The Bahamas has fallen on tough times. The economy is not performing at the pace that was enjoyed during the years of boom. Revenue collection is down and in fact, it is projected that the Government is running a deficit in the amount of $60 million. These financial realities must be assessed in light of the global challenges to fight the terrorist movement as a result of the attacks of the 11th September, 2001 and the global slow down.
The Government has provided no information and no commentary to suggest and to support the view that the fire at the straw market adversely affected the tourism industry. The straw vendors were temporarily displaced but the Government came to their aid and provided them with financial subsidy.
The hotel industry and the associated businesses have faced the brunt of the slow down in the economy. With hotel occupancy showing signs of improvement for the winter season many hold the view that things will improve in the medium term.
The primary responsibility of the Government of The Bahamas and its relevant stakeholders is to take precautionary measures to attempt to create a new niche market and to stimulate the local tourism economy, Too much blind reliance is placed on the American market and no real and serious efforts are made to cultivate new and dynamic markets. And as every Government must now appreciate, when tourism is in a mode of non-performance the adverse impact on the revenue collection is more paramount.
The true picture is that, the times that we are now experiencing must be directly associated to a lack of proper and efficient management of the natural resources of the country, The awesome and sole responsibility of the Government of The Bahamas is to utilize the expertise and skill within the public service and in the country so that proper management of crises are ensured. Also, and perhaps more important, ways and methods must be adopted to manage a crisis before it appears. It is not good administration for the Government to blame the stew that it now finds itself either on outside forces or on the previous administration, The fact of the matter is that the Government has the task of running the country and it is the sole responsibility of the Government to answer to the people for the times that are now upon us.
The House of Assembly was consumed on Monday past with a Resolution to borrow the sum of $41 million dollars. The Prime Minister indicated that the measure was necessary to pay for the debts left behind by the former administration. It is certainly important to remember that the FNM assumed the reins of the Government in August, 1992, almost ten years ago. It is amazing that the Government now finds it appropriate to place blame for its own financial crisis at the feet of an administration that has been out of the seat of government for a period long enough for the present regime to put its house in order.
Given the fact that the FNM Government boasted of having presented the first balanced budget to Parliament some short year ago, one must have thought that the Government had taken all the necessary steps to run the country finances in a prudent and meticulous fashion. The truth has now been told.
The Government now finds itself cash poor. That suggests that the FNM Government is no different from many Bahamians who wait for pay-day and one day later they are anxiously awaiting another pay period having consumed all of their salaries on consumable items. There is no appreciation for the need to save and equally, there is no concept of saving for a rainy day. The sad reality is that
notwithstanding the hoopla about a balanced budget the Government can not boast of maintaining a surplus during the years of plenty. Too much spending was undertaken and now this Government, on the eve of a general election, is
essentially saying that the Government is broke.
Certainly, and talk of the national treasury being empty must be a reminder of the cries that echoed throughout the country prior to the 1992 General Election. It is rather amazing how things change so quickly and now this FNM Government must demonstrate that it does not wear the same clothes that were worn by the former PLP administration. It is doubtful that they will be successful in fooling the Bahamian people.
Further, the admission made by the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Julian Francis, that the Government did not save during the period of prosperity spells an annoying reality for this Government's Minister of Finance who keeps speaking of the Government's financial prudence. It is now time for the Government to be judged and this will mean that all of the facts must be made available so that an honest and objective opinion can be made as to the Government's record.
The manner and way that a government faces and addresses crisis are critical indicators of whether that government seriously understands what governing entails. Save for the Prime Minister's two national addresses that seek to merely camouflage the issues, this Government has miserably failed in adopting real measures that seek to restore the level of revenue collection and that seek to create and restore financial confidence. No word has been uttered as to what measures will be taken in the medium and long term to create a sound economic base. All that the public has heard is silly and unnecessary criticisms about the need for economic diversification that only can lead one to conclude that this Government is out of depth with the issues and the financial crisis. The Government has obviously given no thought to taking steps to create new revenue streams. It must then be accepted that the FNM Government is intent in borrowing million of dollars to get the country out of the financial crisis. This is stupid, shortsighted and foolhardy.
President George Bush of the United States and the Congress are busying themselves to find an economic stimulus package so that the American economy can be jump-started. Perhaps, our Government has decided to watch the American experience in quiet anticipation that if successful we will ultimately benefit and the Minister of Finance can then be heard saying what a great job he did. It is time for the Government to demonstrate that it can lead through the worst of crises. As of today, it has failed and the people must pray that those responsible for the country will wake up from their sleep to either run the country or place it in the hands of those who know how to get the job done.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author alone. Comments and suggestions for future columns can be made sia either E-mail: rsrigby(@batelnet.bs or to P.O. Box SS-6836 or (242)393-6000. @All rights reserved.