READERS may be forgiven if, after looking at the announcements made on extending the emergency powers and the recommendations for the recovery of the economy, they asked one question: What does all this mean for me?
Let’s start with what was predictable – the continuing surge of cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas has meant the extension of emergency powers. The noises about reopening the economy at the start of November were looking increasingly hopeful rather than confident – and the sight of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and the Cabinet packing themselves off into quarantine after a positive test result for Minister of Works Desmond Bannister is as clear a picture as you can see of where we’re at right now. Our best wishes to Mr Bannister for his recovery, and to the Cabinet that they test negative.
We’ve talked a lot in this column about safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and this one example shows the consequences of a single case around a number of people.
But of the moves announced yesterday, it’s the economic ones that may well affect individual readers the most.
First, the bad news – the recommendation to reduce unemployment payments further will hit those already feeling the pinch in their pockets. The reasoning here is simple – with money thin on the ground, spread it out as long as possible. It’s not pleasant. It’s not welcome. The proposal shows how tenuous our situation is – and perhaps might be a necessity.
With tourism ground to a halt, Dr Minnis warned the economy “is in the worst state ever in our modern history, indeed much worse than the Great Recession of 2008”.
This we knew – so what will we do to help it rebound?
Marijuana legalisation is one of the cards being played – but while marijuana may be used as a treatment for many ailments, it will not be a cure for our economic ills on its own. Partnered with clearing records – and fewer jail sentences with it no longer being a crime – it will however cut costs on one side, give people a path back into work and raise some income. It needs to be done quickly, though, and the committee handling that side of the process has been anything but quick so far.
There will be extra funding for small businesses – and that is a smart move. The big engines of the economy such as Atlantis or Baha Mar are one thing but it’s the small businesses that keep those engines turning – the suppliers, the contractors and so on, and the money they pay to their workers quickly filters down through the system and gets things going. It also encourages the possibility of diversifying the economy. It’s nothing new, again, with the Small Business Development Centre well established, but it nudges things along. Still, it’s only $50m a year that’s being put on the table, and that can be gobbled up fast.
Some other things we know about – the cruise port, the Grand Lucayan project and so on – have also been highlighted, but again those are things that were in the works.
The demolition of the Customs warehouse and Festival Place is said to be “imminent”, and that will cause consternation for some finding alternative arrangements, but the timing of such a redevelopment is useful, in the tourism lull.
What’s on the table will help to grease the wheels, but it isn’t a revolution. This is a change of oil to help as the engines get going again, and welcome for that – not a whole new engine.
Now perhaps some of that isn’t a surprise – it’s not as if people weren’t trying to boost the economy before the pandemic, but there’s little out-of-the-box thinking on show.
There are pointers towards increasing agriculture, but not a detailed path for how to do so, and there aren’t indicators of plans to grow new industries, complete with offering work permits to lure them in.
We hope this is a starting point – and that there’s more to come, because the more ways we can find to reinvigorate our economy, the better.
Out with the old! Apparently, a new Cabinet Office is being planned – to be built on the existing site in Rawson Square.
It will tackle problems such as the unwanted indoor swimming pool in the office every time it rains – not a feature that is desired.
Apparently, the front section of the building is condemned.
The work will be done by Bahamians, so whatever is spent on it will go back into the economy, which might be a timely boost for some.
If we want an efficient government, then government needs an efficient space to operate in. Let’s get the job done and then demand officials deliver on their side of the equation.
Preferably without an indoor swimming pool this time.