The common wealth of The Bahamas

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is entrusted in the government of The Bahamas by its citizens for the collective benefit of its citizens.

The public is regularly tasked with electing officials who are charged with the management and overall growth of this wealth.

There is no greater wealth a nation possesses than its people.

It is, then, to that end, that the government must do its best to protect the safety, health and welfare of the nation’s people.

This is demonstrated, not exhaustively, in our publicly funded police force and navy, government-subsidized schooling from the primary through the tertiary level, as well as our network of public healthcare facilities.

The Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development oversees children’s homes, food and housing assistance for the underprivileged, disability allowances, housing repair allowances, uniform assistance for students, old-age pensions, burial assistance, assistance in accessing water and electricity as well as the national school lunch program.

Beneficiaries need to make no contribution to receive aid.

The National Insurance Board (NIB) oversees our contributory social safety net.

NIB oversees a broad network of benefits for sickness, maternity, unemployment, injury, disablement and death.

NIB also oversees other critical noncontributory benefits, such as cash assistance for those in need over 65 years old who have not met the requirements for a contributory pension.

NIB also provides assistance for those who can no longer work as a result of employment injury and sickness.

And all of that is still not enough to cover all those in need.

Better social protection systems are a necessity in a Bahamas where the Department of Statistics reports that 12.5 percent of the population was living in poverty in 2013.

That number was up from the 9.3 percent of the population reported living in poverty in 2001.

This was, of course, before Hurricane Dorian and before the COVID-19 pandemic, that some experts predict could have contracted our gross domestic product by as much as 20 percent in 2020.

The government of The Bahamas under the current administration of Dr. Hubert Minnis and the Free National Movement has expanded the social safety net to cover those who have exhausted or were never entitled to unemployment benefits, though the level of payout has decreased from its original amount.

The government claims to have spent tens of millions on a national feeding network, that though efficacious in some aspects, could have been more expansive.

The Minnis administration likes little more than to tout what it has done for the public.

But it is the public, not solely the crop of current politicians, that ultimately will shoulder the burden of paying for these programs through increased borrowing and, eventually, increased taxes.

What this administration has done was not novel to the region or the world.

But it was wise.

Social safety nets prop up incomes among those who spend the majority of their income on domestic consumption.

They build human capital through education and greater contributions to the economy and allow for people to be more productive having not to worry about their basic needs being met.

The Bahamas has committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are no poverty, zero hunger and reducing inequality.

We are more than likely not going to meet the strict letter of those goals by 2030.

But we need to continue to build on the effort.

There are those who believe that our tax dollars should not be spent on those whom they label as having an aversion to hard work or having grown too comfortable with “welfare”.

We disagree.

While we remain challenged as a nation, government social spending has benefited The Bahamas vastly since Majority Rule, helping to lift thousands out of poverty and into the middle class.

Seeking to make our wealth more common has undoubtedly been to our collective good.

However, we recognize that more study should go into better targeted and more efficient spending of the people’s money.

There are also many who are of the view that the government does not do enough to help those in need.

To the effect that political directorates find themselves taking credit for doing what is basic and decent, they will realize that people will continue to ask why they have not done more.

In all probability, in the short term, poverty, hunger and inequality will worsen.

On our behalf, the government must do all it can, realizing that with our limited resources, it can only reasonably do so much.

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