PM: Uncomfortable, painful economic times ahead

PM: Uncomfortable, painful economic times ahead
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis

Unemployment projected to climb past 30 percent

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The country’s unemployment is expected to climb to more than 30 percent, according to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, who called on Bahamians to brace for an unprecedented economic reality.

In a national address, Minnis said the upcoming national budget for the fiscal year 2020/2021 will be “shaped to match the unprecedented nature of the times we are living in”.

He said the government will not “sugarcoat” the severity of the country’s economic circumstances, noting that some of the decisions it will have to make “will no doubt be uncomfortable, and indeed painful”.

Based on applications to the National Insurance Board (NIB), Minnis said more than 25,000 people have been laid off or  have lost their income to date, a number he noted will likely increase.

The prime minister noted that the country’s unemployment rate in the near term will likely exceed an unprecedented and extraordinary 30 percent.

He also revealed that tax revenues for April were just about one-half of what was collected in April, 2019.

“Not since the outbreak of World War II over 70 years ago have we lived through such a devastating impact on our economy and the livelihoods of so many Bahamians. Tourism, trade and commerce are all suffering devastating and deep blows,” Minnis said.

“We are in very difficult and uncharted waters. Tourism, the leading engine of our  economy, is being devastated.  Many businesses that closed during the lockdown are not confident they will be able to reopen once the restrictions are lifted.

“We are facing a stark reality that the vast majority of us have never seen in our lifetimes.”

Minnis reiterated that the country will have to make some very tough decisions.

“We must be prepared to do things differently both in the near-term and in the long-term in order for us to maintain some measure of economic stability in the near- term,” he said.

Minnis noted that $120 million in additional allocations already provided to allow for the immediate health and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These initiatives have funded COVID-19 healthcare costs and  related necessities, they have provided tens of millions of dollars to self-employed individuals who do not normally qualify for unemployment benefits. They have provided loans and grants to number of Bahamian entrepreneurs and businesses to allow them to stay open and keep people employed,” said Minnis.

Minnis said the upcoming budget will also provide for the ongoing support of those still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Dorian.

“We will ensure that no Bahamian goes hungry as we weather the economic hurricane caused by COVID-19,” he said.

“The budget will also make provision for expanded capital works and will seek to stimulate domestic private construction. We will focus on both large and small civil works so that small contractors and their teams across the country can get as much work as possible to provide jobs and commercial activity in all the islands of our archipelago.”

Minnis noted that these expanded works will bring income to thousands of families in need during this downturn. We will do what is necessary in the near term to preserve social and economic stability. We must also change the way we approach how our economy functions.”

The prime minister said the Economic Recovery Committee has been meeting regularly, have agreed their broad aims and objectives and have established subcommittees.

The subcommittees will address: structural reform, family island development, healthcare and social capital, commerce, entrepreneurship, next generation (youth) engagement , agriculture, fisheries & manufacturing, environmental stewardship , labour & education, digitization & the conceptual economy, tourism & the creative/ orange economy and financial services.