THIS week started with optimism from Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar about an October reopening. It ends with the grim reality that the doors of one of our megaresorts, Baha Mar, will not likely open until Christmas at the earliest.
Staff at the resort have been told they will receive 30 percent of their base salary for up to a further 90 days. While the resort says a further decision on reopening will be made next month, that pushes us towards the end of the year.
It brings us to this – it’s all very well for the government to declare the country reopened, but it’s down to businesses to shoulder the consequences of that.
Baha Mar is making its decision based on how controlled COVID-19 is – both in the US, our major tourism market, and here in The Bahamas.
We can’t control the virus response in the US – but our own response here in The Bahamas is lacking, it would seem.
Others too have raised eyebrows at Mr D’Aguilar’s optimism. A letter writer in yesterday’s Tribune poked holes in the minister’s rebranded quarantine, pointing out the impossibility of coming to visit from Canada and that it is so difficult that if they did not have connections with Nassau, they would not bother to come.
Another Canadian responding to that letter on Twitter pointed out the absurdity that to go to their home in Davis Creek, Andros, she would have to stay 14 days in Nassau. “Very confusing,” she said. She’s right.
There are three things we must do. One is to get the virus under control here in our own borders. Without that, nothing else matters.
The second is to find a way to allow people in more freely from countries where the virus is under control without loading them down with restrictions imposed on those from countries where the virus runs wild.
The third is to pay heed to the voices of businesses. If they are telling the government they are not ready to reopen because of the risk, no amount of promises from the government will make that risk go away. It’s not the government that will have to explain to hotel guests if an outbreak happens within the resort.
We do wonder how much of this push to reopen is down to worries about the country’s finances, with Finance Minister warning of “a more troublesome scenario” if tourism doesn’t pick up before the year’s end.
There are no easy roads ahead, nor are there shortcuts to get us to our destination.
The price of power
The cost of power has been on the minds of Grand Bahama residents for some time now.
For those who haven’t been keeping track, residents have long warned of the high cost of power. The Grand Bahama Power Company has looked to increase those costs again – a charge to cover the costs of storm recovery, bringing in $15.6m over five years. Residents have protested. They have campaigned. The charge was delayed because of the impact of COVID-19 and yet, with COVID-19 still here and people struggling to pay their bills, the charge will take effect from next month.
Pastor Eddie Victor has been tireless in his campaigning for a reduction rather than increase in energy costs and he spoke out against it again yesterday, saying: “We thought it would go into next year, come to find out it would be October 1. The economy is in no state to bear any further expenses.”
He criticised Grand Bahama Power Company as being driven by profits, and branded them as “heartless”.
“You could only milk a cow so far,” he said, “The fact is this cow that is GB has been drying up and there is no more milk that you can get from it.”
It seems especially perverse for charges to go up in a year which has seen oil prices drop significantly. The price of a barrel of oil is down substantially on last year – has the power company been able to secure savings there to pass on to customers or to offset the costs of hurricane recovery?
There is a feeling of a lack of partnership in Grand Bahama among many – and demanding more money might only result in more people being cut off when there is little cash to spare in the current crunch.
The power company, and its Canadian owners, would do well to listen to its customers and, if there is a way to delay these charges, find a way to do so until the current crisis is over. People need money coming in if they’re to pay more money going out. That’s not happening right now. Time for a rethink.