Prime Minister Philip Davis said yesterday his administration is “very pleased” with what it has accomplished in 2022.
Speaking with reporters, Davis added, “We still recognize there’s still much to do, much to be done, and we are guided by that fact that there is still a lot of work ahead of us.”
He did not articulate those so-called major accomplishments, but it left us contemplating the kind of year the Davis administration has had and whether it has been hitting the mark and securing big wins.
Our objective assessment concludes that while the government has avoided corruption and other major scandals, and while it has kept the ship of state steady, its progress has been minuscule.
This is not to say nothing has been achieved, but in terms of major accomplishments that impact the national economy, and everyday Bahamians, there is not much to celebrate.
The government understandably touts an improvement in revenue, which it attributes to “sound fiscal management”.
In its monthly fiscal report, it revealed recently that revenue improved by 22.4 percent in October when compared to the same period last year.
The Central Bank, meanwhile, said in its October report released late last month that the domestic economy sustained its recovery trajectory from the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism sector output remained buoyant, bolstered by healthy growth in the high value-added air segment and recovered sea traffic, given the relaxed pandemic restrictions and pent-up demand for travel in the key source market.
Yesterday, Nassau Cruise Port Ltd. said it welcomed six ships on Monday and another six ships yesterday, the first time that the port has recorded six ships per day for two consecutive days.
The cruise port expects to welcome over four million passengers in 2023.
This year, Sandals Royal Bahamian resort and Club Med reopened, further positive developments in tourism, so there have been some achievements.
The government’s failure to sell the Grand Lucayan resort – an albatross around the necks of the Bahamian people – however, continues to cost taxpayers dearly. It was one of the big problems inherited from the Minnis administration, one which the Davis administration has been unable to resolve.
In Grand Bahama, many have been waiting a long time for an actual sale, but have gotten empty promises.
They also await action on their airport, whose shoddy state prevents any meaningful economic momentum from occurring.
Meanwhile, the high cost of living is impacting just about everyone there and across the country.
The government struggles to cushion the blow of inflation. Given that inflation is imported, providing relief that people can feel is particularly challenging.
The Bahamas National Statistical Institute, in its Consumer Price Index (CPI) for September, showed a 6.5 percent increase year over year, reflective of the continued pressures of global inflation.
In October, the prime minister announced an increase in the national minimum wage from $210 per week to $260 per week. Officials estimated that 60,000 workers will be impacted by the increase.
The prime minister, however, conceded that the improved wage will do little to help people make ends meet given the high cost of just about everything in the country.
Other measures announced by Davis to make the cost of living a bit easier to bear have blown up in the government’s face, or will likely have unintended results.
This is because, though well meaning, they were clearly not well thought out.
The prime minister’s decision to reverse a fuel charge increase announced by Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) in February, resulted in a worsened situation for consumers, the BPL CEO acknowledged in October.
The prime minister’s knee-jerk declaration early this year that there will be no rate increase for the National Insurance Board (NIB), notwithstanding a warning by actuaries about the fund’s imminent depletion in several years, no doubt sounded great to many Bahamians, but failed to address the worsening NIB crisis.
As a colleague of ours observed just yesterday, “It’s like he’s watching the house burn but waiting for an all-out explosion before acting.”
The prime minister’s ill-advised announcement in a national address in October that the breadbasket is being expanded has also resulted in a now months-long standoff with merchants, who confirmed to The Nassau Guardian only this week that they are ignoring the new margins as adhering to them would lead to business closures.
It seems the government, and indeed the merchants, had hoped this issue would die a quiet death, allowing the government to save face after failing to consult with the industry before the problematic announcement was made.
Allowing the issue to just fade away would have also allowed merchants to maintain the status quo. A win-win for everyone, but consumers.
It appears the government has subtly tried to demonize these business people, fully aware that on this issue, it will always win in the court of public opinion, as most Bahamians are fed up with rising prices and most do not understand the intricacies of price controls or how the grocery industry operates.
These issues go at the heart of governance and disturbingly reflect a lack of detail to the management of the people’s affairs.
Philip Davis is a nice guy, but nice guys aren’t necessarily equipped to deliver the kind of focus and diligence needed to address the tough issues.
We sometimes get the impression that the prime minister is too distracted with seeking to build his personal brand internationally through the use of his signature climate change issue, conveniently adopted very late in his political career, but is less concerned with the behind the scenes work and heavy lifting that must take place in order to deliver on the most effective solutions to national problems.
Davis felt accomplished after the United Nations Climate Change Conference recently reached a breakthrough agreement to provide loss and damage financing for vulnerable states most impacted by climate change.
It will be quite some time before this is actioned, however, and the jury is out on whether we will actually benefit.
Currently, this means nothing to the man and woman who wonder how they will take care of their families from day to day, though the future survival of generations to come, and even those alive today, is dependent on what countries do today.
The prime minister has also promised that the government will see a revenue windfall from the sale of the country’s blue carbon assets.
Again, the jury is still out on this.
On the crime front, our communities are not safer, particularly in New Providence and Grand Bahama. Armed robberies and sexual offenses remain at critical levels. Murders are up 11 percent over last year.
Meanwhile, there are critical infrastructure challenges that impact a large segment of Bahamians.
Residents of New Providence continue to deal with pot hole filled roads that the Ministry of Works seems incapable of addressing. This is the worst that we have ever seen it.
On ministry letter head, the agriculture minister, Clay Sweeting, expressed grave frustration over the failure of the ministry and the Water and Sewerage Corporation to provide potable water for his constituents in Eleuthera.
These are embarrassments for the government. They are simple matters of governance that should not make headlines.
As the year winds down, there is a sense that Davis often has his hands off the levers of government, that the plane is on autopilot, the ship is coasting and some in his inner circle are empowered to do whatever they want.
Make no mistake about it, it is still our view, and, we believe, the view of many Bahamians, that Dr. Hubert Minnis represented a dark period for governance, but we worry about whether Davis is rolling up his sleeves, digging his heels in and getting to work on some weighty matters.
He is likely out the country even as you read this piece.
The prime minister and his team contend that he is in high demand on the global stage. He has said that when he travels, he achieves much, but when Minnis traveled he had no traction.
While Davis takes his seat at international tables, often with everyone and their grammy in tow, on the domestic front, some important issues are being neglected.
Nearly a year after the latest NIB actuarial review was delivered to government, we wonder whether Davis has had a chance to read it or to get a full report on its findings.
We wonder whether he had a clue what was going on a year ago when the Ministry of Finance made the decision to reject requests for BPL’s fuel trades to be executed to lock in oil prices and keep the fuel charge stable. Davis has said he knew nothing about it.
We wonder whether he has stopped to consider what the major elements of his government’s legislative agenda are, or ought to be.
He seemed a bit confused when Nassau Guardian senior reporter Jasper Ward asked him a question in relation to this yesterday.
She wanted to know whether big ticket legislative items like the citizenship bill, which had been promised for the end of this year, will ever see the light of day.
The prime minister seemed slightly confused by the question.
He said, “That was announced.”
Ward responded, “By the attorney general.”
Avoiding a discussion on legislative priorities, the prime minister then said, “I will give a full statement about what is expected in due course before the year is out and I hope that you are here for that.”
The Davis administration has promised legislative measures like a citizenship bill, a marijuana bill, and a bill to amend the law to criminalize marital rape. It has also promised a campaign finance bill.
All these are likely to be controversial and if the government is serious about bringing them, waiting too close to the end of the term to do so would be a bad idea.
Perhaps the attorney general will soon brief the prime minister on what his government’s legislative plans are, or what they should be, but we would be surprised if Davis’ promised “full statement” by year’s end materializes.
As 2023 nears, the government is seeking to get Bahamians energized for the 50th anniversary of independence.
But how committed is it really to an examination of where we are and where we are going?
Months after the prime minister delivered a politically divisive lecture at the University of The Bahamas on the National Development Plan, and more than a year after the PLP was elected with a commitment to restarting work on that plan, no work has actually started.
We note, too, that it is a bad idea to have only PLPs lead the effort at planning our national observations. To avoid a months-long PLP show, the government should make an effort to take a more bipartisan approach to observing our 50th.
Those observations will meet us at a critical juncture in our national development.
It will be a time to reflect on where we are as a people, examine the quality of governance we are getting, and have serious conversations about reforming the systems that continue to produce more of the same mediocre results.