NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Many of the measures taken by government amid the COVID-19 pandemic have caused “unnecessary hardship” and have have had the effect of decimating Bahamian businesses and the economy Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) deputy leader Chester Cooper has asserted.
Cooper who was addressing a PLP COVID-19 update meeting noted, “ I believe many of the public health measures the government has taken have helped to reduce the spread of the disease. However, some of the necessary measures, and other measures that were unnecessary, have had the effect of decimating Bahamian businesses and our economy. More importantly, they have made many people’s lives unbearably difficult. This is not something I am saying from a political perspective. This is just the reality on the ground.”
Cooper added, “Many, many thousands of people are hurting and they are losing hope that they will be able to feed themselves and their children. People are balancing trying to keep up with bills, rent and loans and putting food on the table. Many of the measures taken by government have caused unnecessary hardship. Businesses that could have operated curbside and delivery services were stopped for more than six weeks when they could have been opened to provide revenue for businesses and income for employees.”
Cooper noted that while the government has taken steps to mitigate the fall-out, it has not been “robust enough”.
“As I noted, it did not reach people quickly enough. There is still a troubling level of complaints of people not being able to access help. There are large numbers of self-employed people in the informal sector with no business license and work permit holders who contributed but get no unemployment benefit. This administration can still mitigate much of the damage, though much of what has already been done could have been avoided,” said Cooper.
The Exuma and Ragged Island MP also suggested that the countries unemployment would hit over the 30 per cent mark mentioned by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis during an address on Sunday, adding that the National Insurance Board (NIB) benefit and assistance “are not enough to meet the basic needs of most families, even accounting for less discretionary spending during the state of emergency”.
“NIB unemployment assistance will be coming to the end of its eight-week period in short order.There is no doubt that the government must also extend the NIB benefit for another 13 weeks after that program comes to an end. The government should offer tenants who qualify up to $500 per month to pay their rent as opposed to the fake rental assistance program they launched which does not really assist anyone in the equation, and particularly disadvantages landlords. This basic stipend will have money circulating in the economy and lead to steady revenue through the continued ability of landlords to pay taxes.” said Cooper.
Cooper noted that while government revenue for April is roughly half of what it was for the same period the previous year, it did not have to be so.
“Family Island economies except Bimini, Cat Cay and Grand Bahama could have been opened by the end of April. The real estate sector also remains closed. This sector is a major source of revenue for the government. They could have been finalizing contactless transactions this entire time. These industries could have provided much needed employment and taxes at this time.”
Cooper asserted that to limit the economic downturn “we must go hard and go early”.
“The government is clearly reluctant to add any more borrowing to the $3 billion plus already borrowed that we have very little to show for but they will have to borrow again. There is no other way to fund the budget with revenue down as much as it is. Why this cute game of trying to stagger it out so that fiscal prudence can be claimed is beyond me. If this wasn’t such a dire state of affairs it would be amusing.
Eight weeks into the crises, still no economic plan, no strategy and no money. This was my fear all along, and this is why we provided recommendations swiftly. Our fear remains that the longer we wait, the harsher the recession would be,” said Cooper.
Cooper claimed that while the PLP has communicated its economic ideas to the government and it has not heard back nor has the party been invited to recommend persons to sit on the Economic Recovery Committee
“The PLP’s recommendations from six weeks ago are still what we recommend today; robust and intelligent borrowing to swap out old debt and raise capital for investment in digital and infrastructural upgrades, food security, jobs programs, social safety net programs, business investment and reducing the cost of electricity. We must use this opportunity to position the new Bahamas, with significant reforms, new industries, empowering Bahamian entrepreneurs, proper management of our natural resources and a sovereign wealth fund,” said Cooper.