A speech without a sound strategy

Though the prime minister’s speech at the annual Bahamas Business Outlook is not a particular bellwether of the year’s economic fortunes, it is hoped to give the business community a chance to delve into what the executive is planning that could impact their outcomes.

Therefore, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Philip “Brave” Davis’ address at the 32nd annual Bahamas Business Outlook last week was a striking example of a missed opportunity.

Given the backdrop of a previous year of robust economic growth, but extreme inflationary pressures, and a new year of increased labor costs, increased electricity costs and the very real possibility of increased National Insurance Board contributions, what was expected was a more thoughtful and targeted address to the business community, but instead we heard an exercise in the banal that did not reassure or resonate.

We note that after a lengthy, but still historically deficient, explanation of the past 50 years of economic progress, the prime minister again incorrectly asserted that the economy was in deep recession when he ascended to office.

This is simply not the case as we have repeatedly pointed out.

As opposed to focusing on specific areas of concern and tangible economic efforts to ease the cost of doing business, Davis issued a challenge to businesses to get more creative and do the thinking and acting on behalf of the government with regard to social reform, asking the business community questions it should be asking itself.

“And, so, what of the future that we seek to build in the next 50 years? Do we have a shared vision of who and what we wish to be?” Davis asked the business community.

Davis appears to have forgotten that while he is seeking to hear a shared vision of what the next 50 years in The Bahamas looks like, his administration has presented no such vision.

We are not aware of any businesses that present 50-year plans for shareholders.

One year ago, Davis promised to explore alternatives to raising the fuel charge at Bahamas Power and Light, yet here we are.

One year ago, the public did not know that many commercial Road Traffic Fees would increase.

If the government cannot provide assurances of its commitment to economic stability for businesses over the next year, how can it expect businesses to plan for the next 50?

“I invite you to go further,” the prime minister continued.

“You are constrained only by your imagination and your ambition.”

The business community does not need an invitation from the prime minister to exercise imagination and ambition.

The prime minister would have done better to explain new areas of opportunity that the government believes can be exploited by entrepreneurs.

Instead, he offered that his administration “will put a particular focus on reducing the cost of living and making efforts to lift people out of poverty”.

“Even though the inflationary pressures are largely the result of global events and foreign economies, we will do whatever we can to ease the burden on Bahamian consumers,” he added.

The issue with these statements was that the prime minister did not indicate what measures his administration intends to take to do these things.

Major tourism developments are occurring and many want a fair shot at the ancillary outcomes.

There are talks of major airport projects about to take off. Bahamians wish to know how they can profit off their development.

What does post-Dorian progress on Abaco and Grand Bahama look like after more than a year into the new administration?

Many face mounting hurdles to home ownership who have long since passed the threshold to qualify for a government home.

There appears to be an increase in the brain drain as the prime minister speaks repeatedly to what he believes should be done for the poor.

As to what he has planned to grow the middle class and small and medium-sized businesses, which fund governments, make economies thrive and offer the means to lift people out of poverty, the prime minister was mum.

Davis presented no vision for what The Bahamas may look like in 50 years as birth rates fall, crime rates climb and communities in our Family Islands are increasingly abandoned, but he charged others with formulating one.

Wishful thinking and good intentions are no substitute for a sound strategy.

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