Despite tens of thousands of Bahamians still unemployed due to lockdown measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said the government cannot request to lending institutions and insurance companies an extension of the payment deferral programs that were implemented during the first lockdown period.
Noting that the government has communicated with financial institutions to be lenient with borrowers and policy holders, the finance minister said, “It’s not their fault. With respect to all of those items, as you know we’ve had some difficulty in getting some entities to formally enter in wholesale agreement for the deferrals or forbearances of the various loan payments or insurance premiums or the rest of it. We continue to work with them and encourage them to extend every kind of opportunity for individuals to defer their payments and continue with their mortgages or insurance premiums, knowing the difficulties that we all face and not wanting to have to add that additional stress to our citizens and residents at this time,” Turnquest told Guardian Business.
“It’s not their fault that we’re all on lockdown and they are unable to fulfil that commitment. Maybe it’s the simple reason that they can’t get there because of the lockdown or offices are not open because of the lockdown. So we continue to work and to encourage them to do what they can to assist, while the government continues with its programs to try and provide some level of assistance to residents as best we can with the resources that we have.”
In March the competent authority suspended the obligation of policyholders to pay life, health and general insurance premiums for the duration of the initial emergency orders; while at the same time The Central Bank of The Bahamas announced that borrowers would benefit from a three-month payment deferral for loans at commercial banks.
In most cases those deferment programs would have ended in July and in August.
Turnquest said the government will ensure that it does whatever it can to ensure that people have the minimum basic needs they require. He said the Ministry of Finance is in the process of looking at contingency planning to see under which scenarios it will adjust the national budget to provide further assistance to Bahamians if needed.
“We’re seeing how we might adjust it so that we can continue to have the funds available to do these things and ensure that everybody is at least able to maintain the minimum,” he said.
“It may not be at the level that they have been receiving over the last six months, but we will try to continue with the feeding programs and some basic level of support as best we can.
“You may know that we budgeted in this current year’s budget up to the end of September for continued assistance to individuals for income replacement, as well as for businesses for continuity loans and grants and tax credits. Those programs will continue certainly through the end of September, however we hope that come the end of September going into October we will see the economy start to open and we can start to wean ourselves off of these programs because they are unsustainable for the long term. The reality is, without income coming in at the levels that we are used to or that we need in order to sustain these programs, it’s going to be very difficult towards the end to be able to maintain the level of support that we have.”