Gov’t should retool fiscal regime

Government must use the economic crisis brought about by COVID-19 to retool and revamp its fiscal regime and find ways to use technology to reach the most vulnerable Bahamians quicker, according to CFAL President Anthony Ferguson.

Ferguson, who was a guest on the Guardian Radio talk show “Z Live: Off the Record” with host Zhivargo Laing on Wednesday, said government must use this crisis, which he said is the worst economic crisis in his lifetime, to put in place the protocols needed to remain afloat, should the world sink into a similar position again.

Ferguson added that it is, especially, time to use technology within the National Insurance Board (NIB) to be able to distribute social assistance and unemployment benefits faster and more efficiently.

“We should take this opportunity to take a real introspective look at our economy and the way we do business and use this as an opportunity to retool and revamp our whole fiscal regime and system and put in place the protocols to ensure that should this ever happen again, once we’re out of it, that we’ll be in a better position,” Ferguson said.

“It’s (COVID-19) going to have a significant negative toll on the government’s finances and we have to accept that fact because of the makeup of our country.

“Government will have to borrow a lot more to provide to the less fortunate.

“Let’s hope there is no second wave.”

While Ferguson is sure government will have to borrow money to stabilize the economy, he said it will not likely be the $2 billion suggested, recently, by Progressive Liberal Party Deputy Leader Chester Cooper. He said the markets will not likely be able to accommodate that amount at one time given the global stretch of the viral outbreak, and the shock to global economies.

And with tourism’s full return a guessing game, Ferguson said some tough decisions by government will have to be made.

“I’m not sure the market today would be able to support two billion in the first instance, and certainly not in the next few months,” he said.

“If he (Cooper) is thinking over a two-to-three-year period, that’s a different story.

“Let’s hope that it does not last long, but let’s be realistic, it normally takes a year or two for a vaccine to be tested and mass produced. Until that happens, people will continue to be cautious in terms of traveling and such.

“It will impact us, and government will have to take up the slack.”

He said when the government does borrow, it will have to sink some of the money into investments that generate earnings.

“We have to be very judicious in the way we seek to borrow,” Ferguson said.

“We have an opportunity to reset our financial position as a country. We have an opportunity to make some targeted adjustment and changes to move the country forward, and I think we need to be non-partisan about this, get the best and the brightest, and focus on prioritizing what in the short-term we would need to do to ensure that we can take care of the less fortunate among ourselves [and] adjusting government delivery of services such that should this happen again, we could reach the most vulnerable among us with the touch of a button from your computer.

“NIB does not have the technology to reach persons fast enough.”

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