Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said yesterday that government has “no regrets” with reopening the country’s borders on July 1, saying a spike in cases was expected, but that the decision had to be made because there was no money coming into the country.
“No regrets,” Turnquest said. “At this stage, I think even though we’ve had a spike in cases in Grand Bahama, when you look at it statistically we’re doing okay.”
Prior to June 15, there were 104 confirmed novel coronavirus cases in The Bahamas.
Since July 8, there have been 20 additional confirmed cases.
“There’s no rocket science in this,” he said. “If you have no income coming in and our expenditure basically remains the same, obviously over a longer period of time it’s going to have a negative effect on our overall balance and payments.”
He added, “If you have a circumstance where you’re not earning foreign exchange and our largest foreign exchange earner is tourism and you’re consuming, obviously you’re going to have a drain on your reserves.”
Turnquest said the decision to reopen the country’s borders is one that the government had to consider very carefully but one that was necessary.
“Whenever you have your major source of revenue cut off, you’re not in a good place,” he said.
“However, we are certainly not in a position of crisis. We’re able to meet our commitments and are engaging in a number of financing activities to provide us with a level of funding that we need to bridge this particular period and that is moving along swiftly. So, we do not anticipate that we’re going to have any challenges, certainly not in the medium-term.”
According to Turnquest, The Bahamas has enough cushion unless the number of cases continues to spike past the summer and into the fall.
“We have built in a period where we anticipated that we would have very low economic activity or pretty much none at all, in respect to the tourism industry, which as we all know is the major driver of our economy,” Turnquest said.
“Those projections are holding for now. But obviously the further we get down into fall, if we’re still at this level then our projections will start to diverge. And at that point we will have to assess what other adjustments may need to be made in order to ensure that we don’t utilize all of our headroom.
“Our projections had us going into early fall, in terms of tourism activity. So, at the moment we are on track. But if we get down into the Thanksgiving period and we’re still slow, obviously that’s going to throw projections off quite a bit. But we’re still hopeful.”
Asked whether it’s a possibility there can be staff reductions in the public sector if there is no relief for the pandemic by late fall, Turnquest said, “It’s too early for that. Government has given our commitment to maintain as many people as we possibly can. Hopefully, none will be released, certainly not those in the permanent and pensionable role.”