• Points to social support, reduced duty and affordable housing
• Says country was in ‘dire state’ under former administration
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis said his administration has laid a strong foundation for recovery and future progress during its first year in office, while expressing confidence that it will continue to do so until all its objectives are achieved.
While touting his administration’s performance, Mr Davis said while much has been accomplished by the government already, there is still more to be done.
He also took shots at the former governing party’s actions in office, saying when his administration assumed power last year it found the country in a bad state.
“The country was in a dire state,” he said in the House of Assembly yesterday. “The economy was headed for a fiscal cliff. Two billion had been borrowed every year for four years, with no plausible plan for the growing debt. Hospitals remained under extreme pressure, with patients treated in parking lots, severe shortages of doctors and nurses, and regular leaks and flooding in the buildings. Schools were still going back and forth between in-person and online learning, with thousands of students not attending classes at all.”
However, he said over the last year, his administration has sought to correct past mistakes, help the nation recover from the COVID crisis while also bringing about transformative changes.
He also detailed an expansive list of what he considers his government’s accomplishments to date, from ridding the country of the COVID-19 emergency orders to introducing measures to help Bahamians cope with the inflationary high cost of living.
“Mr Deputy Speaker, Bahamians have really endured one tough year after another,” the prime minister added. “The 2017 shock rises in VAT and other taxes, along with increased unemployment and reduction in support for the most vulnerable, then Dorian, then COVID, and now a global inflation crisis. A great many families are finding themselves struggling, including many who were doing fine before this series of emergencies.
“It has been a priority for my administration to offer both compassion and relief, via both social support and empowerment. Our administration is providing substantial support to successful, local feeding programmes run by churches and NGOs. The funding for social assistance increased by 50 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“We have extended tax breaks and concessions in Grand Bahama and Abaco Recovery Zones. We made a $500 lump-sum payment just before Christmas to the unemployed, to provide a little breathing room. My government provided relief grants to vendors in Port Lucaya, Downtown Freeport Farmers’ Market, Eight Mile Rock Fish Fry, and Lucayan Harbour and New Bight Fish Fry. We also provided a financial stipend to surrey drivers.”
He also pointed to the government’s decision to reduce duty on a number of food items and other imports in addition to making housing more affordable for Bahamians.
“In this first year, we made available 47 new affordable homes in New Providence. We started Pinecrest, the first phase of development,” Mr Davis continued. “New housing developments in New Providence and Abaco are underway along with a new housing initiative at Ocean Hole in Rock Sound, Eleuthera. We have expanded concessions to first-time homeowners, which includes the purchasing of land, building and purchasing a house, and renovating existing structures.”
He said the government continues to help with restoration efforts in both Abaco and Grand Bahama.
On the labour front, Mr Davis noted that several outstanding union agreements were able to be successfully negotiated upon and finalised under his administration.
He said the government is also working aggressively to settle outstanding promotions and regularisation for public sector workers.
In terms of safety and security, Prime Minister Davis said his government is introducing a broad range of policies to better protect Bahamians.
He said the government has already started several initiatives in this regard by recruiting more workers to law enforcement agencies among other things.
He revealed that the government plans to launch an extensive streetlights project to ensure that local communities are better lit and also advance legislation to strengthen its crime prevention efforts.
“The crime statistics portray a stark picture of violence, gang-related activity and general criminality, which has become the fate of many hundreds,” he continued. “...We are in danger of losing a generation, and it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that that does not happen.”
As for the way forward, he said the government will continue to build on the foundation it laid to provide further economic relief and more job opportunities for all Bahamians.
He said the government will seek to implement measures to improve healthcare in The Bahamas and “introduce fiscal reforms to improve the management of public finances, along with a number of amendments to deal with some practical issues arising from statutory requirements. “
Mr Davis added: “Mr Deputy Speaker, ever mindful of the increasing challenges surrounding issues connected with climate change and the environment, we intend to introduce new legislation and update existing legislation to improve the various ways in which our natural resources are protected, managed and commercialised.”
In his closing remarks, the prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to “upholding integrity and accountability” in his administration and said he had every confidence the opposition party, the Free National Movement, will do the same.