PRIME Minister Philip “Brave” Davis. (File photo)
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis said yesterday the country’s unemployment rate is now below 20 percent, a major decrease from that of the pandemic, which he estimated at around 45 per cent.
Mr Davis made the revelation in the House of Assembly yesterday as he defended the government’s decision to decrease the budget allocation for the Department of Social Services from $81.4m to $48.7m in the upcoming fiscal year.
The government has come under fire over the issue from the opposition in recent weeks.
Yesterday, the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP explained the rationale behind the move and suggested the decision was made because the need for social assistance now is not as great as it was during the height of the pandemic.
“It makes no sense to compare those dark, locked down days to today when the economy is growing, and a new day is dawning,” he said.
“Some are wondering why the allocation for Social Services in the coming fiscal year is less than it was during the height of the pandemic,” Mr Davis told MPs.
“As I said, a record number of Bahamians needed help. Yes, we are spending less compared to a time when some 45 percent of Bahamians were out of work but we are spending more – much more, 50 percent more than the prior government spent during 2019. That’s the last pre-COVID year. In recognition that times are still very difficult, that’s why we’re doing it and the global inflation crisis is having an enormous impact on Bahamians.
“So, when you criticised the reduced sum in allocation of social services because it is less than what you spent during the pandemic period, how does that make sense when the economy is now growing and when it was 45 percent unemployment and now it’s down to under 20 percent?
He added: “What do you expect us to do? If you want to compare something, you should have compared that number with what we’re spending now and what we allocated now for this fiscal year. Go back to your pre-COVID-19 allocation and see what you allocated then and see what we allocate now. That’s a proper comparison. That will be apple and apple because…in the pandemic, you would have the 45 percent high of unemployment and see what we did.”
“We are doing 50 percent more than you did then and that is in recognition of that fact, as I’ve said, people are still struggling. We still have the inflationary pressures to contend with. That’s the kind of thoughtfulness that a compassionate and understanding government will do so they should be talking about that.”
Mr Davis said as more Bahamians get back to work, “of course social assistance won’t match record highs”.
However, he said this does not mean the government will stop helping Bahamians and addressing the high cost of living, pointing to initiatives like the RISE programme.
After COVID hit in 2020, officials estimated The Bahamas had an unemployment rate of more than 40 percent which they said was largely due to the COVID-19 lockdowns and associated restrictive measures.
The International Monetary Fund has projected a 13.9 percent unemployment rate this year
Labour Minister Keith Bell has previously noted the estimation as a reasonable one considering the pandemic’s effect.
However, he said he preferred the country get a more accurate perspective from the annual Labour Force Survey or other scientific analysis
In February, Mr Bell told reporters officials were still working to gather statistics pertaining to the nation’s unemployment rate.
It is not clear how much progress officials have made since then.