In the process of rebuilding The Bahamas’ economy in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, funds should be diverted away from the ministries of tourism and financial services and be used to fund domestically generated enterprises, Professor of the School of Business and Hospitality Management at the University of The Bahamas (UB) Olivia Saunders told Guardian Business, adding that UB, the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI), the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Capital Fund (BEVF) and the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) will all be critical to economic growth after the virus threat is subdued.
Saunders expressed disappointment that UB was not represented on the government’s economic recovery committee, though government has called for the creation of sub-committees.
She explained that UB will be pivotal in providing research to the country as it pulls itself out of the current economic crisis caused by COVID-19.
“The distinguishing aspect of a university is that it brings forth knowledge and information,” said Saunders.
“Research is the source of new knowledge. Research has not informed the decision-making of policymakers and those who have had to implement policy, as it should.
“Furthermore, too many policies have been enunciated based on research done by persons with extremely limited knowledge of The Bahamas; by institutions that already have policy agendas to promote. UB offers an opportunity for indigenous research that can be used to address indigenous issues. No less than half a million dollars should be allocated to UB annually for the specific purpose of research to address the most pressing problems facing the country.”
Saunders explained that moving government-allocated funds from areas like tourism and financial services towards the development of more local businesses would be a key to sustainable economic recovery.
She said while restarting tourism is important, “The emphasis should be on getting tourism going and/or any other sector, so that we have sufficient resources to sustain the society we want to live in.”
She contended that BEVF and SBDC have been important in developing businesses that commercial banks would not typically fund.
“The reliance on mostly foreign-owned commercial banks that have no interest in the advancement of the country beyond the profits they can generate and repatriate to their head offices has been kicking us in the face,” she said.
“BEVF and SBDC can and are providing support and access to funding for domestic businesses that would not even be considered for financing by the commercial banks, outside of full guarantees and sometimes more than 100 percent collateral. Augmenting the work of these two institutions is a critical component in moving the country forward.
“Further, funds should be diverted from the enormous budgets of the ministries responsible for tourism and financial services to fund domestically generated enterprises.
“We should not want to go back. We should be moving forward to a new paradigm that is purposeful in creating a different and better society.”
Saunders added that as the government considers foreign direct investment in the future, it must consider projects that advance Bahamians and do not only provide construction and low-wage jobs.
“Foreign investment must be more focused on what is needed for the country, not for a few construction jobs, not for a few modern plantation-type jobs, not those that deny Bahamians access to the country’s natural resources and not those that destroy the natural environment,” Saunders said.
She lauded BAMSI as critical to meeting “a specified level of domestically sourced food”.
“Strengthening BAMSI’s capacity and its coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture’s programs can achieve a higher level of food security,” said Saunders.