We are midway through the first month of the new year. Most people are ready to look forward to a better year ahead.
There appears to be reason for optimism.
The mainstay of the country’s economy, tourism, is on the rebound as is government revenue.
Lynden Pindling International Airport is busy and, this past weekend, there were five large cruise ships docked at Prince George Dock.
Hotels on Nassau and Paradise Island are reporting strong occupancy rates.
The reopened straw market is again welcoming visitors.
Stores are reopening in greater numbers along Bay Street and elsewhere around New Providence.
Restaurants frequented by visitors as well as those catering to predominantly Bahamian clientele are all busy.
Resorts and marinas on Family Islands report increased tourism activity.
The international financial services sector is poised for new growth after its removal from both the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) “enhanced monitoring list” and the European Union’s blacklist in the first week of 2022.
The construction sector, notwithstanding the impact of pandemic-related inflation and reported delays in delivery of some supplies, is booming.
Real estate sales have continued the rise, especially in the luxury market.
Many small businesses have reopened. Most people laid off due to the pandemic have returned to work.
Traffic on the roads of New Providence has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
This past weekend, the prime minister led the first leg of a mega trade mission to Dubai.
Yet for all the positive signs, crime and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to haunt us. It is likely they will continue to dictate our future.
Pandemic-induced supply issues are driving up the cost, not only for building materials, but for food, clothing and other essentials. Wages are not keeping pace in either the public or private sectors, reducing the purchasing power of the public.
Violent crime against persons and high levels of property crime continue to mire the lives of Bahamians, especially on New Providence. One hundred and nineteen murders were recorded in The Bahamas in 2021, a 75 percent increase over the 68 recorded in 2019.
Police-involved shootings increased even more dramatically between 2019 and 2021 with 21 such shootings and 13 resulting deaths last year as compared to 13 police-involved shootings in 2019 and eight fatalities.
A more contagious but less virulent strain of the virus, Omicron, has established a foothold around the world and we believe here at home.
Our hospitals are reporting worrying increases in the number of individuals requiring hospitalization, due to COVID.
The public healthcare system recently bolstered by the appointment of 12 additional doctors and 50 nurses engaged from Cuba, remains stretched.
Government-operated schools have yet to resume in-person instruction since their March 2020 suspension.
The inexcusable failure of the government to complete regular repairs to schools and to reconfigure classrooms to accommodate in-person instruction in government-operated schools over the past two years defies understanding.
The fractured government education system will not repair itself. Targeted, early and energetic interventions by the government are now urgent.
Thousands of students are scarred from the pandemic. Some eight-year-olds have not been inside a classroom or received any kind of instruction since March 2020. Hundreds more five, six and seven-year-olds have never attended school in any form!
The mental and social health of thousands of pre-teens and teenagers has been compromised. We shudder at the consequences of unlearned lessons, the increase in teenage pregnancies and the consequences for our labor force.
Failing to address these tough matters head-on means that our “new normal” will increasingly look like the “crisis” that has enveloped us since March 2020. And it will mean a continued strain on the public healthcare system, interruptions to education and business, and a gigantic struggle to meet the labor needs of the economy.