* 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
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.
"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."
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."