Focus | A narrow road to economic prosperity
Prosperity is what we desire. What is it? It is the opportunity for our people to receive an education in line with their ambitions and access opportunities for which their educations are suitable. It is wellness and wealth for as many as will put themselves in a position to receive them. Prosperity is not a given; it will not automatically come to anyone. The sluggard, ignorant and dysfunctional will find it hard, if not impossible, to achieve. The diligent, knowledgeable and productive are the opposite; they will find prosperity easier (even if not automatic) to achieve. While individual effort may count the most in the achievement of prosperity; national endeavor also matters a great deal.
Our nation’s path to promoting the prosperity of its citizens is narrow. By “nation” I mean, the efforts by the government through its laws, policies and programs. By “narrow” I mean we do not have many options for generating that prosperity. It essentially starts with promoting inward foreign direct investment in the short- to medium-term and continues with promoting more and better domestic investments over the short-, medium- and long-term.
For the government to aid in the process of generating prosperity, it must doggedly pursue at least three things. First, it must make government services that facilitate economic activity more relevant and efficient. This means, the government must remove as many of the public service impediments to starting, continuing and winding up a business as is possible. This includes all approval and licensing procedures; all regulatory procedures and all business termination procedures. This means that the government must make it easier and quicker to get foreign and domestic investment projects up and running. It must end backlogs and long queues wherever they exist. This process can begin by making a list of the steps to doing anything in the area of business today. Once the lists are compiled, eliminate anything that does not represent a ‘must-be-done’ item. Then, narrow that list in order to increase the speed and efficiency of doing business. This by itself could contribute to generating prosperity.
Second, government must bend its policies in the direction of job creation. We ought to salute those who want to own their own businesses. This path is a laudable one. Yet, most of the people in our land will pay their bills through some job that they hold. If they are fortunate, that job will be stable, pay well enough to afford them a viable living standard and give opportunities for growth over time. So, what do most Bahamians need? Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! The government should review its policies, both economic and non-economic and ask the question ‘Do these promote job creation?’ If the answer is no, then they should seek to adjust them. If, however, the answer is yes, government must ensure that these policies are focused precisely so that they are maximally effective. Of course, some policies are not about job creation at all, and no adjustment will make them so. As well, there are policies that while not directly geared toward job creation, do not directly discourage it. The point here is that, if the government wishes to promote prosperity, it must promote job creation and doing so means ensuring that as many of its policies support job creation rather than discourage it.
Finally, the government must ensure that the education system of The Bahamas increases its yield. Nothing will guarantee the broadest and most sustainable prosperity in The Bahamas more than having Bahamian students capitalize more fully on an education that gives them marketable skills. Marketable skills mean that students can add value to an enterprise in both the current and emerging economic environments. This means ultimately receiving an education that is suitable to the demands of the employers in the present economy, capable of adapting to new situations and conducive to learning over a lifetime.
While there may be more that can be done, I am sure that these can begin to allow for a wider path toward our nation’s prosperity. Yes, our nation’s path to promoting the prosperity of its citizens is narrow, and the narrower the path, the less room there is for error. With so little room for error, there must be precise planning and careful execution. We’d better get to it!
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.