Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join you today as we discuss the way forward for The Bahamas.

At last year’s conference, we celebrated our history as we marked fifty years of Independence.

This year, the theme “Future Bahamas” encourages us to share our aspirations for the next fifty years.

Now, in The Bahamas, we enjoy vigorous debates and healthy rivalries. Just ask a group of Bahamians about putting mayonnaise in conch salad and see the ruckus that ensues.

But when it comes to the big things – when it comes to envisioning the future we’d like to build – I’d like to believe we can agree: we want a free, fair, and prosperous country, in which every citizen is treated with dignity and blessed with opportunity and security.

It’s a big dream — but because we Bahamians are determined, innovative, and compassionate – it need not be an impossible one.

As a country that keeps finding new ways to prove our small size is no barrier to greatness, we are fiercely proud of what we’ve accomplished. And the same shared values that enabled us to build our modern, independent country will help us build this future of dignity, opportunity, and security for all.

We’re going to build that future by creating a more dynamic economy – and by making sure there are more ladders leading to success and ownership for those who start life in humbler circumstances.

And we’re going to build it by coming together to acknowledge and address the tragic reality that too many of our young men are in crisis – and that we cannot build the country and future we want when crime and violence continue to haunt our neighborhoods, and tear at our souls.

I hope you’ll take the time to learn more about our administration’s Five Pillars collaborative, cross-government approach to turning the tide on this issue.

The first pillar is prevention, which focuses on community development, education, social services, and economic opportunities.

The second pillar is focused on strengthening policing, increased police presence in hotspot areas, community policing, school policing, “clear, hold, and build” strategies in areas where gangs are operating, officer training, investments in new tools, data collection, and technology, and enhanced regional cooperation against drugs and weapons trafficking.

The third pillar is prosecution, which includes a number of policies underway, including specialized courts dealing with specific crimes, and better support systems for victims and witnesses.  

The fourth pillar is punishment, ensuring that criminals are brought to justice and held accountable with harsh penalties for gang and gun-related offenses.

Finally, there is rehabilitation. Those who are willing to turn away from crime and re-orient themselves toward a peaceful and positive life should be supported as they reintegrate into society with vocational training, educational programmes, mental health and substance abuse treatments, and other forms of support.

Friends, just because the plague of crime is not easily solved, does not mean it is unsolvable.

This is a battle we must win – and it’s a battle we can win. 

But I continue to insist: we must do it as one national community.

Our police and prosecutors and judges might be central to the effort. 

Policies that provide opportunity, policies that address poverty, and guns, and drugs, and mental health – all of these are essential.

But – and I know you have heard me say this before — we still need parents and grandparents to create loving, safe homes.

We still need strong and virtuous men to stand up as role models and mentors, to offer the power of their example. 

We still need neighbors and communities who care.

I hope each and every one of you will think of what role you can play in mending our torn social fabric. What can you do to help our sons and brothers? How can you share your blessings? I hope you will spend some time considering these questions, and finding ways, big and small, to be part of the solution.

In our vision of a future Bahamas, we must envision a safer Bahamas. 

Let’s turn to the related goal: a fairer, more prosperous, and more inclusive economy.

We have made amazing progress, with consecutive years of economic growth, and a bright outlook for the years to come. At the end of last year, the IMF raised its projections for 2024.

We welcomed a record 8 million-plus visitors in 2023 and we are building on that success.

We have lowered the unemployment rate from historic high levels to a rate not seen since before the 2008 recession. We anticipate that our economy will continue to add jobs this year.

The good news is that we experienced increased employment at every income level, which helped Bahamians from every walk of life make ends meet and bodes well for consumer spending. 

But while we’ve made some progress in expanding opportunities, there is much more work ahead.

There are still too many people for whom a middle-class life is out of reach, and the prospect of homeownership remains a dream.

Central to making progress is growing our economy.

Economic diversification across our islands can be a powerful tool to drive multi-sectorial growth.

This is where our reform of our national investment strategy is critical in supporting and promoting domestic investments and Bahamian ownership of the economy, while also directing foreign direct investment opportunities to the islands that are the best fit.

Already, we have seen major eco-tourism and other investments on islands like San Salvador, Exuma, Long Island, Bimini, Abaco, and Cat Island—and more than $1.5 billion in new investments in Grand Bahama alone. As a Cat Islander, I know how beautiful but difficult life on a Family Island can be. If we want to promote equal opportunity, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands must not be left out.

Throughout The Bahamas, we must expand access to capital by facilitating loans and grants for businesses of all sizes, especially those in targeted industries that align with our national development plans. Access to capital remains a barrier to starting and growing businesses in our nation. 

We are embracing digitalization to create faster, more transparent business approval processes so that entrepreneurs can be fast-tracked for success, and we have lowered customs duties.

We know the cost of doing business remains far too high – and our focus here is on comprehensive energy reform, including renewable energy, to provide cleaner, stable, and more affordable power generation for businesses and households alike.

The RFP we announced last month will transform our energy landscape by establishing solar energy microgrids across the Family Islands. This initiative emphasizes Bahamian participation and local management to spur self-sufficiency for each involved island. These microgrids will not only provide clean and affordable power but will also foster economic growth, create jobs, and build resilience in our communities. 

The cost of doing business and the cost of living have been driven by our reliance on imports, affecting everything from the cost of fuel to the price of groceries.

We can lower costs by empowering local farmers and manufacturers to grow and produce more of our food and other goods at home. We’ve already laid the foundation through the creation of special grant opportunities for farmers and other agribusiness entrepreneurs through the SBDC, as well as the Golden Yolk Initiative, which aims to have local farmers take over domestic egg production.

The Bahamas has signed on to a number of international trade agreements that have been underutilized. We must identify the opportunities for us to export our local products, and also identify the areas where we can source high-quality, more affordable goods that are consumed locally.

Taking real action to lower the cost of living is a high-priority item on our agenda. It is one of the most powerful ways we can provide relief for our business community, as well as Bahamian families, many of whom struggled to make ends meet even before the global inflation crisis began.

Another priority is education – which should be important to all of us, not just to parents with school-age children. Educating our children is how we build our nation.

We are taking a multi-layered approach to making up for all the instruction time lost during the pandemic — and working to address long-standing concerns as well. 

Our Find Every Child Initiative was a sweeping effort to identify and bring back to school the thousands of Bahamian children who had disconnected from our schools during the pandemic.

Now, we have completed individualized assessments, and using what we’ve learned, we’re rolling out learning recovery efforts to help our students catch up and forge ahead. 

But our discussion of educational reform must go beyond the fallout from the pandemic. For decades, we have struggled with a track record of underperformance.

It has affected our national development, limiting social mobility and opportunity, eroding our pool of innovators and leaders, and negatively impacting workforce productivity.

Educational reforms and investments are central to creating a growing, dynamic, economy, in which many more Bahamians can thrive.  We must expedite plans to refocus our early primary curriculum on literacy and numeracy skills, replacing the high quantity of subjects with higher-quality learning. We must embrace the power of STEM education, recognising that this is the fastest-growing area of the global labour market. Even for those in non-STEM fields, an education in Math, Science and related subjects plays a large role in fostering critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. We must also develop other avenues of learning for those who demonstrate an aptitude for hands-on, vocational learning. This is a complementary approach to filling labour market needs without sacrificing the quality of the basic education in numeracy and literacy that all people can benefit from. Through institutions like BTVI, the National Training Agency, and programmes like PS-PEP and the upcoming National Apprenticeship Programme, we are moving toward these alternative forms of training and education. But more can be done at the secondary school level.

There are also wonderful dividends to be had if we do more to incorporate our creative sector into our economic model.

Consider the examples of Harl Taylor and Haus of Assembly, two Bahamian-owned brands that incorporate traditional Bahamian straw work into luxury fashion products. The latter now enjoys a storefront in the Nassau Cruise Port that may see up to thirty thousand pedestrians in just one day.  

We have so many talented artists and musicians in this country, and they and other creatives deserve our support. To this end, we are preparing to launch a National School of the Performing Arts to cultivate our local talent.

It’s an exciting time – one in which we are finally beginning to realize more of our potential.

I’m so happy to work with all of you to prepare our people and our country for the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow.

We welcome the opportunity for collaboration and partnership. Major national policies and strategies we launched in the past year related to Trade and Financial Services were largely based on industry input. 

Developments like the Renaissance Project, which will expand, modernize, and renovate 14 airports throughout the Family Islands, are designed from their inception as public-private partnerships. It is through such partnerships that we will thrive as a nation.

We need our brightest minds at the table, whether they work in government, in the private sector, or are currently working abroad as members of our Bahamian diaspora.

I can assure you that you will always find open minds and a warm reception as this administration welcomes innovative and solution-oriented ideas to drive progress, bring about real change, and create a brighter future for all Bahamians.

Thank you.