Government secures IDB loans for e-services; and for stabilization in the event of natural disaster

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis is preparing the country for a digital public service, and for financial stability in the event of natural disasters – both in keeping with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

He delivered the Charge during the Signing Ceremony for IDB Loans for: Government Digital Transformation to Strengthen Competitiveness, and The Contingent Loan for Natural Disasters, in Ballroom A of Meliã Nassau Beach resort on Monday, April 8, 2019.

“Today, The Bahamas takes another significant step towards digital transformation,” the Prime Minister declared.

The loans are designed to modernize and digitize public services and government, and to provide contingency funds in the aftermath of natural disasters.  The digitization loan is $30 million.  The contingent Loan for Natural Disasters, in the amount of $100 million, is to have access to resources as quickly as possible, to speed up the response and recovery efforts.

The ceremony was coordinated by the Modernization Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister. Present were Cabinet Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, other Government officials and Luis Alberto Moreno, president, Inter-American Development Bank.

“I thank all of those involved in securing these loans and those who have the tremendous task of ensuring that these loans are used effectively, including those spearheading our digital transformation and modernization programme across the public sector,” the Prime Minister said.

“Further, this loan will help us to better fulfill our Sustainable Development Goals,” he confirmed.

The foremost goals are to foster competitiveness of The Bahamas by reducing the cost of conducting business with the government, strengthen institutional capacity, and enhance transparency and integrity in government.

The Prime Minister continued, “I often remind my Cabinet colleagues that we were elected for change. Change is not easy or fast but it is absolutely necessary. Innovation, creativity, disruption and transformation are words usually not associated with the government but this too must change.”

He further stressed that overall goals must be to make government more efficient, more effective and more citizen-and client-driven.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that government services will be made easily available online to the residents of all major islands. Adding that, “We cannot only be Nassau-centric.  Moreover, we must prepare Grand Bahama for the dynamic, new economy developing on that island.”

The IDB Country Strategy with The Bahamas (2018-2022) aims to support the country in achieving a sustainable path of higher growth in a fiscally prudent manner. Some of the priority areas include enhancing public sector effectiveness and supporting resilient infrastructure for growth.

In its rationale for the loan, the Inter-American Development Bank notes, “a country’s competitiveness depends greatly on its ability to limit the burden of dealing with the public administration.”

Government procedures will call for greater use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) by the public service sector and by the public, he said.

“The government will employ a ‘once only’ policy so that when one government agency owns or has a document or a bit of data every other agency will be prohibited from requesting the very same document again and again and again.  This is ridiculous and unfair. The new system will be designed for inter-operability in which requisite data will be verified by the system,” the Prime Minister said.

The recently-launched Prime Minister’s Stakeholders Roundtable is made up of public and private sector partners to help shape, monitor and guide this transformation programme.

“We are also exploring a consultancy within the region for the development of our National Information and Communications Technology strategy and digital agenda,” the Prime Minister said.

Regarding The Contingent Loan for Natural Disasters, the Prime Minister drew reference to the report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC) on the impact of Hurricanes, Joaquin, Matthew and Irma on The Bahamas 

“The direct damage, losses and additional costs were approximately ($828M) Eight Hundred and Twenty Eight Million Dollars,” the Prime Minister said.

In this vein, he stated that The Bahamas is preparing to better respond to natural disasters and thus minimize the potential loss of life and damage to property.

“We must maximize our ability to recover as quickly as possible in order to quickly get our communities and the economy back on track following catastrophic events. A key part of any readiness plan is to have access to resources as quickly as possible to speed up response and recovery efforts.”

The Prime Minister explained that this approach is consistent with developing an effective financial strategy to deal with disaster preparedness using the proceeds of the extinguished dormant accounts to set up an independently managed disaster relief fund and signing up once again for the regional insurance fund, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), in order to provide coverage for public infrastructure in the event of catastrophic damage.

“Our administration will undertake proactive steps, to ensure that appropriate legislation and policy framework are in place to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and by extension the amount of ex-post resources required to rapidly restore normalcy in the aftermath of a natural disaster,” the Prime Minister said.

“I am hopeful that the Bank will assist The Bahamas in this undertaking, along with technical assistance in creating the framework for a holistic disaster relief strategy.”

This article was written by Lindsay Thompson – Bahamas Information Services.