Calling Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ grave national address on Sunday a ‘Captain Obvious’ picture of the country’s economic state of affairs, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper said yesterday that much of the “unnecessary hardship” could have been avoided.
Cooper said the many thousands of Bahamians hurting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are losing hope that they will be able to feed themselves and their children as well as keep up with bills, rent and loans.
“Last night, the prime minister gave a Captain Obvious and somewhat understated picture of the state of affairs now and what the future might look like,” he said during a PLP online briefing on COVID-19 Monday night.
“Bahamians don’t need the prime minister to tell them that economic activity has contracted and thousands of Bahamians are out of work. They already know that.”
While he noted the government’s social safety net action, Cooper said it was not robust enough and suggested that the government extend assistance and benefits from the National Insurance Board and give a lump sum to tenants to help with rent.
“NIB unemployment assistance will be coming to the end of its eight-week period in short order. There is no doubt that the government must also extend the NIB benefit for another 13 weeks after that program comes to an end,” he said.
“The government should offer tenants who qualify up to $500 per month to pay their rent, as opposed to the fake rental assistance program they launched, which does not really assist anyone in the equation and particularly disadvantages landlords. This basic stipend will have money circulating in the economy and lead to steady revenue through the continued ability of landlords to pay taxes.”
During his televised national address on Sunday, Minnis painted a grim outlook for the economic future of The Bahamas, pointing out that revenue for the month of April is down 50 percent and the economy is expected to shrink by as much as 14 to 20 percent this year.
Cooper said it did not have to be this way.
“Family island economies except Bimini, Cat Cay and Grand Bahama could have been opened by the end of April. The real estate sector also remains closed. This sector is a major source of revenue for the government. They could have been finalizing contactless transactions this entire time,” he said.
“These industries could have provided much-needed employment and taxes at this time. The prime minister spoke as if what the common man has been feeling for many weeks is only now hitting home to the government, as its citizens who fund it are no longer able to do so. The prime minister says gross domestic product is due to contract by 14 to 20 percent. We will be lucky if that is all it is.
“And if we take the prime minister’s estimation seriously, that means we will lose around $2 billion from our economy this year. These are serious times and it gives me no pleasure to say ‘I told you so.’”
Cooper suggested the government inject a large sum of money into the economy over the short term to take care of the needy, while also bolstering the domestic economy.
“The PLP’s recommendations from six weeks ago are still what we recommend today. Robust and intelligent borrowing to swap out old debt and raise capital for investment in digital and infrastructural upgrades, food security, jobs programs, social safety net programs, business investment and reducing the cost of electricity,” he said.
“We must use this opportunity to position the new Bahamas, with significant reforms, new industries, empowering Bahamian entrepreneurs, proper management of our natural resources and a sovereign wealth fund.”