Further economic development and diversification must begin in our country immediately.
With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc globally and the uncertainty of what we will meet on the other side of it, it is imperative to look at diversifying our national economy, possibly starting with our southeastern islands.
These islands, Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay, are ripe for growth in the fields of industrial development, renewable energy, e-commerce and eco-tourism.
The southeastern islands have a rich history in the national and social development of the entire Bahamas but have lagged in terms of economic development.
The next 15 years will be very important for the growth and development of the southeastern Bahamas. Our country is at an economic precipice, and sound initiatives must be put in place to take these islands forward.
As part of the research for this report, I interviewed and conducted various surveys with residents on each of the southeastern islands.
I’ve encapsulated their points and have gotten feedback from other economic and financial experts on what is needed to shift the economic future for these islands.
A clear strategy, top-notch management and high-quality products and services are critical sources to moving them into the future.
The following list of actions will provide the southeastern islands with a competitive advantage now and in the future:
• The establishment of a chamber of commerce on each island so businesses can pool ideas, network and further the goal of all businesses on the island. This will help maximize each business’ potential on the island.
• A manufacturing/agricultural operation is needed on Acklins or Crooked Island to facilitate the processing of Cascarilla bark on both islands. This operation can be facilitated by companies in Latin America or Europe that require this product for incense, liquor, oils and tobacco. The Bahamas Investment Authority must target and facilitate the opening of such plants to provide long-term economic empowerment for residents of the southeastern islands.
• An ATM machine must be placed on each of the southeastern islands that doesn’t have a bank so it can facilitate commerce. The importance of access to liquid cash is important to any developing economy and should be the foundation for economic development. The ATM machines can be placed in the police stations for security purposes and can be serviced at least once a month by Bank of The Bahamas.
• The development of a Solar Energy Park on the island of Mayaguana will fulfill a vital renewable energy goal for The Bahamas. This project can be implemented similarly to the Paradise Park Solar project in Westmoreland, Jamaica. The implementation of the solar energy park in the southeastern islands can pave the way and test the viability of running the entire island on solar energy. Alternative power solutions are important and beneficial to our environment in the fight against global warming.
• There needs to be a two-pronged approach with the transportation of goods and services to the southeastern islands. Transportation of goods must be done by air and sea. The reliance primarily on the mail boat is not enough anymore for the population. There needs to be discussions with air courier companies that can service the southeastern islands with government incentives. A great concern of many businesses in the southeastern islands is the high cost of transportation for goods to their islands. The high costs have trickled down to the customers and have resulted in the rise of the cost of living in the southeastern Bahamas, ultimately forcing many to go without.
• The southeastern Bahamas is also ideal for the expansion of digital currency throughout the country. The present Sand Dollar project, which got started on a Family Island, should be mastered in the southeastern islands. This will allow residents to benefit from this new age digital currency. Such a project will appeal to international businesses and tourists. The Central Bank must facilitate this process and conduct extensive training exercises for each island and possibly develop a digital currency center for the southeastern region.
• We as a country have become heavily reliant on the North American economy. As a country we must diversify our target markets in terms of tourists and investors. This economic shift is imperative, and serious focus must be directed to the Central and South American markets. Latin America is a very robust and diverse economy.
• The government must ensure that the digitalization demands are in place for the present and future population. The southeastern islands must be able to integrate digital technology into their everyday lives. The present digital infrastructure needs to be enhanced with better broadband connections that will allow more bandwidth that will result in better internet and mobile connectivity. Telecommunication providers must fulfill these deficiencies urgently. Such an enhancement will improve not only the economic outlook but the overall quality of life in the southeastern Bahamas.
• The southeastern Bahamas must develop and encourage more eco-touristic lodges that tap into the natural habitat of the islands. The beauty of the southeastern islands is their tranquility and natural wildlife. One of the bigger issues with tourism in those islands is the demand is sometimes greater than their ability to accommodate. Greater incentives are needed for both local and international investors to build lodges and bed and breakfast establishments throughout those islands. There is a demand for wild hog and bird hunting and the widely popular attraction of flamingoes on the beach. There is a sizable market of touristic guests who enjoy the simplicity of a small Family Island cottage over a large hotel.
• There must be a reduction of the VAT rate of 12 percent in the southeastern Bahamas. In comparative studies done throughout the world, the tax rates are sometimes lower in underdeveloped provinces or states. This is done to reduce inequality and poverty. The government must assess its short and long-term goals based on the present tax policies in the southeastern Bahamas. This proposed reduction would result in the cost of living being reduced and would provide greater incentives for local and international investments on the islands.
The future of our country relies on expanding our economy and positioning our islands for success so that future generations of Bahamians can enjoy it.
Some may say that these are lofty goals, but majority rule, independence and countless other national gems were labeled as such.
The resilience of Bahamians is unmatched even when the challenges are great.
With focused leadership, the best economic minds in our country and the people of the southeastern Bahamas, we can and will obtain a more secure economic future for The Bahamas.
— Quinton C. Lightbourne, CFP