By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas needs a “real come to Jesus moment” under the next administration to prevent its economic and fiscal woes from becoming insurmountable, a governance reformer warned yesterday.
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business that this nation needed to tear-up “the game plan” it has been employing for the last 40 years because it is no longer fit for purpose to address a $10.356bn national debt and post-COVID economic recovery.
Suggesting that much hinges on the “capacity, courage and vision” of the Government that will be elected to office on September 16, he reiterated that achieving annual economic (gross domestic product) growth of between 3-5 percent as well as “right sizing” the public sector was critical to dragging The Bahamas out of its post-pandemic malaise.
“Somebody is going to have a real ‘come to Jesus’ moment, and I guess it is going to be this administration,” Mr Myers told this newspaper. “I can assure you, assure you, as sure as we’re sitting here and talking, if the next government commits to the status quo we’re in deep, deep ka ka (sic).
“For the next administration to come in and talk about raising taxes is a kop out and not the answer. The only rising tide that lifts all boats is economic growth. Anyone who thinks differently is a jackass, and you can tell them I said that.
“There’s no magic pill, and as far as I know Jesus is not getting born again to come and save us. It’s up to the capacity, vision and intelligence of the people we put in power, and the courage of the people we vote in. Let’s hope like hell they live up to that.”
Voicing frustration that the Minnis administration had failed to complete energy reform during its near four-and-a-half years in office, Mr Myers said furthering improve the ease - and lower the cost - of doing business in The Bahamas needed to be a priority for the next administration.
“We have to go and make it easier for locals and foreign investors,” the ORG chief argued. “At the moment, it’s incredibly difficult do to that and this year we’ve added another layer of complexity with the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP).
“We didn’t make it easier to develop; we made it more difficult. I’m not saying it’s [the DEPP] not necessary, but it’s added another layer to the cost and bureaucracy of doing business. Add more taxes, and people will be flying over The Bahamas to Barbados and Jamaica. Government has to recognise we need to be competitive.
“I was just talking to an investor the other day who is going to Panama. They’re going to Panama because it’s too expensive to operate in the Bahamas. Power is too expensive, bureaucracy is too expensive and there is too much corruption with too many hand-outs.”
Mr Myers argued that it was critical for the next administration to “work harder and work smarter” if The Bahamas’ ease and cost of doing business concerns are to be satisfactorily addressed, and growth and job creation increased, to enable the economy to start repaying the debt incurred as a result of COVID-19 and Hurricane Dorian.
“We just have to hope we get someone with the courage and vision to do what is right, and they look at the smartest people in the room to get it done instead of the political appointees, family and friends like in the past,” he blasted.
“As I said to one FNM candidate: ‘What exactly are you going to do differently next time if you get in?’ I didn’t get an answer..... We cannot keep running the country on the same game plan. The game plan has to change. The game plan we have been using for 40 years has failed. It needs to be taken out.
“We need new management and leaders that understand business and how to move the needle. Otherwise it will be painful to watch and very discouraging. I wish the country well. I’m working my backside off to do my part but it’s very disheartening.”
Mr Myers added that achieving the necessary “economic lift” will require shifting public sector employees to the private sector, and ensuring they became productive by converting them “from burners to earners”.
“The Government has to be right-sized,” he said. “Any right-minded Bahamian ought to hope like hell after 40 years of massive spending that somebody is going to come in and right size the ship.
“We’ve got to turn the burners to earners to get 3 percent GDP growth. With an under-educated workforce we need to shift them from the private sector to the public sector to get that lift.”