Mr. Speaker:

       Let me begin by offering all the fathers in The Bahamas, a belated Happy Father’s Day, including to my father who will be 88 on July 18th.

Mr. Speaker:

       One of the greater privileges in my life was my election to serve as the Member of Parliament for Killarney.

       I rise today on behalf of the residents of Killarney and on behalf of the Bahamian people, who it is a privilege to serve as head of government and to serve alongside my colleagues in government.

       In the beginning of my presentation I will offer my contribution to the 2020/2021 Budget Debate as the Minister of Health.

       I will then note what is being done on behalf of the wonderful and industrious people of Killarney.

       The remainder and bulk of my contribution will describe some of my Government’s vision and program for the restoration and transformation of our Bahamas.

We are embarked on this restoration and transformation in wake of the deep challenges and corresponding opportunities demanded by two of the most far-reaching events in an independent Bahamas.

       This is a budget focused on restoring our country and transforming it to ensure a better future for our people.

       This budget is guided by a number of core values, including a commitment to social justice and the common good; providing greater opportunity for more Bahamians, social inclusion and mobility; and environmental stewardship and sustainability.

       I am committed to vigorously addressing life-giving and life-enhancing issues such as:

  • childhood, adolescent and adult obesity;
  • criminal justice reform;
  • decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and expunging certain records for offenders;
  • the development of a new generation of entrepreneurs and small businesses;
  • expanded Bahamian enterprise and ownership of our economy;
  • and the ongoing and comprehensive development of our Family Islands.

       We will continue to boost access to land ownership, education and training, primary health care, and economic opportunities and incentives for young Bahamians and aspiring entrepreneurs.

We know that in our world and our Bahamas that talent is equally distributed across populations but opportunities are not.

If we do not feel an obligation to open up more opportunities to intersect with that talent we are failing in our national duty.

We must act to ensure that more of our people drink from that pool of opportunity.  This is the challenge that we face today as national leaders.

       That is the mission that we have before us.

But we don’t have to sit and dream of a better day. 

       We must seize history and seize the future now!

We must and we will embrace the ingenuity and the imagination of the Bahamian people to build a more prosperous, equal, just, environmentally sustainable and healthier country. 

Mr. Speaker: 

At the outset, I will address a number of matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing phased reopening of our economy and society.

Last week, I met with the executive team of the Medical Association of The Bahamas to discuss COVID-19 travel protocols and other matters related to the disease.

       I also met with the Nurses Association to discuss the same protocols.

We are entering Phase 5 of our phased reopening. 

The Emergency Powers are to be extended through the month of July 2020.

Effective today, Monday, 22 June 2020, curfew hours are to be amended to 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.  Businesses may now operate until 8 p.m.

I wish to reiterate that PCR COVID-19 negative tests, and completed health forms will be required of all visitors, Bahamians and residents entering or returning to The Bahamas. 

These PCR COVID-19 tests have to be taken within a 7 – 10 day window before travel to The Bahamas.

An exception to require a negative PCR COVID-19 test will be made for short travel periods of 72 hours or less for Bahamians and residents.

However, upon return to The Bahamas these individuals may have to be quarantined for 14 days based on a determination by the Ministry of Health.  

       Indoor eating at restaurants will be allowed with physical distancing required, sanitization, and mask wearing by all staff at all times, and patrons when entering and exiting the establishment.

Maximum seating will be based on 50 percent occupancy, meaning 30 square feet per person.

Vendors at Arawak Cay may continue outdoor dining, but are not permitted for indoor dining at this time.

Roadside vendors will be standardized to ensure that proper structures, hygiene and sanitization protocols are in place.  

Effective Wednesday, 1 July, 2020, gyms and outdoor group exercise may reopen with health safety protocols approved by the Ministry of Health. 

Spas may reopen with health safety protocols approved by Ministry of Health. 

I also wish to announce the opening of public parks and beaches on New Providence, Paradise Island, Grand Bahama and Bimini, effective Monday, 29th June, 2020.

Gatherings greater than five people are prohibited.  

Funeral services in a church or religious facility may be held with numbers based on the physical distancing protocols established for Saturday/Sunday services.

The graveside parts of the services are however, still limited to thirty people, with physical distancing and masks.

There is no need to apply to the Competent Authority for funeral services.

Weddings may be held with numbers based on the physical distancing protocols established for Saturday/Sunday services.       There is no need to apply to the Competent Authority. 

Social gatherings in private facilities and homes may be held with up to 20 or less individuals, with physical distancing, sanitization, and mask wearing.

Effective Wednesday, 1st July, 2020, taxi services may resume based on guidelines in the Ministry of Tourism And Aviation’s, Bahamas Tourism Readiness & Recovery Plan. 

Private and public bus services may resume, with 50 percent occupancy based on guidelines in the Ministry of Tourism’s Bahamas Tourism Readiness & Recovery Plan, effective Wednesday, 1st July, 2020

Establishments, taxi and bus owners are to be held responsible for (i.) letting mask-less patrons enter their respective establishments and (ii.) ensuring that occupancy is limited to enable physical distancing.

If the requirements to wear masks and physical distance are not adhered to by patrons because the owner failed to enforce the requirements, a fine is to be applied to the establishment owner. 

A second violation will lead to a second fine at a higher quantum.

A third violation will lead to a temporary closing of the facility until Health Officials can be satisfied that the continued operations of the establishment would not pose a health risk to the community.

 Mr. Speaker:

I understand the burdens of the lockdown on many of our citizens and how difficult it has been to practice physical distancing in some households.

Basic matters such as the cost of acquiring the right kind of masks and the need to clean and sanitize them regularly has been a burden to some depending on their circumstances.

But I assure the Bahamian people and residents that the wearing of masks has saved lives and protected our health. 

As we continue to come out of the lockdown period, let us not allow this new sense of freedom to overcome the discipline that we displayed up to now with regard to social distancing, regular hand washing and mask wearing.  

We cannot squander the results of the hard work that we undertook as a community. We have seen what we can accomplish when we work together.

Mr. Speaker:

       As the world and The Bahamas reopen their economies, societies and borders, there will inevitably be an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases within and across borders.

       Just as with the other nations of the world, The Bahamas must continue to balance health, economic and social concerns in order to ensure the viability and sustainability of our countries.

       During our phased and gradual reopening we have repeatedly emphasized the need for everyone to do their part. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over.  There is no vaccine as yet.

The wearing of facial masks is absolutely necessity and has significantly helped to reduce the spread of the virus at home and around the world.

       We must all do our part and be personally responsible by wearing our masks, maintaining physical distance and washing and sanitizing our hands thoroughly and often.

       Employers and business must help by ensuring that health measures are followed by employees and customers.

Those who feel unwell should stay at home.

Those who are over a certain age should limit the time they spend away from home.

We still have to be careful and vigilant as we reopen.

We should not be complacent.

We will continue to enforce health care measures, but government cannot do this alone.

We are still in this together.  The need for social solidarity and concern for others is as absolutely necessary as ever.

I beseech and implore the Bahamian people to act in a spirit of love and unity as we continue to face the many ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19.

We still have a long and difficult road ahead.

Mr. Speaker:

The Government has had many partners and donors in the country’s fight against COVID 19, many of whom I have previously acknowledged.  Today, I would like to mention two other groups.

Immediately upon the Government promoting the health and safety value of wearing a mask, a philanthropic group organized itself to meet the huge demand for masks that could be supplied by those.

John and Daphne Delaney led a project to produce quality fabric masks for donation to the Government for distribution to those in need in our community.

The project to produce masks provided a home-based economic opportunity for sewers and others financially challenged by the pandemic.

This initiative led to the founding of Bahamas Masks & PPE Ltd., referred to as “Masks for All”. 

Skilled workers quietly began making triple-layered, 100% cotton and microfiber masks. 

To date, approximately 3,500 masks have been handmade, and distributed free of charge on New Providence and various Family Islands.

I am advised that the production of masks continues and is providing employment and a livelihood for a number of Bahamians.

Additionally, I would like to thank Breezes Hotel and the Issa Family for accommodating returning Bahamians and residents requiring COVID-19 quarantine at their hotel. 

This was a fine example of corporate citizenship.  The Government is grateful for this generosity of spirit.

Mr. Speaker:

       It has been an honor to once again serve, albeit briefly, as Minister of Health.

       I am proud of the medical professionals who are leading the charge against COVID-19. 

I am equally proud of the non-medical and administrative staff who are running the various health care offices on a daily basis.

       The Ministry of Health and its agencies work best when there is a dynamic collaboration between medical officers and non-medical officers all playing their unique roles.

Mr. Speaker:

It is my privilege to announce that the Ministry of Health received a total budget allocation of $298,037,239 for the fiscal year 2020/2021. 

The PHA and NHI received allocations of $223m and $38m respectively. 

This year the Department of Public Health has been assigned Head 66 to carry on its financial obligations in the next budgetary period and has been allocated $45m. 

Mr. Speaker:

In January 2020, a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan was drafted and disseminated to key stakeholders after much consultation. 

Because of the imminent threat of COVID-19, the Government approved $4.5m for the COVID-19 Health Response.

Thereafter, a COVID-19 Task Force team, led by Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis was established to –

  • implement prevention, containment and mitigation measures to minimize the exponential increase in the number of cases;
  • monitor the health system capacity to avoid an overwhelmed and over-burdened health system; and
  • provide statistical evidence to inform the Government’s collective actions.

Dr. Dahl-Regis, as a special consultant to the Prime Minister, is a well-renowned public health stalwart. 

She has daily guided a team of young health professionals as chairperson of the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) at the Ministry of Health. 

With the support of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the EOC has informed and provided direction for the COVID-19 response.    

I thank all those who have been at the forefront of this pandemic and the COVID-19 response and for the tireless efforts expended.  Gratitude is extended to –

  • the members of the EOC;
  • the support staff of the Ministry of Health who have been working around the clock;
  • healthcare workers on the frontline;
  • countless donors;
  • PAHO;
  • members of civil society; and
  • the communications units at Health, the Office of the Prime Minister and Bahamas Information Services who ensured a robust public communications program.

I also thank the members of the public who have closely adhered to the public health measures. 

If this commitment was not present, the situation in The Bahamas could be very different.    

Mr. Speaker:

Today, the Surveillance Unit reports that there are 104 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas. 

Of these cases, 16 are active and 77 have recovered.   Currently, there is 1 hospitalized and 11 deaths.

82 cases originate from New Providence;

8 from Grand Bahama;

13 from Bimini; and

1 from Cat Cay.

There were no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported yesterday. The last confirmed case of  COVID-19 in The Bahamas was recorded on the 14th of June.

A large number of cases in Bimini deemed the island a hotspot for COVID-19. 

With the discovery of additional cases on 12th May 2020, the Ministry of Health advised the Government to lockdown the island for two weeks to halt the community spread of COVID-19.  

Effective 18th May 2020, I advised residents of Bimini to lockdown until 30th May 2020. 

Biminites have taken this preventative measure with calm understanding and appreciation. 

We are very proud of the cooperation and compliance of the residents of Bimini. 

Their willingness to cooperate with the lockdown resulted in the deceleration of the spread of COVID-19 on that island. 

Because COVID-19 remains a global and domestic threat, an additional $21,300,000 has been added to the Ministry of Health’s budget in contingencies to provide funding for COVID-19-related matters.  

Mr. Speaker:

The Home Care Providers Assessment and Certification Emergency Order of the 21st of April, 2020, gave effect to improved medical, therapeutic or other patient care in homes and in residential care facilities. 

This is a very practical tool to protect our elderly.

In collaboration with the Early Access Training Centre, over two hundred (200) home care providers have been registered and trained in Infection Prevention and Control. 

The Ministry of Health will continue to work with nursing homes and long-term care facilities to ensure the ongoing protection of our elderly residents.

Mr. Speaker:

The work of the Surveillance Unit has been a major role in the COVID-19 response.  The Surveillance Unit has:

  • conducted contact tracing for confirmed cases and contacts;
  • monitored persons in quarantine and isolation at home and the Government facilities; 
  • compiled and presented epidemiologic data; and 
  • assisted with home assessments and quarantine verification.

Though the Surveillance Unit was not fully staffed as it should have been, their work was outstanding.   

There is a need for an additional seven trained nurses.  In the interim, the Surveillance team currently enjoys the assistance of an experienced epidemiologist from the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Collette Myrie. 

Very soon The Bahamas must find a permanent epidemiologist to carry out this responsibility.  

As we continue through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Surveillance Unit will continue its routine work. 

Mr. Speaker:

The National Disease Surveillance Unit also monitors the health of travelers at points of entry.  

This is to prevent the introduction of communicable illnesses to The Bahamas.  

Public health care personnel are stationed at the Lynden Pindling International Airport.  A Port Medical Officer is on call 24/7. 

With the assistance of immigration and customs officers, the Port Health Medical Officer can monitor the health of those traversing our ports of entry. 

New Providence, Grand Bahama, and Family Islands are all linked for port and other disease surveillance matters which make the quick and calculated response to COVID-19 attainable. 

Mr. Speaker:

The U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention notes: “Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.”

Mr. Speaker:

This year the DPH has its head – Head 66 and has been allocated funding upward of $45m for strengthening and expansion of primary healthcare services. 

Additionally, DPH has received assistance from external donations during Hurricane Dorian.   I take this opportunity to thank:

  • the non-governmental agencies;
  • community stakeholders; 
  • volunteer groups; and
  • regional and international partners such as the World Health Organization and the PAHO, who came to our aid in times of disasters.

I also thank the healthcare staff and community volunteers on the various islands who provided care for those displaced in Abaco, the Abaco Cays and Grand Bahama by Hurricane Dorian.

Mr. Speaker:

Hurricane Dorian taught us that we need to make infrastructural changes and focus on the resilient design of clinics and other healthcare facilities to withstand major storms. 

This monster storm brought home the need to adhere to building codes and standards set by regulatory agencies.  

The Marsh Harbour Primary Health Care Centre, which withstood the ravages of Dorian, is a primary example of how buildings should be constructed to withstand such storms. 

Mr. Speaker:  

Let me emphasize that legal residents on Abaco are eligible to apply for housing.   The Government will not allow the building or rebuilding of any shantytowns.

The Members of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority will meet with leaders of various communities to discuss the details of the housing program.  

We are deeply and fully aware of the need for temporary housing in Abaco and Grand Bahama, however we must also address permanent housing solutions for the residents in the disaster zones.   

The Disaster Reconstruction Authority has identified temporary housing solutions for Abaco and Grand Bahama and is moving forward with the erection of domes as well as container housing units in the disaster zones. 

A notice of prequalification for the provision of a design development for mixed use residential communities has been advertised for Abaco. 

The deadline for submission of interest was June 19th.  The Disaster Reconstruction Authority is currently reviewing submissions. 

The sites identified for permanent housing include two 60 acre sites in Marsh Harbour and Wilson City.

Central Pines which is a public private partnership with the Discovery Land Company and the Government of The Bahamas, will be the site for the development of 46 homes and will be gifted free of charge to 46 families.

The land lease for the development of the 46 homes in Central Pines is being finalized at the AG’s Office.  We will also develop a subdivision in Murphy Town.

For East Grand Bahama, members of the Project Management Team of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority and Lands and Survey are on Grand Bahama evaluating the available properties for the development of permanent housing in Sweetings Cay, McLean’s Town and High Rock.

Mr. Speaker:

From the time I first served as Minister of Health some years ago, I understood that promoting greater equality in health care was a fundamental part of improving overall equality.

Today, my Government continues to place high priority on ensuring the accessibility of high quality primary health care services throughout the communities of New Providence and the Family Islands.

Strong primary health programs and services result in:

  • lower health costs;
  • higher user satisfaction; and
  • better health outcomes for the population as a whole.

In this vein, I am happy to report that funding allocations are proposed in the 2020/2021 budget for the renovation and upgrade of a significant number of community clinics in the capital and throughout the archipelago of The Bahamas.

The new Minister of Health I will ask the Governor General to appoint will have as a major responsibility, the improvement and upgrade of health care infrastructure.

The new Minister will be charged with an ambitious program of upgrades throughout the country.

Linked to each of these infrastructural works are important service and program strengthening initiatives for improved healthcare delivery efficiency and effectiveness.

Mr. Speaker:

The Anne’s Town Clinic is a critical facility serving the Kemp Road and surrounding inner city communities.

It was constructed in 1978 and after 41 years, the number and size of examination rooms are no longer adequate to accommodate its expanded scope of services and increased patient load.

This clinic is long overdue for comprehensive upgrades and these works can no longer be deferred.   

The Coconut Grove Clinic is another important Primary Health inner-city facility.

It was actively under renovation until Hurricane Matthew, which caused significant damage to the building and its uncompleted structural works.  

The Elizabeth Estates Clinic and the South Beach Health Centre are the two primary healthcare facilities in Nassau currently being upgraded to strengthen their capacity for the delivery of urgent care services at the community level.

In addition to infrastructural works, these upgrades include the following priorities:

  • deploying mobile point-of-care testing equipment in both of these community clinics;
  • expanding other diagnostic capabilities inclusive of digital x-rays, ultra sound and EKG equipment;
  • standardizing policies, operating procedures and clinical protocols; and
  • training in a wide variety of clinical and non-clinical areas including life support and customer service.

Many of these developments are well on the way, and are all critical for preparing these two facilities to diagnose and manage lower severity cases requiring urgent and emergency care.  

This will lead to a reduction in the number of patients needing to go to the Emergency Department at PMH.

It is estimated that as many as 40 percent of the patients visiting the Emergency Department can be treated at the community clinics if these clinics were appropriately upgraded and resourced, as is now being proposed under this project.

The overall goal is to improve the emergency and urgent healthcare services delivered in New Providence at the hospital and community levels. 

Mr. Speaker:

I now turn my attention to capital works planned for the Family Islands.

During my last tenure as Minister of Health, a Capital Development Action Plan was developed to effect repairs to clinics on each island.  

I am happy to announce that during this fiscal year, capital works will be carried out to effect repairs in Eleuthera at the Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, Lower Bogue, and Governor’s Harbour clinics.  

Mr. Speaker:

Repairs will also be carried out in Andros.  It is now projected that the Mangrove Cay and Nichol’s Town Community Clinics will be completed in the new fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker:

I report that there are currently no physicians postedin Spanish Wells, San Salvador, Mayaguana and Sandy Point, Abaco. 

However, there are physicians posted in the following Family Islands:

  • one doctor deployed in each of the following islands: the Berry Islands, Acklins, Cat Island, Inagua and Bimini;
  • two (2) are in Long Island;
  • three (3) are in Abaco;
  • four (4) are in Eleuthera and Andros with a biweekly service for the residents in Mangrove Cay; and
  • five (5) in Exuma.

It is expected that:

  • later this month a new physician will be posted in Nicolls Town, Andros;
  • in July, a doctor will be posted in both San Salvador and Sandy Point, Abaco;
  • in August another physician will be placed in Abaco;
  • in September a doctor will be posted in Spanish Wells;
  • before the end of the year there will be a doctor placed in Moore’s Island, Abaco.  

Mr. Speaker: 

I wish to report that $1,101,864.00 in the 2020/2021 budget will be used to pay the salaries, allowances and stipends for contractual Public Hospital Authority workers.

The Ministry of Health is cognizant of the need to build skill capacity in the health system. 

There is a shortage of trained and experienced health services administrators in New Providence and the Family Islands. 

Accordingly, a team has been identified to review this matter and make recommendations with strategies for training, recruitment, a career path, compensation, and retention of these vital staff members.

Consideration will also be given to the development of public-private partnerships for outsourcing preventative maintenance and upkeep of health care facilities in New Providence and the Family Islands.  

Mr. Speaker:

I would like to thank all the volunteers and external partners who provided their time and services to assist with the cleanup and restoration of healthcare services in Abaco following Hurricane Dorian.

A special thanks is also extended to the Samaritan Purse ministers who assisted greatly with the repairs to the Hope Town Clinic.    

The Ministry of Health wishes to thank our closest partner, PAHO, for purchasing generators that were utilized in the Coopers Town, Green Turtle Cay, Hope Town, Man-o-War Cay, Fox Town, and Moores Island Clinics. 

Mr. Speaker:

Nurses comprise the largest group of health care workers.

As noted by former President Barack Obama, “often with little power or sway on their own, nurses – mostly women, historically – have been a force of will and a sense of common decency, and paved the way towards better care and a more compassionate society.”   

In this spirit, the recruitment, training, and retention of nurses remain a major priority for the Ministry of Health. Consequently, funding will be expended in support of –

  • the Nursing Cadet Programme for high school students;
  • the nursing finalists who transition to registered or enrolled nurses; and
  • the Nursing Grant and Trained Clinical Nurse Programs at the University of The Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker:

I am delighted to report that $785,000.00 has been allocated in this fiscal budget to pay nursing tuition and grants to the University of the Bahamas. 

$1,316,836.00will also be utilized topay stipends for trained clinical nurses, clinical nurses and nursing interns. 

The Ministry of Health will invest in the post-graduate training and exposure of nurses to new and advanced skills.       Despite being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry is determined to ensure –

  • the training of the twenty-two registered nurses in the Midwifery Programme at the University of The Bahamas;  and
  • the seven nurses already enrolled in the Emergency Nursing Course.  Over the last few decades, the profession of nursing has grown by leaps and bounds, allowing nurses to play a crucial role in health promotion, disease prevention, and treatment.

Mr. Speaker:

There will be approximately one hundred and ten nurses graduating this year from the University of The Bahamas. 

The Ministry of Health has improved many of our compensation packages for nurses.

We encourage nurses to consider signing up with the public service instead of seeking employment overseas. 

The training and wealth of experience one gains in the public sector are invaluable and irreplaceable. 

Talk to mature nurses who have been in the system for some time and hear what they have to say. 

Review the information shared in May 2020, for Nurses Month and determine the paths you wish to follow.

I encourage graduating nurses to sign up to work with the public sector. 

Mr. Speaker:

The great challenge we face in nursing is retention.  We need to continually encourage our nurses and compensate them when it is due. 

They perform unique duties and make up the majority of workers on the frontline.    We would like to thank all nurses for the work they do and continue to render. 

Mr. Speaker:

The Public Hospitals Authority is responsible for the management of the nation’s three public hospitals: the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), the Rand Memorial Hospital, and Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC).  

The PHA is also responsible for the Grand Bahama Health Services which comprises of the Rand Memorial Hospital and a network of ten public clinics.

Agencies also associated with the PHA are the National Emergency Medical Services (NEMS) and the Supplies Management Agency (SMA).   

With a workforce of 4,000 employees, the PHA is focused on efforts to –

  • maximize opportunities for financing healthcare costs;
  • invest in human resources for health; and
  • redevelop acute care units of the hospitals.

Mr. Speaker:

For the 2020/2021 fiscal year, the PHA was allocated $223,455,825to carry out itscritical essential services.  

This amount is $12,233,817 less than what was allocated last year for the 2019/2020 budget.  

In an environment where the use of healthcare is on the rise, PHA must rise to the challenge to collect fees for services rendered, especially from those who have the ability to pay. 

Mr. Speaker:

The Health Care System presents challenges,

Currently, there is a need to accommodate more than twenty-one thousand admissions annually. 

This means that there are some two hundred and seventy-one thousand, four hundred and ten (271,410) annual patient days. 

With social distancing requirements and the need to strengthen Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) practices, there will be a reduction in the overall bed complement. 

Currently, there are three hundred and forty-one adult and pediatric beds and fifty-six neonatal beds.

With a number of wards closed for renovations, the hospital is fifty beds short. 

After renovations of the wards are completed, the bed capacity will increase, but within the parameters of social distancing.

Mr. Speaker:

The Authority must maximize opportunities for financing healthcare costs by focusing on the following revenue-enhancing initiatives:

  • improve the infrastructural environment in which care is delivered;
  • pursue measures to correct systemic challenges to registering, billing for, and collecting on services rendered. This is exacerbated by the change in services required by the public in transitioning from communicable diseases to life-long, chronic care services for largely preventable conditions.
  • engage the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) for the provision of healthcare services via formal provider agreement(s) that will allow PHA’s Core Laboratory at Princess Margaret Hospital and its primary care clinics to be registered as NHI Providers.  This not only guarantees equitable access to care and NHI benefits for NHI patients, but it also potentially generates revenue for the Authority in the form of capitation payments for PHA’s patient panels.
  • review and revise policies and practices that impede revenue collection
  • repeal and replace gazetted fees to reflect the true cost of care;
  • implement bundled billing for services;
  • target third-party payers;
  • negotiate preferred provider status with insurance companies;
  • utilize collection agencies to pursue collectible receivables; and
  • implement Information Systems (i.e. Integrated Health Information Management System – iHIMS) to support appropriate billing and collection for services, as well as plan healthcare service delivery. 

Mr. Speaker:

A major objective of the Authority over the next five years is to transition to a cost-recovery model to reduce its dependency on the Public Treasury.

To achieve this goal, PHA will take the following concrete steps:

  • implement cost reduction measures including outsourcing of appropriate services;
  • consolidate and renegotiate contracts;
  • improve inventory management;
  • continue the transition to solar energy;
  • conduct a telecommunications audit;
  • consolidate group purchasing; and
  • maximize economies of scale for supplies and pharmaceuticals management.

       Mr. Speaker:

       PHA’s management is completing a set of priority capital projects for the urgent renovation of several patient care areas. 

       In this budgetary period, the Government has allocated thirty million toward:

  • the phased redevelopment of the Rand Memorial Hospital;
  • major improvements to the physical environment of the PMH; and areas of Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC). 

       Of this total, Mr. Speaker, twenty-one million is earmarked for the phased redevelopment of the Rand Memorial Hospital and nine million is allocated for the phased redevelopment of the PMH and SRC. 

       The funds will address the urgent phased improvements to patient care areas at PMH.  The areas currently under renovation are as follows:

  •   the old Intensive Care Unit;
  •  The old Operating Theatre;
  •  Male Surgical Ward (east);
  •  public bathrooms in the Legacy entrance and specialty corridor;
  •  the Eye ward;
  •  Children’s Ward;
  •  Female Medical II; 
  •  the old Physiotherapy Unit which will allow for the expansion of the Dialysis Unit; and
  •  Accident & Emergency Department, which is an ancillary redevelopment project being fast-tracked for the improvement of all emergency and urgent healthcare in New Providence. 

Mr. Speaker:

I am pleased to advise members that construction initiated as part of the Urgent & Emergency Care Project in collaboration with the Department of Public Health and the Ministry of Health continues as planned. 

A year ago, members were informed that the first phase of this project is expected to reform access to urgent care and emergency care services in New Providence including the upgrade and expansion of PMH’s Accident and Emergency Department. 

Construction works began in November 2019 with significant progress having been made to date in the Orthopedic and Wound Care areas.

I wish to remind the public that Elizabeth Avenue south of Shirley Street remains temporarily closed to facilitate enabling works at the Princess Margaret Hospital Emergency Department. 

Plans are now underway to transition to the second phase of this marquee project.

Upon completion, this $10.4m investment will mean: upgraded treatment rooms, enhanced security, proper emergency vehicle access, and appreciable improvement in the aesthetics of this historically high-trafficked service area.  

Mr. Speaker:

       Because of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, the Grand Bahama’s Health System was devastated.

       A Memoranda of Understanding with Samaritan’s Purse for the provision of a 40-bed field hospital ended on 7th March, 2020.

       An engagement with Carnival Corporation and other international aid agencies to salvage the existing hospital is also ending. 

       I wish to inform colleagues that contracts have been awarded to several local companies and work is progressing on the Rand Memorial.

       It is anticipated that patients and staff will be able to reoccupy the hospital within the first quarter of the 2020/2021 fiscal year. 

       This does not detract from the urgent need for a new replacement and climate-resilient hospital for Grand Bahama and the northern Bahamas. 

       These restoration efforts are only temporary.  The extent of the damage is beyond allowing long-term reoccupation of the existing facility.   

       Based on preliminary assessments, it is anticipated that capital costs to restore core clinical and supporting administrative services will be approximately $4.6m.  This does not include the cost to replace IT-related and other equipment lost as a result of the hurricane.

Early in the 2020/2021 fiscal year, NEMS will benefit from the acquisition of seven (7) new vehicles –

  • two for the island of Grand Bahama;
  • one  for Abaco; and
  • four (4) for New Providence.

At an estimated cost of $815,000.00, this investment will augment the existing fleet and strengthen pre-hospital care. 

Mr. Speaker:

In the 2019/20 Budget, NHI was allocated $20m. At the time, NHI had approximately 55,000 enrolled beneficiaries. 

Currently, NHI has more than 77,000 enrolled beneficiaries, and has been allocated $38m for the 2020/2021 budget year. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of beneficiaries continues to increase each month.

Mr. Speaker:

The budget allocation for NHI in 2020/21 is $38m, a significant increase from the $20m allocated in the 2019/20 budget.    

In these difficult times, a 47.3% increase in funding from $20m to $38m, is recognition of the success of NHI.

This speaks to the evidence of reduced loads on our public clinics.  This is something that NHI wishes to maximize more effectively.

The success experienced to attract new beneficiaries is proof of NHI’s popularity with Bahamians.

In a survey conducted in 2019, approximately 95% of beneficiaries were satisfied or very satisfied with the services they received.

Mr. Speaker:

Given the budgetary challenges we are currently faced with, as well as in an effort to improve access to affordable health care, we will be introducing some changes to the primary health care system in The Bahamas,

These changes will impact the operations of the biggest State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs)—the Public Hospital Authority.

In fact, in the 2020/21 Budget, subventions to the Public Hospital Authority represent some 55 percent of total subventions, and nearly 9 percent of recurrent expenditure.

Aside from reducing the burden currently placed on the public purse by this entity, major reform of the primary healthcare system in the Bahamas will be the central tenant of our health care spending, as we seek to provide accessible, affordable, accountable and value-driven health care for every Bahamian.

We are on a journey to Universal Health Care, and improvements to our primary health system is a first step.

Mr. Speaker:

Currently, primary care in The Bahamas is delivered in a fragmented manner, with the Government funding three separate delivery mechanisms.

The National Health Insurance Authority, with its network of over 90 healthcare providers; the Public Hospital Authority, with the Agape Clinic and services in Grand Bahama; and the Department of Public Health with the Government’s public clinics.

Together, these delivery mechanisms represent a duplication of services, inefficiencies in resource allocation, disconnected care delivery and a lack of consistent service standards.

Taken together, these result in excessive healthcare costs – among the highest in the region – and an overall lower quality of care being delivered to Bahamians.  

NHI is truly a Bahamian success story.

The program currently provides primary care physician and lab services to almost 80,000 Bahamians through a network of over 90 Physicians, and eight laboratories across five islands.

NHI is growing at a rate of approximately 2,200 beneficiaries per month.

The program is very well received by beneficiaries, with an approval rating of over 95 percent and strong support from the general public.

The program delivers services at an average cost of only $217 per beneficiary per year.

This is a cost much lower than the cost of services provided by other parts of the public healthcare system and private insurance companies. 

Mr. Speaker:

NHI is transforming primary care delivery through three main avenues:

  • first, by introducing modern payment mechanisms that fix the costs of care;
  • second, by the enforcement of quality and service standards for doctors and laboratories;
  • and lastly, through the recent introduction of a cutting edge Electronic Health Record.

The information made available through the electronic health record will lead to improved health outcomes and reduced costs of care. 

The introduction of a national electronic health record will revolutionize the primary health care system.

The benefits include: enhanced security and patient privacy of sensitive health information; access to a Patient Personal Health Portal, real-time and paperless documentation throughout the patient’s continuum of care; and telehealth.

Through the implementation of telehealth, providers will be able to access patients in remote locations and those with mobility challenges.

Telehealth will notably improve the access of Family Island residents to their providers through a virtual platform, reducing the need and expense of travelling for services that can be delivered through the electronic health record. 

Mr. Speaker:

Primary care delivery today is estimated to cost the Government $83.3 million each year.

This has the potential to increase by some $44.4 million by 2025 to nearly $128 million if we do not significantly change the delivery model.

Thus, the Government is proposing that the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) lead a series of reforms, which may effectively and efficiently address these ongoing challenges. 

We are referring to these reforms as “NHI 1.1”. 

This initiative is estimated to save the Government of The Bahamas approximately $62 million over the next five years.

It will require no additional taxation or employer mandate which would have included a mandated insurance premium, and will mean minimal disruption to the private health insurance industry.

Indeed, it will ensure that every Bahamian and resident has consistent access to a family doctor without a co-pay or deductible.

Mr. Speaker:

To reiterate, NHI 1.1 will be implemented without any additional taxation or payment by employers or employees.

NHI 1.1 will be funded by the savings created by consolidating and reorganizing programs to eliminate identified inefficiencies in the primary healthcare system.

The NHI 1.1 Framework integrates primary care program delivery under the existing NHI model by establishing a single standard primary care health benefit for all Bahamians and residents.

This benefit will include existing NHI coverage for visits to a family doctor, laboratory tests, as well as new diagnostic imaging services, cancer-screening programs and an emphasis on patient-centered care. 

The NHIA will engage all providers of these benefits on a contractual basis, and all services will be made available without co-pays or deductibles. 

The changes will integrate the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) primary care clinics under the NHI model.

It will extend the benefit of an electronic health record to all Bahamians and residents, and implement the NHI quality program for all primary health care facilities in both the public and private sector.

Mr. Speaker:

The estimated cost to deliver NHI 1.1 in 2025, which will provide additional benefits beyond what is currently provided, is $110 million.  This represents savings of some $17 million over the next five years.

We can realize these savings by reducing the number of primary care clinics directly operated by the Department of Public Health and Public Hospitals Authority and engaging private sector capacity through public-private partnerships.

NHI 1.1 will also reduce capital expenditures at public health facilities and decrease the burden at secondary and tertiary care facilities as a result of improved primary care access.

With its innovative contractual reimbursements with private providers, NHI 1.1 will emerge as a model public-private partnership where public funding seeks to harness and leverage the efficiency, creativity, responsiveness and accountability of a privately delivered healthcare service.   

Over the near term, NHI will commence detailed planning discussions and mobilize a project transformation office in coordination with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance and Public Hospitals Authority. Shortly thereafter, NHI will once again undertake formal stakeholder consultations, which will allow Bahamians to have meaningful input to the proposal. 

Mr. Speaker: 

       I wanted to update the residents of Killarney on a number of developments in the constituency. 

For the past three months, I am pleased that my constituency association has been able to distribute food items, food vouchers and masks to residents who needed these items. 

We have partnered with several food network distributors to assist constituents with food packages bi-weekly.

To assist in this effort a team secured personal contact with Gambier and Mt. Pleasant residents through visits and phone calls.  This info has been put in a data bank so that food can be home delivered.

Members of our constituency association also showed their appreciation to officers at various police stations in the area by taking them refreshments and fruit to show appreciation for their hard work and dedication to protecting and serving us.

Mr. Speaker:

 Those who drive by Mother Lewis Park opposite Nesbitt’s can see that work is continuing on the refurbishment of the Park, which will be a model park restoration and will soon be completed.

I am pleased that a number of residents of Killarney have through our job enhancement and placement efforts have secured jobs in the private sector.

I note that a number of credit unions have hired an excellent group of young people from Killarney.

A number of college students have pending job placements once hiring resumes in a number of sectors.

There are various pending works in Killarney, including the seawall in front of the Sea Beach area and pending roadworks, which I will update residents on as these works proceed.

Mr. Speaker:

       I learned long ago that in life it is not the challenges, it is not the struggles and it is not the setbacks alone, which ultimately determine the character and the success of an individual or a people or a nation.

       How we overcome our challenges and how we strive for a better future, also helps to determine character and success.

       But even as we forge new possibilities, new ways of doing things and a new country, we must acknowledge and understand the past and how we got where we are.

       The people of the Caribbean overcame slavery and colonialism to forge new nations and to advance self-determination as free peoples. 

       We cannot understand the challenges of the present unless there is a fuller understanding and acknowledgement of history.

       It is dishonest, disingenuous and unfair and unjust to tell a people who have been oppressed or disadvantaged by slavery, colonialism and racial inequality to simply get on with things without accepting and acknowledging the past.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say:

 “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

It would be likewise disingenuous and dishonest not to understand and to continue to acknowledge the events of the past ten months which have devastated our economy and resulted in many thousands of Bahamians losing their jobs, businesses and livelihoods.

Never before in the history of an independent Bahamas have we experienced an unemployment rate of approximately 40 percent.

Global tourism and travel were decimated and most of it came to a grinding halt!

Government revenues have been shredded at home and around the world.

The World Bank has said the pandemic is expected to plunge most countries into recession this year, with per capita income contracting in the largest fraction of countries globally since 1870.  

The U.S. Federal Reserve, their central bank, is projecting a contraction of 6.5 percent in the American economy this year, which will affect The Bahamas.

The Canadian economy contracted by 8.2 percent in the first quarter of this year.

The British economy shrank in April by a record 20.4 percent – a stunning number for such a dynamic economy.

Our Caricom and Caribbean neighbors are economically devastated.

Because of the events of less than a year, it is the primary moral responsibility of my Government to aid the tens of thousands of Bahamians in need of jobs, social assistance, food and tangible hope.

It is our historic obligation to restore and to transform our Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker:

       The historic events of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic have occurred on our watch.

       It is our obligation and responsibility to respond boldly, creatively and with compassion, especially to aid the poor and the vulnerable.

       The twin crises of natural disaster and pandemic pose grave and unprecedented challenges, but also extraordinary possibilities to build a new Bahamas.

       History has demanded of my party and of my leadership that we restore and transform The Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker:

In his presentation of the 2020/21 Budget Communication, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance laid out the Government’s initial projections for the impact of COVID-19 on the public finances.

We are facing a fiscal deficit of $1.3 billion.

This is a first for The Bahamas.

As a small, open economy, we have always been vulnerable to external shocks.

This vulnerability deepened over the past decade, commencing with the 2008/09 global financial crisis, followed by a series of more and more powerful hurricanes. 

Even still, the predicament we find ourselves in today is far different from any we have faced before. 

Today we face two crises, both of historic economic intensity, and they have hit The Bahamas at one time, in one fiscal year

Fortunately, my Government has taken the charge in responding to the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas in an unprecedented manner. 

Fortunately, we had some headroom because of decisions we took early in this Administration to clean up public finances and to restore the country from the hangover and economic mess left by our predecessors in office.

Mr. Speaker:

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we quickly implemented a mix of dynamic policies with the help of various stakeholders to provide assistance for those impacted by the virus.

These policies ranged from food and rental assistance to temporary income replacement.

We offered tax credit programs, and loan and grant programs to support business continuity and most importantly, to help people keep their jobs.

We assisted Bahamians in practical ways.

Mr. Speaker:

To chart our way through the remainder of this pandemic, my Government has laid out our ‘Resilient Bahamas” restoration plan for the next 12-months. 

Our short-term plan will continue to take us through this difficult period.

It is rooted in five main principles.

First, we will ensure the health and safety of each and every Bahamian citizen.  

In doing so, we will continue to equip our healthcare system with the necessary funding to ensure it is adequately prepared to battle this and future pandemics.

We are increasing our investment in the improved health care infrastructure.

Even after we have treated our last COVID-19 patient, our system will be able to respond to any future crisis that may put pressure on the public health system.

Mr. Speaker:

My Government will make certain that all vulnerable Bahamians and residents have access to food.

Under the watch of my Administration, we will see to it that no one goes hungry.

Through our expanded support of the Department of Social Services feeding programs, and the work of the National Food Distribution Task Force, we will ensure that all Bahamians have adequate food supply. 

The $25 million allocation for food support in the Department of Social Services is testament to this.

The National Food Distribution Task Force was created by Government to respond to the increased food security needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is a ground-breaking community-based partnership between Government and non-governmental organizations. 

The Task Force is built on existing models of success, leveraging existing expertise and widespread networks throughout the country.

The Government is funding 85 percent of the costs for food distribution and NGOs are funding 15 percent through donations to these groups.

The Food Distribution Plan is delivering emergency food relief for 12 weeks from June 1 to August 31, 2020.

During and April and May, through NGOs and the private sector, 137,350 people have been supplied with food at a cost of $2.02 million. 

41,014 units, which include parcels or vouchers, have been distributed. 

I am advised that since the formation of the Food Distribution Task Force, the Government has injected $900,000 which has been used to assist more than 76,000 people. 5,054 units, inclusive of food parcels or vouchers, have been distributed. 

The Government released an additional $500,000 to the Task Force this past Friday.

The first COVID-19 Emergency Food Coupon was issued on the 7th of April by the Ministry of Social Services. Since then, a total of 1,098 individuals have received coupons at a total value of $134,050.

Outside of that amount, a total of 120 clients of the Disability Affairs Unit received COVID-19 Emergency Food Coupons at a total value of $6,720. Those coupons were issued from the 20th of March to the 5th of June.

This is one of the largest and most unprecedented such food programs in the history of The Bahamas.

It is a massive logistical program comprising the entire country.

It is also one of the largest ever public/private social care initiatives in the history of The Bahamas, utilizing a caring network of faith-based institutions and NGOs.

New Providence has been divided into four major distribution zones.

Grand Bahama is divided into five major distribution zones.

The Zone Leaders for the Distribution program are as follows:

  • New Providence Nassau City Zone: Lend a Hand Bahamas;
  • Northeast Zone: Bahamas Feeding Network;
  • Southeast Zone: Bahamas Red Cross;
  • West Zone: Hands for Hunger;
  • Abaco: IDEA Relief;
  • Grand Bahama: GB Food Task Force;
  • Eleuthera: ONE Eleuthera;
  • Northern Bahamas: Bahamas Red Cross
  • Southern Bahamas: Bahamas Feeding Network;
  • Nationally: The Department of Social Services

Zone Leaders are partnering with other groups in their zones to maximize outreach effectiveness.

Mr. Speaker:

In our islands, thousands of Bahamians have been either temporarily laid off, furloughed, or terminated as a result of the necessary lockdowns and physical distancing measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

This means that thousands are now without income, even though they still have families to feed and people to take care of. 

Hence, my Government has made it a fundamental priority to put cash in the hands of displaced Bahamians through special unemployment assistance programs.

This initiative comports with our thirdpillar, which is about extending and expanding existing policies geared toward sustaining employment.

We are providing direct assistance to self-employed individuals who have been unable to support themselves by providing temporary income replacement over the next several months.

As we reopen our economy in phases, this income replacement will provide bridge-support to these individuals to begin to get back on their feet. 

Indeed, a special allocation has been placed in the Ministry of Finance to be able to extend the employment assistance to individuals whose assistance will come to the end of their 13 weeks of unemployment assistance.  

This benefit will be extended from 13 weeks to 26 weeks.

My government has budgeted over $40 million to provide a special allowance for those still unemployed when their NIB unemployment assistance ends.   

We will administer this special program through the NIB – as we are presently doing for self-employed individuals – but it is important to point out that this will not be NIB funds nor NIB assistance.  

Instead it is our recognition that tens of thousands of people will still need some measure of cash assistance after their NIB benefits expire.  

As such, the government is committed to directly assisting these individuals for up to an additional four months. 

Accordingly, this benefit is being extended from 13 weeks to 26 weeks for those who became unemployed due to COVID-19

Mr. Speaker:

There are many employers who should be commended for going above and beyond to continue salary payments or other forms of support to employees, even as businesses were shuttered and employees had no work.

The House might recall my passionate call for employers to share the sacrifice.  Many businesses responded.

We know it is not easy to maintain payroll, to sustain commercial rent payments or mortgages and other operating expenses with no income.

That is why my Government is providing ongoing payroll support through its tax credit and deferral program.

As the economy reopens, this program will allow businesses to hold onto the cash they have earmarked to settle tax obligations.

Businesses can redirect the money from the tax credits and deferrals to pay non-executive staff payroll. 

This, coupled with the COVID-19 business continuity support offered through the Small Business Development Center, will continue to help businesses to remain viable and to retain their employees. This was designed to help guard against more domestic job losses.

To date, the SBDC has processed close to $36 million in business continuity loans and grants to 508 small businesses as part of the government’s special COVID-19 response.

This is allowing these Bahamian small businesses and entrepreneurs to keep their doors open and to maintain some 3,900 employees on their payrolls.  

Many of these small businesses would have closed and laid off or terminated staff without this direct support from the government.    

This is support to the proverbial “small man” – those businesses who could not get funding from the commercial banks.

More cash for feeding programs; more cash for unemployment assistance; more cash for small businesses.

This is a matter of social justice.

And we are doing so at historic levels in our country to meet a historic challenge.      We are not about talk on our side, Mr. Speaker.  

We leave the self-serving and idle rhetoric to the Opposition.

We are about action.

We are in the business of getting the people’s business done.

For Bahamian entrepreneurs and small businesses, we have budgeted an unprecedented $55 million in support.

We recognize that for many of them, they will continue to need grants and loans to help them weather one of the worst economic periods ever in the history of The Bahamas.  

We also want to make sure that we are providing sufficient allocation for the new businesses and strategies that will emerge in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Speaker,

The fourth pillar of our plan for a Resilient Bahamas is to develop and implement a robust and dynamic mix of policies that will accelerate a rebound in our domestic economy.

A strong recovery, Mr. Speaker, calls for innovative and vibrant ideas to ignite the growth potential of this economy.

To achieve this, we have increased the allocations for capital expenditure, using government funding to stimulate the economy through construction and investing in infrastructure.

I am informed that the ground breaking for the new airport in Exuma is scheduled for October this year.

Work continues to progress for the new Airports for Eleuthara and Long Island.

We are investing in our people by expanding the resources set aside for free education at the University of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Vocational and Technical Institute by some $2 million.

As I have before, I remind this House that a previous PLP Administration once proposed to double the national investment in education and training.

Not only did they fail to keep this promise.

They actually cut the education budget.  We have a different vision of education.

Mr. Speaker:

For those in Abaco and Grand Bahama, some of whom are still recovering from the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, we have extended the exigency orders and the Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) designation.

All exemptions currently in place will be extended to December 31st.  Thereafter, concessions will be continued to be granted on building materials for the period January 1 2021 to June 30th 2021.

And, my Government has made the decision to accelerate initiatives to boost food security and energy reform for the future development of our economy.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, the fifth pillar of our plan is accelerating our government reform agenda.

This agenda includes the digital transformation of government services.

It also includes the rationalization of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) who benefit from approximately $400 million in government funding every year.

These SOEs need to become more self-reliant instead of relying on taxpayer subsidies.

They need to become more efficient in their management and innovating in their service delivery.

This, along with a set of targeted revenue enhancement measures, will help to close the deficit gap in the medium to long-term.

In keeping with our efforts to reform public financial management, the Minister of Finance tabled a landmark Public Procurement Bill to restructure the way we award government contracts, and to ensure greater transparency in procurement processes.

Mr. Speaker:

Our plan is robust.

Our plan is people-focused.

Our plan is visionary.

We are faced with what no Government in The Bahamas has ever been faced with, and we are responding in an unparalleled manner.

And we are not alone.

During this unprecedented economic crises, governments are increasing public spending to support their economies – as they must in order to avoid an even worse economic catastrophe.

We have studied both historical antecedents and we are examining the current examples of how countries large and small have dealt with economic shocks.  We are guided accordingly.  

For example, during the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt increased the Government’s role in the economy by instituting a series of projects and programs that helped to employ close to 8.5 million people.

Packaged as “The New Deal” in phase 1, and “The Second New Deal” in phase 2, these programs ultimately changed the economic landscape of the U.S.

According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, collectively, these projects and programs cost the U.S Government some $653 billion.

Mr. Speaker:

Even as we look at Government responses to the most recent crisis—the COVID-19 pandemic—we see broad based stimulus packages passing in other jurisdictions.

The Chinese Government announced discretionary fiscal measures of some 3.5 percent of GDP equivalent to hundreds of billions of dollars.

These measures included increased: expenditure on epidemic prevention and control, accelerated disbursements of unemployment insurance and extension to migrant workers, tax relief and the waiver of social security contributions.

In the United Kingdom, the Government provided business support through loans, as well as social support by supplementing 80 percent of the earnings of self-employed individuals and furloughed employees.

The UK Government also provided funding allocations to public services and charities, and a host of tax relief measures including tax holidays, and direct grants for small firms.

In the region, Mr. Speaker, we have seen Governments of other small open economies inject fiscal stimulus packages in response to COVID-19.

St. Lucia’s Social Stabilization Plan represented some 2 percent of GDP and included temporary income support, tax payment extensions, tax credits to companies, rental payment suspensions for companies renting from the Government, and other measures.

St. Kitts and Nevis implemented a fiscal stimulus package of some 3.75 percent of GDP, which heavily supports the small business community and the most vulnerable among society.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Government has provided income replacement, tax relief, food assistance, and a number of other social protection measures.

Mr. Speaker:

As history and present examples demonstrate, responsive governments the world over, increase  spending in the wake of a crisis to support their citizens and help place their economies back on a stable footing.

It is my Government’s obligation to ensure the viability of our economy by setting policies and programs that are conducive for productivity and strong private sector growth.

This is responsible governance.

This is the kind of governance Bahamians expect.  

This is the type of governance that my Government will provide in order to help restore and transform our economy and country.

Mr. Speaker:

Yes, this does come at a cost.

To be exact, a cost of $1.3 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

But Mr. Speaker, this is $1.3 billion invested to support our citizens, to support the business community, and to support thousands of households in need.

It is a $1.3 billion investment in our plan for a Resilient Bahamas, and regardless of how the members opposite try to politicize our efforts.

It is $1.3 billion we will spend for the sustenance of all Bahamians.

First, the Opposition lamented that we were too worried about the numbers and demanded that we increase spending, and now that we have increased spending, they are calling it reckless.

They cannot make up their mind about their criticism because their opposition to our plan is insincere.

While they fake their indignation to create a political spectacle, we will carry on and govern this nation with steady, focused and clear leadership and direction.   

We borrow for and on the behalf of the Bahamian people in their time of need.

We have a heart.

We will not just sit here in office and watch our people suffer and do nothing.

Every dollar we borrow is to help ease the burden on a Bahamian family.  

We are not distracted by those who like to criticize just because they want power or because they have a personal grievance and those who oppose simply for the sake of opposing.

The Bahamian people put us here because they had more faith in us to look out for them as opposed to the side opposite.

I assure the Bahamian people that we will account for the money borrowed and that the country will see and feel where the money is going.

Mr. Speaker:

I mentioned earlier that our policymaking in the aftermath of COVID-19 has to be innovative.

It must be progressive. 

To this end, I appointed the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) in late April, which has been charged with presenting a bold vision for a modern Bahamian economy that is stronger, more diversified, future-driven and fully integrated.   

Let me dispel a misguided view that has circulated.

The Bahamas’ draft National Development Plan sets various developmental goals for our country.

Hard work was put in to creating the Plan.

The foundation of that Plan is based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which The Bahamas continues to pursue in various forms.  Concrete work is stemming from elements of the Plan by Ministries of the Government, and as Key Priorities under the work of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, which I will speak to below.

The work of this new Economic Recovery Committee is not a repeat of those efforts.

The National Development Plan is a long-term policy document created in pre-COVID times. 

The work of the Economic Recovery Committee is to come up with emergency policy recommendations now in the post-COVID environment. 

We are in a new world and a new reality requiring new ideas for this moment.

Indeed, the ERC, a public-private committee recently published its scope, which is to shape policy recommendations to create an economy that is resilient, dynamic, inclusive and sustainable in response to the economic devastation caused by COVID-19.

The ERC is working to develop a comprehensive set of policy recommendations by engaging the public through virtual town hall meetings, consultations, and presentations, conducting research and performing data analysis.

To ensure its focus is wide-ranging, I mentioned before that the ERC has created 10 subcommittees, which will focus specifically on different economic sectors. These include:

  1. Structural Reform
  2. Financial Services
  3. Digitization & the Conceptual Economy
  4. Tourism & the Orange Economy
  5. Healthcare and Social Capital
  6. Commerce, Entrepreneurship & Youth Engagement
  7. Agriculture, Fisheries and Manufacturing
  8. Family Island Development
  9. Energy Reform & Environmental Stewardship, and
  10. Labour & Education   

Mr. Speaker:

Throughout the next several weeks, the ERC will work expeditiously to curate and inform their policy recommendations, which will be presented to me and my Cabinet by early September 2020.

They will continue to ensure that the public remains aware of their work through their various social media platforms, so that Bahamians can have an opportunity to be involved in designing the recovery plan of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker:

To complete its work, the ERC will conduct consultations with various stakeholders, including health care providers, patient advocacy groups, the National Insurance Board (NIB), the Central Bank of The Bahamas, the Clearing Banks Association, Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), and several private experts with research and policy backgrounds. 

They will also conduct surveys, webinars and various seminars to garner feedback from the wider community. 

In addition to this, the subcommittees have engaged additional members and have commissioned focus groups in some instances to further their studies.

A full list of the additional members and focus groups of each subcommittee will be published by the ERC shortly.

The Committee is drawing upon the reports, studies and work undertaken by other civil groups that may intertwine with their work, in order to take advantage of the substantial research already done on a number of matters and thus avoid a duplication of efforts.

The Committee will conduct virtual town hall meetings to engage the general public, with the first one set to be held soon.

Mr. Speaker:

The ERC and its subcommittees are already hard at work and developing a series of positions and recommendations across the full range of matters being reviewed. 

In the health sector, they are examining how to create and promote a sustainable health system that allows for full access by all Bahamians—and of course, they are addressing the thorny question of how the country would fund such a system.

In social services, the committee is examining the adequacy of our social assistance programs, while exploring how NGOs can be used in various capacities to deliver social service deliverables in a more efficient and customer-centric manner. 

The ERC is examining the country’s investment policy – recognizing already that the policy framework and the approvals process for both domestic and foreign direct investment must be brought in line with global best practices if the country is to enjoy sustained and robust economic growth over time.  

The work of the ERC and its subcommittees is looking at ways to revitalize our international financial services recognizing that there are still untapped opportunities to be pursued in a strategic way. 

Key to economic revival will be energy reform, particularly utility deregulation and comprehensive land use planning.

I am grateful to the Tourism & the Orange or Creative Economy Subcommittee of the ERC for its submission of the tourism re-entry plan, elements of which are in the Government’s published re-entry plan. 

The work of the ERC will speak to how Bahamians can be more directly involved as business and property owners in the tourism trade.

The ERC is discussing how to improve incentives and access to capital for Bahamians wishing to participate in the vacation home rental market or in the provision of ancillary services in the hospitality industry.

Mr. Speaker:

I am pleased to advise that the ERC has promised to provide to my office in the coming weeks a policy paper on the Orange/Creative Economy as an early deliverable, even before its final report is done.

This policy paper speaks to the funding and expansion of the Orange Economy for Bahamian artists and artisans throughout the archipelago. 

I am told that the members of the Orange Economy subcommittee are excited about their plans.

I assure this subcommittee that my Government will act on their bold recommendations.

We cannot allow good ideas and innovative approaches put forward to wither on the vine because some politician or some bureaucrat is too timid, too rigid or too concerned with defending their turf.  

As Prime Minister, I am putting ministers, parliamentary secretaries, permanent secretaries and heads of departments and agencies on notice:

We do not have the luxury right now of doing the same old, same old.  

The recommendations of the ERC and its subcommittees are not being produced to be read and put on a shelf in the face of stubborn politicians and a sluggish bureaucracy.    

Again, the issue of food security and sustainability is an important part of the ERC’s work, along with integrated farming in the Family Islands.

To ensure that there are sustainable distribution channels for local produce and foodstuff we are developing plans for a Native Food Market here in New Providence as a major venue for Bahamian-grown and locally produced food and food products.

A centrally-located Native Food Market on New Providence will attract scores of Bahamians daily as well as visitors.

The ERC is working on proposals to expand use and access to Crown Land, and on ways to empower residents of respective Family Islands to have more input into the economic planning for their islands.  

Mr. Speaker: 

I am pleased to see how Bahamians have embraced change during the pandemic.

Businesses have established online portals and shifted to e-commerce. 

Various Government agencies have established digital services.

The transformation we have long sought in this area is gaining momentum out of necessity. 

COVID-19 is forcing change on The Bahamas.

In Government we must continue to accelerate digitization. 

For too long we have been content having people wait on line for this or that document, then to take it to that office, before going to another one in order to get a service. 

Digital services simplify the process. They make it easier for the service provider and customer. 

Some businesses have established or expanded delivery and pick-up services.

These new or expanded capabilities will make them more competitive into the future long after the pandemic is over.

We must embrace the change the moment calls for.

We must be willing to try things never considered before. 

We must be open to new industries.

We must welcome investment both foreign and domestic.

We must be willing to take entrepreneurial risk and not just wait for opportunity to come to us. 

I believe in the Bahamian people.

I believe in our creativity, tenacity and spirit to overcome.

We are demonstrating our resilience and ingenuity.

Mr. Speaker: 

Recognizing the need to stimulate the domestic economy, the Government wishes to encourage local entrepreneurship and product offerings.

One such offering will be “Downtown Under The Stars”. 

The event, which will take place over several weeks starting in the latter half of July, is a partnership between the Government of the Bahamas and the Downtown Nassau Partnership.

Bay Street will be transformed on Friday and Saturday evenings into a comfortable and elegant outdoor/pedestrianized café setting featuring Bahamian, Caribbean and Jazz music, along with gourmet food trucks and beverage pavilions.

The Government will facilitate small loans to encourage culinary entrepreneurs and to encourage the development of innovative food truck offerings.

The Downtown Nassau Partnership will collaborate with local event planners, local entertainers and the Bahamas Culinary Association to create an event we can all be proud of.

Proper health and sanitization protocols will be inforced.

We expect that “Downtown Under The Stars” will become an annual event that will cater to residents and visitors alike and will assist the process of transforming downtown into a world class entertainment and culinary destination.

Mr. Speaker:

My remarks today are not of course a comprehensive accounting of all of the work being undertaken by the ERC and its subcommittees. 

However, I did want to provide the House and the general public with an update on the efforts of the ERC to date.

In addition to the full set of positions and recommendations that is to come in September,  the ERC submitted a list of preliminary recommendations for consideration toward the 2020/21 Budget, many of which have been incorporated in some form, and articulated already as part of the current and imminent policy plans of the Government.  These include:

  1. Extending the Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) for Abaco and Grand Bahama to the end of the calendar year;
  2. Increasing allocations to social welfare spending for COVID-19 impacted persons;
  3. Redirecting spending to essential infrastructural projects with potential for creating economic stimulus;
  4. Temporarily freezing all agreed salary increases in Government agencies ;
  5. Jumpstarting easy to start construction projects related to hurricane repair;
  6. Making use of future contracts to allow Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) to lock in the low price of oil and natural gas;
  7. Enacting the draft Central Bank Bill to enable the completion of the legal and regulatory framework for the Central Bank digital currency;
  8. Digitizing the process for obtaining a number of Government documents, including Driver’s Licenses, Passports, Birth Certificates, Death Certificates and Marriage Certificates;
  9. Increasing the access to capital for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs); and
  10. Requiring State Owned Enterprises (SOE) to move more toward a cost recovery model and reduce their reliance on subsidy support from the Central Government

I am pleased that the early recommendations of the Committee have helped to bring some much-needed insight into the Budget process and validation of the Government’s overall policy direction.

Mr. Speaker:

I wanted to advise the House and the residents of Abaco that Bakers Bay has commenced its reconstruction following Hurricane Dorian.

It is continuing with its expansion plans.  These works are estimated at $400 million over three years. 

As of today, I am advised that 472 persons are employed property-wide, 80% of which are Bahamians.

I also wish to announce that the Montage Cay and Marina project was approved on the 14th of January, 2020.

Sterling Montage Ltd. will acquire Matt Lowe’s Cay and Marina property and will be known as Montage Cay and Marina) situated in the Abaco Chain of Cays, for a consideration of $40 million. 

Sterling Montage Cay Limited took title to the Cay last month.

The project is in the initial stage of designing plans.

A heads of agreement is proposed to be executed later this year.  

The affiliates of Sterling Montage Cay Limited – Sterling Global Developments Limited and STAR Construction Ltd. – will take the lead with respect to the proposed construction and development of the Montage Cay and Marina project. 

It is proposed that Montage Hotel & Resorts LLC will manage the operations and branding of the project.  

The estimated total capital investment is proposed at $352.2 million dollars. 

At present there are 12 persons working at Montage Cay inclusive of employees and independent contractors.

It is anticipated that there will be 2,970 persons employed throughout the various phases of the proposed construction. 

At completion of the project, permanent direct employment is expected to be 250 people. 

Let me emphasize that no heads of agreement has been signed as yet and the requisite due diligence and approval measures will have to be done.

A heads of agreement for the proposed $300 million dollar five star residential, resort and marina development by Tyrsoz Family Holdings Ltd. was signed on the 13th of February, 2020 in Sandy Point, Abaco.

The developer has been progressing with the technical elements of the project and has submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Plan to the BEST Commission for review.

These projects and others are a sign of the ongoing restoration of the economy of Abaco and the Abaco Cays.

This is a sign by international developers of their faith in the ongoing recovery and rebuilding of Abaco.

Mr. Speaker:

The Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit was established to improve the implementation of key government commitments.

One of our objectives has been to shift the culture in the public sector to allow for greater focus on achieving specific and targeted deliverables. 

This has been applied to the Government’s eight Key Priority areas, which are:

  • Over-the-Hill Rejuvenation;
  •  Land Reform
  •  Education
  •  Safety & Security
  • Ease of Doing Business
  • Energy Reform
  • Infrastructure Reform
  • and Modernization & Digitization of the Public Sector.

Prior to the crises of Hurricane Dorian and COVID 19, many of the targets set by stakeholders across the Key Priorities have been achieved and, in many instances, exceeded.  I would like to highlight just a few of these:

In her presentation on the 2020/21 Budget, the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Lands in the Office of the Prime Minister detailed the progress made by the Department of Lands & Surveys regarding the acquisition of critical equipment, which will underpin our land reform strategies.

As promised, prior to the COVID 19 crises, we had been focused on and had begun to disseminate land grants from the southern Bahamas coming north. 

As of March 2020, the Department of Lands & Survey prepared and finalized 49 Crown Land grants for Bahamians, including on the islands of Inagua, Crooked Island and Mayaguana. 

Now that some of the restrictions on travel concerning COIVD 19 have been lifted, surveyors will return to the MICAL islands and we will continue this important work to empower Bahamians through land ownership.

Mr. Speaker:

On the Priority of Over-the-Hill Rejuvenation, immediately following the lifting of restrictions, construction recommenced on the Southern Recreation Grounds. 

I am pleased to report that at the end of this month, the Southern Recreation Park will be completed.  

I have with me images of the work executed to date.

This includes: a new basketball court; facilities for volleyball; new playground equipment; and more green spacing.   

We have also already completed the installation of Wi-Fi at the Southern Recreation Grounds and cables are presently being run for CCTV cameras. 

COVID 19 has caused some delay on the completion of a historical memorial walk we propose to add as a feature to the Park. 

However, I am told that the panels and plaques honoring our historical heroes are being coordinated by the Antiquities Monuments and Museums Corporation, and will be installed.

In addition, renovations at the Alvin S Moss Park on Sunlight Cottage, have been completed.

Now that restrictions are lifted, Joe Billy Park, Fowler Street, and Christie Park on Nassau Street, will be reengaged and continued.

Mr. Speaker:

Another, key component of the Over-the-Hill Priority has been our strategies toward the economic empowerment of residents of the Over-the-Hill Community.      To this end, we enacted the Economic Empowerment Zone Act.

To date, there have been a total of 90 applications made under the Act.

Fifty of these applications have been approved. 

This has resulted in a total of approximately $1.246 million in business license, customs duties and real property tax concessions being provided to these businesses.   

To further aid in the economic empowerment of residents in the Over-the-Hill Community, the Small Business Development Centre designed and implemented two special groups of residents from the Over-the-Hill communities to participate in SME programs.   

The first group of the OTH program was an eight week course open to 25 participants.

Seventy-two percent of its participants were able to complete successfully and graduated July of last year from the course.

Through this group, clients were awarded a total of $48,000 in capital assistance.

The first group resulted in a capital infusion of $48,000 and represented an injection of approximately 42 jobs to the labor market.

Total sales for all participants were $2,301,014.  

The second group of the OTH Program graduated in November 2019.

This group doubled its class capacity, increasing the number of participants from 25 to 50.

This group had a success rate of 62% with 31 of the participants successfully completing the course and graduating.

The second group of the OTH program resulted in the capital infusion of $65,250.74 and represented an injection of approximately 100 jobs to the labor market.      Furthermore, projected sales for the clients totaled $2,520,662.56.  

Prior to COVID 19, preparations were being made, and will now be continued, for a third group. 

Additionally, the SBDC will carry-out current assessments on performance in the COVID-19 environment and continue its mentorship.

Mr. Speaker:

Stakeholders are presently strategizing on how to enhance the economic empowerment strategies in the Over-the-Hill Community, to ensure that the objectives of reaching eligible businesses and entrepreneurs are achieved.

As we had previously undertaken to do, the Government is now taking steps to expand the area covered by the Economic Empowerment Zone Act in the Over-the-Hill Community. 

This zone will now extend South past Wulff Road, all the way to Independence Highway; East to Claridge Road; and North to Collins Wall.

As promised, we have now expanded to include Englerston, as well as Montel Heights.

This expansion will allow more businesses to avail themselves of the opportunities provided by the Government.  

The project to increase water connectivity in the Over-the-Hill area is provided for in this year’s Budget.

The overall project includes:

• the installation of new water mains along Quakoo Street, Cats Lane, Bola Avenue and Filnest Close Lane; and

• new water connections for residents of the area who do not presently have a Water and Sewerage Corporation metered connection and want to apply.  

It is estimated that there are 1,067 homes in the area without a Corporation metered connection.

Mr. Speaker:

Under the Education Priority, in the area of providing Universal Preschool education in The Bahamas, the achievements of stakeholders were almost doubled what was projected for 2019.

 Approximately, 1,500 pre-school students were enrolled during the 2019/2020 academic year. 

That’s 1,500 additional families being given a strong head start and proper foundation for the future.

Additionally, stakeholders at the Ministry of Education have as a target improving literacy amongst our students using GLAT results to measure this. 

In 2019, our students performed above the target, moving from 58% achieving grades A thru D in GLAT, to 63% achieving the same. 

Under the Ease of Doing Business Priority, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the stakeholders delivered: a 48-Hour business license renewal turn-around time; significantly enhanced protective measures for minority investors (as evidenced by The Bahamas’ 44 place improvement under this sub-group on the World Bank’s Doing Business index; and a reduction in the number of days required to register a property conveyance, to 22 days on average over 2019.

Despite these achievements, we are aware that the Government must work even harder if its efforts are to be felt by the business community and general public alike. 

In light of this, a comprehensive strategy has been developed and is being implemented to include an array of technological, operational and legal reforms.

Under the Energy Reform Priority, during this past fiscal year, our stakeholders have successfully completed a 250 kilowatt solar power retrofit at the Anatol Rodgers High School.

A state-of-the-art solar field has also been developed on Ragged Island as my Government undertook to increase the resiliency of that island’s infrastructure in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.   

Other solar projects currently in the pipeline include: the development of a solar car park at the Prime Minister’s Office – The Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre – as well as a solar and battery storage system at the TG Glover Primary School.

The Bahamas has already been recognized and awarded internationally for some of its completed solar projects, and this fiscal year we have allocated some $80 million for the continued development of resilient energy solutions and renewable energy reform throughout The Bahamas.

Mr. Speaker: 

We should all be clear on the extent of the twin crises facing us.

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed nearly half a million people around the world – and we are nowhere near the end of the pandemic. 

Here in The Bahamas we decided to take tough measures early.

We did not wait for it to get bad before we acted.

Mr. Speaker:

       I have had very little to say in my contribution or over the past few months about the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition.

       But I must note that he spoke and acted irresponsibly at the outset of the pandemic.

       Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

       I decided that I would not spend much time in this debate discussing the publicity stunts and foolish talk of the Opposition, especially in light of the historic circumstance in which we find ourselves.

       But let me say this:  The Leader of the Opposition has stood in an unfortunate place during the past ten months.

       The nation cannot take seriously a Leader of the Opposition who, in the face of the most powerful hurricane in our history, decided to dress up in a yellow raincoat and drive a truck through a neighborhood in New Providence, pushing more water into people’s homes.

       The country cannot take seriously a Leader of the Opposition, who, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic said that the Government was overreaching.

       He misunderstood the moment.  His judgment was dead wrong.

       A report in The Nassau Guardian of March 20th, 2020, under the headline, “Measures Are An Overreach”, noted:

“Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis last night accused the government of overreaching in the measures it outlined in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The story noted:

“Davis’ response came after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that as of today a curfew will be imposed across the country and all businesses, with limited exceptions, will suspend operations for a period of 11 days. 

“At a press conference, Davis said: ‘We are aware of the announcement made by the prime minister a few hours ago with respect to an emergency order introducing measures that will affect the lives of all Bahamians in ways unknown in any of our lifetimes. 

“We are concerned that this was all done in a heated rush …” 

Mr. Speaker:

       The Leader of the Opposition was dead wrong!

       My Government’s decision to act decisively at the time was taken after consultation with health officials.

       We acted quickly because we saw what was happening in the world and we wanted to get ahead of the deadly virus as quickly as possible.

       I acted quickly as Prime Minister because of my experience as a medical doctor and as a former Minister of health, who had to deal with previous global outbreaks.

The Leader of the Opposition also said:

 “As we see it, the measures are inherently contradictory and may pose more challenges than providing solutions to the ultimate goal of protecting our people.” 

“He said, ‘Many of these regulations are a clear overreach with no benefit.’” 

Mr. Speaker:

       Because of our immediate and comprehensive actions we saved lives, protected the general health and made sure that our public health infrastructure did not collapse under the weight of the pandemic.

The Nassau Guardian story continued:

“But Davis had suggested such orders may be unnecessary as he said the public was already compliant with recommendations made by the government in relation to the novel coronavirus.” 

The Leader of the Opposition also said:

“I, however, note that to date, there has been no reported case of non-compliance by Bahamians to any guideline and public service announcement issued by the government on COVID-19…”

       By his words and hesitation, we realize that the Leader of the Opposition would likely not have not reacted as quickly and as decisively as this government and this prime minister.

       As the young people like to say, “He was not ready for prime time.”

       At the outset of the pandemic, with the need to act quickly he failed a primary test of leader and proper judgment informed by medical science and good public policy.

He initially failed to understand the nature and the severity of the pandemic that was on the way and that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives globally.

       It is often good to have a doctor in the House.

       Health officials at home, and global health officials have noted that because of the quick response of various governments around the world that lives were saved and the health of scores of people were protected.

       We did the right thing in The Bahamas and in most of the Caribbean. 

       It is fortunate that the PLP and the Leader of the Opposition were not in office when the pandemic began in The Bahamas.

       He would have been a disaster during this time.

       History and the voters will judge the words, the gimmicks, and the poor judgment of the PLP during the COVID-19 pandemic, including their setting up a separate PLP COVID-19 Committee.

For our part, we have the historic responsibility to respond creatively and broadly to the challenges exposed by Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.

       This is what we have done.

       This is what we will continue to do. 

Seeing the large number of deaths in countries that waited too long, I am convinced my Government made the right decisions. 

As doctors we are trained to act early and decisively with an illnesses in order to prevent them from getting out of control.   

Now that we are easing restrictions in a phased and gradual manner, the Leader of the Opposition is wondering whether we are moving too fast, though at the beginning of the outset he said we were overreaching.

He keeps contradicting himself and tying himself up in knots.

When you are the leader of a country you have to make hard and tough decisions.

You don’t have the luxury to pander and criticize for the same of criticism like the Leader of the Opposition, who would have failed the test of leadership at this time.

Mr. Speaker:

       We cannot ignore nor sugarcoat the depth or the nature of the deep economic crisis we face.

COVID-19 shut down our tourism economy like no other time in our modern history. 

Our beautiful hotels were closed.

Our world-class cruise port in Nassau had no ships and no guests.  

It has pained me to see our once bustling downtown and hotel zones as a near ghost towns. 

COVID-19 has devastated the global travel industry.  

According to the International Air Transportation Association, or IATA, the global airline industry is forecast to lose a record $84 billion this year.

This is 3.2 times higher than in the Global Financial Crisis.  

The current economic crisis is placing stress across the global tourism chain.    

Various borders remain largely closed preventing much travel, though some degree of opening is starting in some places.

The Bahamian economy is overwhelmingly dependent on tourism.     What we lost since the beginning of the virus has caused tremendous hardship.  

Though we are hopeful our opening up will bring some visitors to our shores, I must be frank with the Bahamian people.

Do not expect to immediately see the same number of tourists we had pre-COVID.

We were a country that welcomed seven-plus million people per year.

With this reopening initially there will be fewer people than we were accustomed to.  Things will open slowly and gradually.

The tourism sector will only be able to employ people to match the number of tourists who come as the new normal unfolds.  

As the world continues to open up we are likely to see more visitors in time. However, we must be mindful that no one can predict what the virus will do. 

If there is significant resurgence in the countries our tourists come from, these places could re-impose lockdowns and border closings. 

These are uncertain times.

But we must do all that we can to prepare for a gradual re-opening. 

We must redouble our efforts to give the best service and warmest experience to the tourists who visit us.

Make them feel welcomed.

Do not take their presence for granted. 

I commend the Ministry of Tourism, our hotels and others in the wider tourism sector for their hard work preparing to welcome travelers back to The Bahamas. 

Our strong actions as a Government to stop the spread of this virus make our country an attractive destination.     

No one can accurately predict what the hotel occupancies and visitor numbers to the Bahamas will be like in a month or even two months after reopening to international visitors.

We will have to wait and see.

The good news is that the Minister of Tourism and Aviation tells me that they have much better tools nowadays to forecast the level of business more accurately.

So those tools will be working overtime to enable us to communicate monthly if not more frequently on what business forecasts are like in tourism for upcoming periods and share that information with our communities.

I note that Baha Mar has advised, notwithstanding its revised projected opening date which is now October, that it will immediately recommence construction and utilize the time of closure to continue the $300 million expansion to its resort offerings.

The property’s Phase II evolution will include amenities such as Mini Blue, an 18-hole miniature golf course, and new retail stores including Tory Burch and Mont Blanc, as well as fan-favorite Sugar Factory.

These projects will be the main focus throughout the coming months and launch upon the fall reopening, for guests to enjoy.

At the end of the year, Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s latest restaurant concept will be added to Baha Mar’s dining portfolio and the development of Baha Bay, the resort’s luxury, beachfront aqua adventure experience will be continued and is projected to meet its targeted 2021 opening.

Contemporary upgrades and improvements to the Melia had already began in October of 2019, and will also recommence within the coming days.

All of Baha Mar phase II projects have been awarded to local contractors, providing direct and immediate employment for more than 300 Bahamians.

This $300M dollar expansion is an investment in the future. It is a sign of confidence that Baha Mar is committed to creating the best platform for a successful reopening in the fall.

The Global Ports redevelopment of the Nassau Cruise Port continues and the group remains enthusiastic about the prospects for what will be one of the best such cruise ports in the region.

Carnival Corporation has indicated their intention is to move forward with both the Grand Bahama and Half Moon Cay projects and are working toward getting both projects permitted.

Mr. Speaker:

The Government recently approved Venetian Development Ltd. and its affiliate, Southern Capital Holding Ltd. to develop Venetian Village Hotel & Residential Resort to be developed on approximately eighty-six acres of land in Western New Providence in the vicinity of Old Fort Bay.  

I will have more to say about this at another time.

Mr. Speaker,

All Public Servants are to resume work duty on Monday 29th  June, 2020.

Employees with compromised health systems to work remotely for a period of 2 months on receipt of medical certificates.

       Permanent Secretaries are to implement a shift system in support of social distancing for a period of 2 months in Ministries and Departments.

Mr. Speaker:

       I have no doubt we will get through the present time.

       I know this because of our faith in Almighty God.

       I know this because I have seen the resilience of our people, and the bravery of the first responders, uniformed branch members, medical personnel and public officers and private citizens who responded to Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic with hope, with courage and with generosity of spirit.

       I believe in Bahamians.

       I believe in The Bahamas.

       I believe in the Lord of New Beginnings, who is our fortress and our strength, our shield at all times, and from whom all blessings flow.

        I assure the Bahamian people that as their prime minister that the Government I lead will do everything in our power to be there for them as we battle through these challenging times together.

       We will come through stronger and more resilient.

May God bless our Bahamas and may He grant us wisdom and discernment as we continue the long and hard work to restore and transform our Bahamas.

Let us begin a new season of restoration and transformation.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.