Two thousand and sixteen is now behind us and the dawn of a new year was marked by the rising of the sun all across our Bahama islands. In the words of the popular Christian hymn, through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. In spite of the many challenges we face and the proverbial overcast skies hovering over our nation, we look forward to 2017 with optimism and hope.
The title of this piece could very well have been 17 things to watch in 2017, because there are several issues that we must confront in this year. Indeed, some of these issues have the potential to either make or break us as a nation with significant implications for our commonwealth and generations yet unborn. We are at a crossroads and the stakes have never been higher in a nation that prides itself as the jewel of the Caribbean. Arguably, there has not been a time in our nation’s history that decisions made by the political directorate and policymakers have carried more weight than the moment in which we live.
The 2017 general election will be one of the most highly contested and unpredictable elections in the history of The Bahamas. The turmoil within the political landscape over the last four years will reach a crescendo as the bell rings and the people are called upon to assess the performance of the current administration. The power of the people will be on full display as we decide who should be fired and hired to administer our affairs for the next five years.
Despite the rhetoric and talking points, the truth is that there is no political party with a clear advantage going into the next general election. It is a well-known fact that governments and political parties are normally voted out of, rather than voted into, office. The months ahead will show whether the level of voter apathy in our country will decrease and if voter registration will pick up. Additionally, all eyes will also be on actual voter turnout in the general election, which has been historically high in The Bahamas.
Ultimately, the outcome of the election will be based on how the majority of voters answer these fundamental questions: Are we better off in 2017 than we were in 2012? Did we approve of the policies of the current government over the past five years? Has the current administration been a good steward of the people’s funds and affairs? Do we want to remain on the current track, or is it time to change course?
Standard & Poor’s provided The Bahamas with an unsolicited and unexpected Christmas gift in the form of a downgrade of our sovereign rating to junk bond status in December 2016. This downgrade followed multiple downgrades of our sovereign rating by Moody’s and S&P over the last five years. The economic challenges we face could be summed up in the two consecutive years of negative growth experienced by The Bahamas in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
The implementation of value-added tax (VAT) helped the government achieve its objective of boosting revenue, but also had the effect of transferring money from the private sector into the consolidated fund.
While there have been reductions in the unemployment rate, the decreases were often attributed to extraordinary events such as Junkanoo Carnival and more recently Hurricane Matthew. Unemployment among the youth remains very high when compared to other groupings.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are struggling in a system that does not provide the requisite framework, infrastructure, funding and resources that will enable them to thrive. International and local observers will be watching the Bahamian economy in 2017 to see whether there will be marked improvements in macroeconomic indicators. Will Baha Mar and The Pointe provide the impetus for aresurgence of our economy in 2017? Has the government revived the panacea for our economic woes by getting Baha Mar back on track? Will we get a Fiscal Responsibility Act in 2017? Is there a possibility that the government will begin to seriously consider curbing spending and practicing real fiscal prudence?
The Baha Mar saga rocked our country like no other development in our history with several twists and turns. The verdict is still out as to whether the government has made the right decisions in relation to this multi-billion dollar project. There have been payouts to persons owed and it has been reported that remobilization has commenced at the resort.
The differing views on the approach that should have been adopted in ensuring the completion and opening of Baha Mar will persist. The appropriateness of the Chapter 11 route and treatment of the original developer will continue to attract much debate. However, the main question will be whether the resort will open in 2017 as stated, and if it will live up to its promise for The Bahamas. The Bahamian people will also be watching to see whether the documents relating to the Baha Mar deal will be unsealed and tabled in the House of Assembly.
Our sons and daughters continue to be slain on the streets of a nation that is seen as a paradise by the world. The year has barely begun and reports of bloodshed have started to trickle in. Many Bahamians will agree that we have very hardworking professionals in our police and defense forces. While there was a notable decrease in the number of homicides in 2016 when compared to 2015 (which was the bloodiest in our nation’s history), crime remains a vexing problem for a nation of our size.
Crime and the fear of crime have gripped the inhabitants of our Bahamaland and threaten the freedom that our ancestors fought so hard to secure. Residents are reluctant to socialize or engage in routine activities for fear of being harassed, assaulted, robbed or murdered. It has become apparent that crime knows no gender, colors, political affiliation or social class. In an election year, the government has an enormous task of reassuring the populace that it has a crime-fighting plan that works and has a handle on this menace.
After much criticism of its lack of public relations and inadequate consultation with stakeholders, the government seems to have made some amends. The government’s decision to scale back from its overly ambitious rollout schedule and benefits package may very well have saved The Bahamas from financial ruin. The implementation of a program that ensures that Bahamians and residents have access to affordable and quality healthcare has had the support of all, even though the insertion of politics into the discourse has introduced shenanigans and unnecessary conflict into the debate. Bahamians should not be scared of being admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital and should not suffer due to inadequate infrastructure or lack of a proper maintenance of healthcare facilities.
The government has decided to expand the public sector with the introduction of NHI in 2017 after several missed deadlines. The implementation of NHI will bring about the evolution of the health insurance sector, but will also impact the provision of healthcare services in The Bahamas. In recent times, the proposed fee structure for medical professionals has attracted much media coverage with concerns raised on the significant pay cut for doctors. The pharmaceutical industry has also been vocal insofar as it anticipates a major change in its business post NHI. Will we witness significant job losses in the private healthcare sector with the introduction of NHI? Will NHI exacerbate the brain drain that we are currently experiencing, particularly in the healthcare sector? How will NHI impact the quality of care in The Bahamas? Can the government properly secure and manage healthcare data of the citizenry? Will the government be able to bring all the parties together in time to implement a decent healthcare program in 2017?
Residents endured days and nights of blackouts during 2016 as we have done in years past. While we appreciated the need for investments in BPL in order to replace or upgrade the old and obsolete equipment, the Bahamian people wanted to be informed on the overall plan to turn the utility’s fortunes around. The enigma that is the business plan for BPL remains unavailable to the populace and hence there is much impatience and intolerance for the erratic power supply by BPL.
The episodes of power failure on New Providence and the high cost of electricity have impacted commerce in general, and businesses in particular. We cannot expect to have a thriving economy in a country in which power supply is unreliable. Individuals and families have not been spared as their losses have gone beyond inconvenience or discomfort to damage to property and possessions. Will the Bahamian people see a turnaround and improvement in electricity supply in 2017? Will there be less political interference in BPL and can we expect that the new management team will be allowed to perform? How will the funds required to fix our electricity woes in 2017 be found?
As indicated earlier, there are just too many items to keep an eye on in 2017. This is why number seven will seek to capture the other developments that will attract attention this year. What will become of The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), and when will reconstruction of the dormitory begin? Will the Freedom of Information Act live up to its name and the people's expectations when it is finally passed in Parliament? Is there a chance that our political leaders will finally realize that the populace is no longer into their empty rhetoric in 2017?
The legislation that enables The Bahamas to implement the Common Reporting Standard was passed in The House of Assembly at the end of 2016. There is much work to be done to ensure that we meet our international obligations in relation to tax information exchange and cooperation. Multilateral organizations, the G-20 and industry participants will be watching with interest to see how much progress is made in negotiating and executing the requisite bilateral agreements in 2017. Stll on financial services, will the loss of jobs and shrinking of the sector continue in 2017?
Finally, will the NIA legislation be tabled and passed in 2017? One thing is certain: there is much to watch in 2017 and the writing on the pages of chapter 2017 of our history has started. Happy New Year!
(Source- The Nassau Guardian)