Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for being with us this afternoon.
And thank you, Mr. Deputy Leader, for your remarks, and for being such a thoughtful partner in building this
As you said, this is a most serious time.
And yet, it is also a time of great possibility.
A time of crisis can also be a time of renewal, if only we are willing to recognize the opportunity for transformative change.
First, we have to understand, as clearly as possible, what is at stake. I believe Bahamians can handle the truth, and the truth is that things have gone from bad to worse, and if we continue to stand still, if we continue with business-asusual, things will go from worse to catastrophic.
But we don’t have to stand still. We don’t have to choose the path of doom and gloom. Anyone who tells you that brutal austerity budgets are inevitable, that we have run out of options, lacks vision and more importantly, is underestimating the resourcefulness of the Bahamian people.
Our Economic Plan is full of solutions for kickstarting the economy and creating jobs, for incentivizing the creation of new industries and new opportunities. We are betting on the Bahamian people. We do not see Bahamians as passive recipients of government help; we see Bahamians as crucial partners in building a new economy.
We often talk about how resilient the Bahamian people are. And it is true. There has been so much to lament over this past year, but there have also been silver linings, stories of ingenuity in the face of hardship. Some Bahamians who lost their jobs discovered in themselves the capacity for reinvention and started small businesses. We should
celebrate and support their efforts; it is this kind of spirit and determination that will fuel our recovery.
I believe that if we give Bahamians the tools to change their own lives, they will change our country, too.
This faith in my fellow Bahamians underpins the entire Economic Plan: Yes, we can build a different economy, one that is more dynamic and more inclusive. Yes, we can finally move from talking about diversifying our economy to actually diversifying our economy. Yes, we can revolutionize how we educate and train Bahamians so that we can keep pace with fast-moving technological and economic changes.
Our Economic Plan has dozens of policies and solutions, and we’ll be sharing them in great detail with Bahamians in the coming weeks — at events, in online town halls, at your doorstep.
We’ll be talking about a new Domestic Investment Board, and about tax relief for small and medium enterprises, and about establishing a Sovereign Wealth Fund that guarantees generations of Bahamians will benefit from our country’s natural resources.
We’ll be sharing our proposals to create greater equity and opportunities for Bahamians in tourism, by reducing the industry’s reliance on imports and by reforming subsidies to foreign investors.
We’ll be talking about how we see updating our physical and digital infrastructure as critical to creating jobs, attracting investment and lowering the cost of doing business.
This Economic Plan does not have a solution to every problem. No plan could. But it is a Plan that recognizes the possibilities of this moment.
Consider how COVID-19 has changed the world of work. At first, considering the battering we’ve taken, it’s easy to see only the downsides. But what are the opportunities?
Many companies have realized that if some percentage of their work force continues to work remotely, they don’t need to lease such enormous and expensive office spaces. Consequently, we’ve seen an increase in international job listings for fully remote positions. That opens up a world of opportunities for Bahamians who won’t need to have our borders define the limits of their ambition.
Remote work has changed the hospitality industry, too, with many hotels looking to lure an entirely new category of traveler: the remote worker interested in longer-term stays. It’s possible, now, to work for a company based in Toronto while you stay at a lodge in Andros or rent a home in Exuma for weeks at a time.
These changes in the world of work do represent new opportunities for us. Let’s make sure we’re ready to take advantage of them.
One of the policies in our Economic Plan that I’m most passionate about is EdTech: Pathways to Success, because I know that virtual learning can close opportunity gaps and be a great equalizer. We’re going to support
Bahamians who want to upgrade their skills and pursue certificates and degrees online. You can sit in Spanish Wells or Nassau Village or Freeport and study with worldclass educators at top universities and companies. Coding, e-commerce, data analysis, blockchain, design, digital marketing, finance, business planning, entrepreneurial studies – Bahamians know that acquiring new skills is the key to unlocking opportunity.
Our Economic Plan also envisions workspace hubs, so that we can support Bahamian entrepreneurs and start-ups by providing a shared office space, which will lower barriers to entry for new businesses, lower the costs of doing business, and promote collaboration and networking.
We need to build support networks for Bahamian entrepreneurs, pairing them with advisors in a new National Mentoring Programme, and providing links to financing and angel investors.
In addition, we plan an immediate investment of $50 million to fund entrepreneurial developments, and up to
$250 million over five years.
Many of the solutions in the Economic Plan are modern ones, but what drives us is what has always driven us in the PLP: the belief that our government, our economy, and our country should belong to the many, not the few.
That means we have a lot of work ahead of us.
There are a lot of ways we can measure the severity of our nation’s current crisis: we can look at the unemployment numbers, or the number of families who have fallen out of the middle class and into poverty, or the debt-to-GDP ratio.
And in all our talk of resilience, we cannot lose sight of the genuine suffering and despair across the country. It is not the kind of anxiety that accompanies a temporary dip in fortunes. It is the much greater sorrow of Bahamians who wonder if they can build a secure future in our country.
I’m talking about the hotel worker who has learned just how dangerous it is to rely on a tourism job. I’m talking about the college graduate who studied hard but finds herself shut out of opportunities in her own country. I’m talking about the young entrepreneur who had initiative but lacked the technical skills to make his new company a success.
We must build an economy that is strong enough, vibrant enough, to include everyone. We need to focus relentlessly on creating jobs, and we must transform education, so that it can keep up with the rapidly evolving world of work. We must constantly look forward and ask, what are the core competencies that will be required in future careers, and how do we plant the seeds now to build those?
Yes, in the last few years we’ve suffered from poor governance, a devastating hurricane, and a global pandemic. But the truth is, the economy in our country has been failing to generate enough opportunities for a long time.
It has been clear for years that our economic model needed reform and change. The COVID crisis has brought home how vulnerable our economy is to external shock and how urgently diversification must be pursued.
It isn’t enough to talk about the Orange, Blue and Green economies. It’s time for comprehensive policies that allow us to realize their potential.
Let’s open a School of Visual, Performing and Recording Arts, to unleash Bahamian creative talent. Let’s make Junkanoo world-famous, and create an export industry for our music, costumes and art. Let’s host world-class cultural events and make our extraordinary Bahamian culture the competitive advantage that attracts visitors and investments.
Let’s do more to support Bahamian athletes. Let’s make sloop sailing our national sport and have boat building included in our vocational studies. Let’s encourage international sports leagues to play games and train in
The Blue economy includes established industries, such as fishing, but also new ones, such as marine biotechnology and aquaculture. The Green economy can encompass food security, a cannabis-for-export industry, the expansion of salt production, and a programme to fell pine forests, so they grow sustainably and produce lumber for domestic construction.
BAMSI can be used as an educational and training base for the Blue and Green economies.
And of course, there is the enormous potential for cleantech ventures in the renewable energy industry.
It’s breathtaking, how many opportunities are waiting to be realized in this country.
This is why I don’t have patience for the pessimists and the cynics. This is no time to think small, when our challenges are so big.
For those Bahamians currently frustrated by the inertia of the status quo, I share your frustration.
We should not fear or resist change. We should embrace change – and harness it for the good of the people.
We can be clear-eyed about the scale of this economic crisis, but also confident that we have what it takes to chart a new course forward.
And, as I said at the outset, government can be a catalyst for progress, but it will be the Bahamian people who write the next chapter in our country’s story.
God Bless You, and May God Bless The Bahamas.