Digital Push: Govt. eyes 50 percent reduction in cash over next five years

Digital Push: Govt. eyes 50 percent reduction in cash over next five years

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Ministry of Finance has outlined targets to reduce cash and cheque utilization across the country, it was revealed today.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest acknowledged that although the Government, the private sector and the banking sector have all been working toward greater use of digital transactions for payments, these efforts have often been “running on separate tracks, and moving at different paces”.

He said the ministry, along with the Clearing Banks Association and the Central Bank, are targeting a 50 percent reduction in the utilization of cash within the next five years fueled by more transparent, business and consumer friendly regulations around the use of debit and credit cards, and the full integration of the Sand Dollar; a 50 percent reduction of the utilization of cheques in three years and 80 percent reduction in 5 years.

These efforts will be boosted by greater utilization of the electronic clearing house to allow for direct payments, he said.

Turnquest outlined several initiatives aimed at transforming the economy and accelerating recovery following twin economic shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Dorian during his budget communication.

He underscored the economic hardship being experienced faced by many Bahamians during the 2020/20201 budget communication, which included increased support for entrepreneurs and SMEs, a digitization push, modernization of the energy sector as well as food security and sustainability.

“We set an objective three years ago to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and our investments to date have made the environment for entrepreneurship stronger than ever before,” Turnquest said.

“We have increased the capital Budget allocation for small business growth and development from $5 million last year to $55 million in the new Budget. We are pleased to see that the entrepreneurial spirit of Bahamians has been awoken, because now, people have confidence in the programs available to support their ambitions.

“This is largely thanks to the work of the Small Business Development Center and its partners. The SBDC will continue to innovate, by exploring ways to leverage the Government’s investment to make other forms of capital available to Bahamians such as private equity through angel investing and crowd funding,” said Turnquest.

The finance minister said the push toward a digital transformation, particularly within the public sector, has been a key priority of the Minnis administration.

“While the leading motive for this transformation was to drive competitiveness by reducing the cost of doing business with the Government, that motive has since expanded,” he said.

“Put simply, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed that pointed goal to an absolute imperative. We saw the explosion of digital commerce in The Bahamas in response to the curfew and lockdowns necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Even when the virus poses no more threat, the transition to digital commerce will remain. Hence, this Government’s push toward a national digital transformation comes at no better time than the present.”

In an effort to support the of transformative measures to modernize the energy sector, the Government is seeking in its 2020/21 borrowing resolution approval for an $80 million loan with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to progress the solarization in the Family Islands.

“This is a part of the $170 million Contingent Credit Line for Investment Projects (CCLIP) facility over eight to ten years that was foreshadowed in last year’s Budget Communication. Not only will this improve our energy infrastructure’s reliability and resilience to natural disasters invoked by climate change, but it will also help to rehabilitate critical infrastructure.”

On the issue of food security and sustainability, Turnquest said government is considering a number of plans to increase the support of local farmers, particularly in the Family Islands.

He pointed to the Emergency Food Production Plan unveiled last month that outlines $1.6 million investment in food security in The Bahamas will support the purchasing of hydroponic, and backyard kits, and the provision of farm inputs.