We are all familiar with the phrase that claims that “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence”.
A slight variant of this saying may be, that perhaps “you should water and feed your own grass before longingly looking at the grass on the other side of the fence”.
This alternative may be very appropriate at this time, from a number of points of view.
While governments all over the world might have received an upfront free pass on their initial responses to the global pandemic, public confidence is in tatters and anger is starting to bubble over.
Once governments manage to “open up” their respective countries and manage to lure tourists and investors back into their countries, the genuine structural flaws in many regional economies will be laid bare, for all to see.
Zooming in on The Bahamas, we need tourists and we need foreign investment. Tourism by itself provides about 70 percent of GDP, whether direct, indirect, or implied.
For some years now, The Bahamas has not protected its sacred animal.
The aftermath of the effects of the pandemic may expose many of its neglect.
Our golden cow (feeding in our yard on our green grass) is a special creature that is made up of tourism, financial services and foreign investment (but mostly tourism).
This creature relies on various nutritional grassy substances, such as seamless service, perceived good value for money and an ever-improving ease of doing business.
It produces milk based on what it consumes: improved employment, increased wages, and enhanced tax receipts for the government.
If the quality and quantity of the milk are not sufficient to create the benefits we desire, we cannot blame the cow – we must look at what we feed it.
With the pandemic shutting down and restricting the activities of our golden cow, there is suddenly an outcry to diversify!
Do t’ings different! Create crypto hub! Create a manufacturing hub! Promote domestic regional tourism! One-year visas for everyone! Get a pig or chickens!
There appears to be various groups and even government-sponsored committees promoting these types of alternatives as the sole solutions and saviors of the future economy of The Bahamas.
This is utter rubbish.
The golden cow has driven growth in the real Bahamas economy more than any other factors in the country’s glorious history. Its importance to the eventual economic recovery can never be understated.
It will also never be replaced as the key driver and must never be taken for granted.
This animal has to be protected, and savored at all costs. It must be nourished, and it has to be fed properly.
We are not sure what the future of tourism and financial investment will look like, and we must ensure that we are positioned well to attract demand, when lining up against our competitors.
But alas, how can we try to rebuild, or even more fanciful – diversify – on an economy that is based on a World Bank ease of doing business rating of 119th out of 190 countries?
How can we actively try to promote an increase of “student” and “one-year work remotely” visas, if the current structures cannot accommodate servicing the existing foreigners we have resident in the country already, or for businesses wishing to bring in specialist talent?
How can we promote the country as a cryptocurrency or manufacturing hub, if we cannot even provide a constant service of electricity without unannounced blackouts, or it is numbingly difficult to establish a company and doing something as basic as opening a bank account?
We are below Ghana, Pakistan and Uganda on these ease-of-doing-business rankings.
Our natural beauty and proximity to the US may not be enough to save us in a post-pandemic world that may look very different and where we require a solid platform to rebuild and — if so desired — diversify.
Take a deep breath.
The good news is that these decisions as to whether to save the golden cow, or to diversify proactively to pigs and chickens, are not mutually exclusive.
We can support our golden cow while diversifying into all the other components above to grow the economy incrementally.
But — and it’s a big BUT – we have to proactively remove structural inefficiencies from government and other related service providers in order to achieve the critical support for our golden cow — and the pigs and chickens of diversification.
I would propose that we judge the government on how these structural defects are improved upon, because every economic recovery plan will fail, unless the base from which the economic recovery operates is both streamlined and improved.
As a country, we don’t have the luxury to move our cow to a yard where the grass is greener.
We simply must nourish the green grass on the lawn that we have, or face the consequences of providing our cow with inferior food, leading to a sickly cow.
Once it is terminally sick, it may never recover.