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‘Caribbean’S Singapore’: $15bn Gdp Target Urged

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Robert Myers

• ORG chief: 50% economic output leap ‘not a stretch’

• ‘Better management and vision on all fronts’ needed

• Too many in public service hired as ‘social welfare’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas was yesterday urged to target a 50 percent GDP increase to $15bn, a governance reformer arguing: “There’s no reason we can’t be the Singapore of the Caribbean.”

Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s principal, told Tribune Business that increasing economic output to a level never achieved before is “not a huge stretch” if The Bahamas enjoys “better management and vision” and improved leadership “on all fronts”.

While $15bn in gross domestic product (GDP) would represent a more than-$5bn increase from when The Bahamas’ bottomed out at COVID’s peak, he argued that the economy’s small size meant that it only needs to “sign up a couple of projects” that succeed for the post-pandemic turnaround to begin in earnest.

Calling on both the public and private sectors to play their part, as well as the Government, Mr Myers reiterated that the 1.8 percent and 1.5 percent GDP growth rates projected for The Bahamas in 2025 and 2026, respectively, by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “cannot happen” if economic expansion is to solve the country’s woes.

Warning that so-called “austerity”, such as new and/or increases taxes, spending cuts or a combination of both, can only take The Bahamas so far, the ORG chief argued that much depends on the Davis administration’s ability to “motivate” the public sector on the need for far-reaching reforms.

The Bahamas, Mr Myers said, will be unable to achieve the “growth lift” required “if we don’t bring our population with us”. Suggesting that a significant number of civil servants were employed as a form of “social welfare”, adding little value to the public sector’s output, he added: “If the Government goes down we all go down.”

Mr Myers, though, did not exempt the private sector from his call to action, calling on it to continually reinvest in The Bahamas and work with the Government on improving education and workforce productivity if the country is to escape a post-COVID slump and absorb all school leavers into its workforce.

“Let’s put it like this,” he told Tribune Business. “We’re at $10bn in GDP. If we take that to $15bn, that’s not a huge stretch if we can sign up a couple of big projects and really work hard at making us attractive... Because we’re a small country it doesn’t take a lot to move the economy, and if we get those projects moving and get to $15bn GDP we get our debt ratio back to 75 percent.”

That, though, depends on the Government rapidly eliminating its annual fiscal deficits and running a balanced budget to ensure the national debt does not increase beyond the present $10.4bn - something that The Bahamas’ fiscal history suggests will be a tough ask.

“I certainly hope that lesson has been learned,” added Mr Myers of The Bahamas’ ‘borrow and spend’ history. “For most intents and purposes, we have an over-staffed government that has become a form of social welfare in some cases.

“The Government has chosen to employ all these people when they equally could have given them a cheque and sent them home. It’s a form of welfare, and is a demotivating form of welfare. If you have 100 people in a department, and 50 are not working, it’s demotivating for the 50 people trying to get something done. You’d be better off sending them home.”

An Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report previously quoted former Cabinet secretary, Camille Johnson, as saying the Bahamian public service was over-staffed by up to 40 percent. “The public sector has to take an interest in solving these problems,” Mr Myers added.

“It’s not just the administration’s problem. We have well-paid, competent people in positions of authority and they need to motivate, execute, manage and create change otherwise we all sink. If the Government goes down, we all go with it, good, bad and indifferent.

“For a country that has so much potential, and I mean that from an economic, human resources and people perspective, we have incredibly fortunate circumstances. Some people need more education and tools, but we have a great environment, great proximity to the US. There’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be the Singapore of the Caribbean. It just needs better management and vision.”

Mr Myers voiced confidence that both the Prime Minister and Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister, understood that driving greater economic growth was the solution to much of The Bahamas’ economic and social problems. “Whether they’re able to motivate the public sector to act is an entirely different issue,” he added. “That’s the $50,000 question.

“They [the public sector] have to understand they’re the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room. They need to get more productive, they need to streamline systems. The people that manage these sectors need to take it seriously. They need to improve the cost and ease of doing business or otherwise they are putting themselves at serious risk.

“I continue to underscore the necessity for improving workforce development, vocational training. We cannot get the growth lift we need if we do not bring our population with us. There’s a tremendous amount of work to do to get all our workforce to the position of being employable.”

Urging the Government to “dust off” the National Development Plan that was put together under the last Christie administration, with input on a bi-partisan basis from multiple stakeholders, Mr Myers said the private sector also has a key part to play in The Bahamas’ revival.

“It’s up to all of us,” he argued. “We’re investing in the country continuously, trying to do our part. We need to be doing that, others need to be doing that. We’ve all got to bail water out of the boat and float, and try and get ourselves to a good place.....

“These things could be fixed relatively quickly in a 10-year cycle. If we can fix these things, and get it going in the right direction, I’m not pessimistic; I’m still optimistic. But we have got to have leadership on all fronts, private sector and public sector. It’s not government leadership. It’s too easy to point the finger at the Government. We’ve all got to row, we’ve all got to bail.”

With the IMF projecting that Bahamian GDP growth will revert to its anemic long-term trend of about 1.5 percent annually by 2026, Mr Myers retorted: “That cannot happen. That’s not acceptable.

“Whatever administration is in office has to wake up to the fact that we’ve got to right-size this thing, and if we do not get growth we will be in a position where our backs are up against the wall with the IMF and IDB and we will face significant expenditure cuts. That will be very painful.

“Austerity is only part of the answer. The biggest opportunity is the administration, private sector and public sector that understands a rising tide lifts all boats. If we just slash public sector employment and expenditure that has a negative effect on the economy.”

Comments

SP 4 months ago

There are plenty of reasons we can’t be the Singapore of the Caribbean. Let's start with the systemic corruption which prohibits the Bahamas from doing anything sensible.

From financial services to immigration and everything in between the Bahamas has an overabundance of decades-old deeply embedded corruption rendering the government incapable of implementing common-sense best practices to move the country forward.

Singapore had to dismantle the Bahamas type of corruption BEFORE they were able to move forward. The Bahamas cannot expect to reap the rewards of Singapore's style of governance without FIRST dealing with corruption.

As long as the PLP or FNM is in power, the Bahamas will NEVER resolve endemic and systemic corruption because it is them that created, maintain, and thrive from corruption!

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Dawes 4 months ago

Fully agree, and unfortunately won't happen.

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ohdrap4 4 months ago

“There’s no reason we can’t be the Singapore of the Caribbean.”

All they have to do is beat the crap of these kids who fail to get As in all subjects like the singaporeans.

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justabeachbum 4 months ago

Until there is a paradigm shift on the importance of education in this country, there is little probability of being comparable to Singapore.

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DiverBelow 4 months ago

All the comments should be added to the concept, develop it all into a workable plan & stick to it. Plan for 10 years, not 5 yrs, get rid of the 'While My Party In' temporary mindset.

I understand from a flying fish, there is a way to make any street light into an internet hotspot, eliminating any excuse for lack of homework! They all have cell phones do they not?

Those educated abroad, need to return & provide a return on the investment... contracted 6 months work for each year of education provided, in public service, industry or education.

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