Op-Ed

The Bahamas in 2022, pt. 1

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” Publilius Syrus

Like the year 2020, many Bahamians were happy to see 2021 come to an end, primarily because of the continued devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the availability of vaccinations, the Delta and Omicron variants of the virus continued their death-dealing destruction of lives and economies around the globe.

As we begin a new year, we thought it would be instructive to anticipate some domestic events that we should closely watch in the year ahead. Therefore, this week, we will consider this: What domestic developments are likely to affect us in 2022?

COVID will remain our primary challenge

COVID-19 will remain the single most significant domestic challenge in 2022. The virus will test the leadership of public and health officials even more than they have been tested in the last two years.

A COVID-weary public will demand more efficacious results. It will challenge the effectiveness of science-based solutions, almost to the point where data-based and fact-driven policies will be ignored by a public exhausted with what they perceive to be solutions that are not working.

No one knows how long COVID-19’s Omicron variant surge will last but it will threaten the global economic recovery.

Gaby Hinsliff, who writes for The Guardian, noted, “The novel threat this time is not death on the biblical scale forecast during the first wave … but knock-on chaos and disruption caused by the potential mass infection of key workers, leaving them unable to do their work.”

Hoping the problem will be “mercifully brief”, Hinsliff argues that the lesson of Omicron is nonetheless the same one COVID-19 has offered from the start: “… that societies and economies need safety nets to build in resilience for when health crises hit.”

In 2022, the Omicron variant could quickly be followed by a deadlier, more contagious strain of the virus, as it mutates, while fighting to survive in an environment where its sustainability is increasingly threatened by the achievement of herd immunity and the growing numbers of vaccinated persons. We will have to wait to see if this virus follows the patterns of the Spanish flu pandemic 100 years ago that simply disappeared from the scene after a little over two years, or will it remain with us for much longer?

Economic recovery

The second most pressing national issue will revolve around economic recovery. The pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on the macro- and micro-economies.

At the macro level, we have experienced unheard of fiscal deficits, which have catapulted our national debt to never anticipated levels. Government revenue has sunk to unparalleled low levels, precisely when public funds are urgently needed to provide a safety net for thousands of Bahamians who have fallen below the poverty line because of the pandemic.

Equally concerning is the likely and understandable delay or postponement of capital projects urgently required to properly maintain our aging roads, docks, airports, bridges, and public buildings.

These capital projects will cost hundreds of millions of dollars that are just not available. This reality will necessitate the urgency of public-private partnerships to ensure that urgently needed capital works are not totally postponed.

However, we must recognize that public-private partnerships have attendant costs, principally concessions granted to enable them to proceed. This reality will require the government to be highly diligent and discerning to resist surrendering excessive or inordinately extensive or lengthy concessions.

At the micro-economic level, companies need to become more innovative than ever before. They must surgically evaluate their strengths and weaknesses to determine how to operate efficiently in a business environment whose paradigm has been radically altered by the pandemic.

Many companies will have to reassess their business models to determine if they are able to rebound from the challenges created by the pandemic and, more importantly, to ensure they can be sustainable in the new economic order.

A new government
takes root

The companion challenges of COVID and economic recovery will unrelentingly test the new government’s mettle. In the best of times, it isn’t easy to govern. However, faced with the double-barrel dynamic devastation that has deluged our Commonwealth, wise, considered, and informed leadership must be the primary drivers of public policy decisions.

Of critical importance will be the ability of the government to listen and to do so intently. There has historically been a propensity for newly elected leaders to quickly forget that, before coming to office, many were struggling to make ends meet, while others were hanging on for dear life, living from paycheck to paycheck.

Then, suddenly, on Election Day, many of them are thrust into positions where every desire is satisfied and the title of “honorable” is suddenly theirs without really earning it or even fully understanding what it means.

The newly elected government leaders must resist the behavior of many of their predecessors in office, remain humble, and recognize that the titles that now adorn them and offices that they now occupy are only for a season. And, given the history of the last 20 years, that season has not lasted more than five years.

In the case of the immediately preceding cohort of national “leaders”, it did not even last that long. The new government must avoid the pitfalls and practices of its predecessors.

This year will be pivotal for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government. Historically, the electorate has not taken long to decide whether it will continue to support a newly elected government. Voters are known for rapidly concluding that the government’s days are numbered.

Therefore, the new government must do everything it can in 2022 to continue to enjoy the confidence and support of the people. It must inspire confidence in the electorate that it is placing the country on the right track, despite the double barrel effects of COVID and the flailing economy that the PLP inherited.

Changes in the FNM

This will also be a pivotal year for the Official Opposition Free National Movement (FNM). Having suffered such a humiliating defeat at the polls last September, the new FNM leadership must convince its rank and file that it can unify the party, which has been fractured for many years.

To that end, Bahamians will closely watch whether the new leader, unlike his predecessor, will genuinely engage his parliamentary colleagues.

Let’s not forget that there was a time, not long ago, when the former FNM leader, who later became prime minister, failed to enjoy the confidence of his colleagues, prompting an unprecedented move to have him replaced as the leader of the official opposition by the governor general. Bahamians will observe whether the new FNM leader can reverse this hostile parliamentary atmosphere if he intends to retain that office in 2022.

In addition, 2022 will provide a future prognosis to determine whether the FNM, as a political machine, will rapidly recover from its resounding routing in 2021. If it appears to the party elders that this is unlikely, we could witness the emergence or re-emergence of characters from days gone by to rescue the party from further decline.

Conclusion

Next week, we will conclude this two-part series about what we can expect in The Bahamas in 2022. We will examine, among other things, how the government may deal with the closed Grand Lucaya and British Colonial hotel properties and the hundreds of jobs displaced by those closures, what we are likely to do about our system of taxation, and what plans will be made to celebrate our golden jubilee of nationhood in 2023.

Finally, on the economic front, we will also take a look at what developments we will likely experience in cryptocurrency and how the capital markets will fare as a tool for economic recovery.

One thing the recent past has taught us is to be as ready as we can for the unexpected, unimagined, and unthinkable. Aside from the things we can expect in The Bahamas in 2022, that we have outlined in this column, and will finish next week, we must continue to steel ourselves for the unforeseen.

One thing seems to be emerging, however, both here at home and globally: a sense of resolve that humans will learn to live with COVID, doing all we can to mitigate its effects, so that 2022 can be a year of firmly establishing our new normal.

With this new attitude of a better readiness for what may come, it is clear that the year 2022 will be pivotal in more ways than we can now anticipate.

In fact, as we stand here at the beginning of the year, taking into account some of the things we can expect here in The Bahamas in the next 11 and a half months, we can even allow ourselves some hope that we are actually beginning to see a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that has been our lives since early 2020.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com

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