Brighter prospects, pressing challenges

The year 2021 has been one of notable gains and vexing setbacks for The Bahamas, with signs of progress that will require skill and focus to make sustainable inroads on a path made challenging by pandemic uncertainties and stubborn social ills.

As last year drew to a close, tourism activity remained contracted due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with visitor arrivals having fallen by over 90 percent over the previous year.

According to the Central Bank’s monthly economic and financial development (MEFD) report for November 2020, private sector arrears were on the increase, noting, “A breakdown by loan category showed that the growth in short term arrears was led by mortgage delinquencies, which expanded by $37.4 million to $476.0 million.”

The news is brighter in 2021, with the MEFD report for November indicating that the domestic economy will register marginal growth this year.

The bank posted an outlook of “measured pace of recovery” in the domestic economy notwithstanding the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus, noting that total visitor arrivals by first port of entry recovered to 260,942 in October, from 7,666 in the corresponding period.

Improvements were also reported in private sector arrears, including a decline in total loan delinquencies led by a decline in consumer loan arrears.

Though promising economic signs are emerging, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warned earlier this month that the fund was likely to scale back global growth projections due to the spread of the omicron variant, adding that due to heavy pandemic borrowing by countries, “2022 is going to be a very pressing year in terms of dealing with debt.”

How the Davis administration pursues its debt management strategies, together with its expenditure management and promised utilization of capital allocations to spur domestic activity, will be critical in the coming year.

We hope to also see added movement on the administration’s core economic plans including the development of an investment portfolio for the Family Islands.

Last year closed with no end in sight to a perpetual state of suspended constitutional rights, and with an ongoing state of one-man rule colored by chaotic precipitousness and lack of consultation.

This year will end with the pandemic managed by ordinary legislation instead of a state of emergency, and via what appears to be a more consultative management style.

On the scientific front, much more is known about SARS-CoV-2 today than when the pandemic began.

Regrettably, our COVID deaths this year significantly outstripped those of last year, an outcome we hope to see averted in the coming year due to the role of vaccines, therapeutics and stronger adherence to safety protocols.

This year not only brought about a change of government, but ushered in historic advancements for women in politics, as a record number of women currently sit in the House of Assembly and the Cabinet.

For the first time, women simultaneously sit as head of both houses of the legislature.

It is a noteworthy advancement over the preceding term, wherein only one seat in the executive was occupied by a woman.

One of the most vexing of setbacks this year comes in the form of incidences of violent crime, with gun violence continuing to imbrue the fabric of our nation and cut down individuals, many in the prime of life.

As of yesterday, police recorded 119 murders for 2021 compared to 68 during the corresponding period – a 75 percent increase – while crimes against the person year-to-date are up by 19 percent over last year.

No political party or leader has the answer to crime, though dynamics including poverty, unemployment and lack of productive opportunities for the youth are known risk factors.

Though uncertainties on the economic front persist, the administration’s stated plans for youth development ought to begin to take tangible shape in the new year.

Some of those plans include the launch of a stipend-driven community youth service, a national “first-job” program for youth ages 16 to 25, and programs focusing on mental health and self-esteem issues in the nation’s youth.

It will take the effort of the collective to bring about the social and economic rebounds Bahamians long to realize in 2022.

Let us waste no time debating whether together we can, and let us instead harness our energy and talents into making the upcoming year one that demonstrates how together, we will.

A happy new year to all.

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