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47th anniversary of independence: The 1990s and early 2000s

The third decade of Bahamas independence was marked by the election of a new party to lead the government, the Free National Movement (FNM), following governments led by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) during the preceding 25-plus years, 19 following independence.

The decade of the 1990s proved to be especially good, economically, for The Bahamas.

By the end of the decade, the Department of Statistics recorded real increases in household incomes and unemployment numbers dipped to levels not seen since the 1960s.

The government’s monopoly on broadcasting was ended and legislation providing for private broadcasts put in place.

Cable television and internet service were introduced and access to cellular phone service was widely expanded.

The electrification of all Family Island communities was completed and local government realized.

The Immovable Properties Act was repealed and replaced with the International Persons Landholding Act.

The publication of investment criteria facilitated important direct foreign investments in the tourism, financial services and light industry sectors.

The creation of the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission (BEST) formalized the requirement for development projects to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), so as to identify and mitigate possible negative impact on the natural environment.

The privatization of government-owned hotels combined with massive new investment in the private sector raised tourism in The Bahamas to new heights marked by the creation of Atlantis on Paradise Island.

In Grand Bahama, the extension of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement facilitated new inflows of investments none more important than that which made the long-awaited development of a transhipment port a reality.

The formation of the Bahamas Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) removed the management of the major public hospitals from bureaucratic supervision by the Ministry of Health.

The creation of the Industrial Tribunal offered a quick and economic forum for the settlement of employment disputes.

And, the creation of the Nassau Airport Authority set the stage for the redevelopment of The Bahamas’ premier airport.

Further, the creation of the Junkanoo Expo and the opening of the National Art Gallery in a restored old colonial mansion, served as the high points of policies giving recognition to the centrality of culture to national development.

Still “treacherous shoals” remained and continued to present obstacles to progress.

The illicit drug traffic did not end.

Enhanced co-operation with regional partners reduced and diverted some of the international illicit traffic from The Bahamas but damage to our social fabric was not as easily repaired. Even today, it creates social upheaval and drives our high and increasing crime levels.

And, other treacherous shoals stood in the way of progress. The first of the super hurricanes, Andrew, led the way.

Such monster storms, strengthened by climate change, have more frequently lashed parts of The Bahamas each summer over much of the past 27 years, taking lives, destroying or damaging public infrastructure and private property, adding both trauma and costs to the burden of our small island developing state.

Considered a thorn in the side of United States tax authorities since the early 1980s, a serious challenge to offshore international financial service centers was mounted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 1999.

This led to massive overhauls of legislation, rules and regulations of the sector.

The ever-changing goal post for compliant jurisdictions like The Bahamas, dramatically reduced the volume and size of the sector in The Bahamas, with related decreases in new investments and of employment numbers.

The economic fallout for The Bahamas’ tourism sector from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States pushed us into recession, dampening economic growth and development.

And, efforts to reform our national constitution to remove entrenched discriminations against females and to modernize the public sector through the establishment of an independent electoral commission, a separate teachers’ service commission and extending the age of retirement for Supreme Court justices, failed to obtain public support in a referendum held in 2001.

The general election in May 2002 swept the FNM from office, replaced by a “new PLP” that would lead The Bahamas into its fourth decade as an independent country.

To be continued.

 

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