to divesting the 80% of the population of the country off New Providence, then this country's development is really doomed.

Either develop the Family Islands OR re-settle the least populated islands (south of New Providence) and lease them to the highest bidder (USA, Israel or China) to develop .................(any other solutions?)

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bahamianson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

America wanted to buy us before, let them buy us now. Forget england, embrace America and let us become a state .

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tribanon 2 months, 3 weeks ago

@bahamianson: Much too late for that to be even considered now.

Given our government's coziness with the Chinese Communist Party, it's more in the interest of the USA that we just become another failed state like Haiti or Venezuela.

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