Prime Minister Philip E Davis, KC, MP
Good afternoon everyone.
Thanks so much for joining.
At nearly the two-year mark for our government, I want to share with you an update on the progress our country is making, a preview of some of the hard work ahead, and some news about changes that are underway.
We have been in office for just over 100 weeks. On the best days and on the toughest days – it is always a privilege to serve you: to represent you, and to fight for you.
We’ve made some important progress implementing our Blueprint for Change, but we know there is still a long way to go, especially in tackling on some of the most difficult problems our country has been facing for a long time.
Change – real change — rarely comes easy.
But we’re here to change the status quo, not to defend it.
So let’s talk about where we are, and the work that lies ahead.
RESCUE FROM CRISIS
We began our administration facing multiple urgent crises: The national debt had skyrocketed. With the economy battered by a series of lockdowns and curfews, we had the worst unemployment crisis in our modern history. Our hospitals were overflowing, with some patients receiving treatment in parking lots. Our schools were closed, with no plans in sight to repair and reopen them, and thousands of children had barely been able to participate in remote learning.
The first thing we did was to mount an aggressive rescue operation. We lifted the curfew, and ended travel visas and the Emergency Orders. We provided tens of thousands of free COVID tests and free medical-grade masks, put together health rules that made more sense, and focused on protecting the most vulnerable.
We expunged records for minor breaches of the Emergency Orders, and worked hard to reopen schools.
We knew many Bahamian businesses were on the brink of going under, so despite the severe fiscal crisis, we made it a priority for the government to pay off significant arrears owed to Bahamian companies. This decision injected $100 million into our local economy and saved a number of businesses from bankruptcy.
We brought back festivals and regattas and world-class sporting events, in some cases bigger and better than ever before.
You trusted us to release the stranglehold on the economy and to fight the virus at the same time, and we did.
Our policies jump-started the economy, and Bahamians – always resourceful — responded with energy and enthusiasm.
Many businesses are now thriving. We now have a 15-year low in unemployment. Our fiscal situation is much stronger.
Our country is in better shape because of the efforts of the Bahamian people, who remain vital partners as we make progress in our national development.
A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR CHANGE
Moving the country out of crisis allowed us to start building a strong foundation for bigger changes.
A top priority is reducing the cost of living. I know how hard it is to pay for just the basics. Prices have been too high for too long, but a global inflation crisis has made things even worse.
We started building affordable homes, launched Free Wi-Fi in public parks, and expanded high-speed internet access across the country. We launched a Catastrophic Health Care Fund, to help families through medical crises.
We raised salaries and bonuses for nurses, who had been our superheroes during the pandemic.
In the public sector, we did something long overdue – we settled promotions and inequities in the system. In addition, we paid salary arrears to public servants which had been outstanding since 2017, approved the return of annual increments for public servants, and increased public service pensions.
We raised the minimum wage, ignoring those who argued against it.
We have negotiated and concluded twenty-two labour agreements – a historic achievement.
And we decided we never again want to be so dependent on other countries for the food we put on our tables.
We are working to build food security, so we can grow more of what we eat, and create new ownership opportunities for Bahamians in a modernized, revamped agriculture sector.
In tourism, we are having a blockbuster year. And we continue to build for an even better future. We are expanding into new markets, introducing innovations, and encouraging Bahamian ownership throughout the sector. We want to ensure that investments and opportunities are spread across our islands.
In fact, our Family Islands are a major focus, with new airports, infrastructure, and revamped health clinics all in motion.
Creating new opportunities is important – and so is making sure more of our people are ready to seize those opportunities.
The years our children did not attend school had a real impact. In education, we brought together a coalition of the caring, to bring our children back into school, to conduct nationwide assessments, and to start building a learning recovery initiative.
Our Smart Start programme focuses on job readiness for our young people who missed out on their last years of high school during the pandemic.
In the coming weeks, we will begin our School Breakfast Programme – an initiative that will be expanded throughout the school year. We think it will make a real difference to our children, their families, and their teachers.
Our new National Youth Guard is growing – we are giving young Bahamians important job-ready skills, while training them to support our emergency response teams during hurricanes.
In Grand Bahama, we are cleaning up communities, refurbishing infrastructure, building a new health campus, and asking the Port Authority to live up to their obligations.
Building change at home isn’t enough when the world has grown so complex – hurricanes, viruses, and inflationary pressures do not respect borders. So we are making sure The Bahamas has a stronger voice on the world stage, and forging and strengthening important alliances.
We are fighting to get other countries to reduce the polluting emissions which are warming the oceans and creating more intense hurricanes. We are fighting for fair climate finance, since the Category 4 and 5 hurricanes that have hit us in less than one decade have cost us billions, accounting for a large share of our nation’s debt.
We are demanding that Europeans judge our financial services industry by the same standards they use to judge their own, instead of adding extra burdens on majority-black countries. We have filed an amicus brief against US manufacturers of the weapons that are trafficked into our country, and we have told both the US and the UN: no, we cannot accept the burden of migrants in our country.
Across The Bahamas, we have recruited hundreds of new police, immigration, and Defence Force officers, strengthened our security and intelligence partnerships to fortify our borders, and added and upgraded equipment and technology to modernize our capabilities.
These are only some of the ways we are working for change.
MORE WORK TO ADDRESS OUR HARDEST PROBLEMS
A lot has been done, but there is so much more to do, especially when it comes to addressing our most serious and long-standing problems.
Light bills are inflicting a lot of pain, across the board, and it’s no exaggeration to say that our country’s never-ending problems with electricity are holding us back.
This is not an area where small changes will be enough. We need to reform and transform our energy sector.
We have multiple solar projects underway in the Family Islands, but that’s only the beginning.
Our goal is to transform our outdated and dysfunctional energy generation, distribution, and transmission systems across our islands, including in New Providence.
It’s a huge job, but we must transition to a new energy future, one which is more affordable, more reliable, and better for our environment.
Another problem that has become very serious is that too many of our families are priced out of affordable housing.
We believe the dream of home ownership shouldn’t be out of reach for Bahamians who are working hard to build economic security, peace of mind, and something to hand down to the next generation.
We are building affordable homes, to expand options for Bahamians, and we have been evaluating best practices for a Rent-to-Own programme, which I know many of you are waiting for. It’s important to get it right, so that the programme can grow to include as many Bahamians as possible.
Another challenge we face, one that has grown in scope and complexity, but where we must make significant inroads, is crime.
A number of important initiatives are already underway.
We are taking steps to slow the flow of illegal weapons over our borders. We are going after the gangs who recruit in our schools and are driving much of the crime in our communities. And we are working to interrupt the cycles of violence and vengeance which have grown around their activities.
We have introduced saturation patrols, and expanded CCTV coverage. We are revitalizing manpower and capacity, adding street lighting, and cleaning up overgrown lots and removing abandoned cars.
And still there is more we need to do. We need bail reform. We need to intervene earlier. We need good exits and options for those trying to leave gang life behind.
There are no easy or quick fixes, but we must fight for progress every single day. Each young man we steer in a better direction, each act of violence we prevent, each gang we disrupt, each street we make safer, each community we make stronger – these victories will add up to real change.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am to the many Bahamians who are allies in all of these battles – all those who get off the sidelines and join in the hardest but most rewarding work of all, building enduring change.
Making real progress means a lot of different things have to come together – expertise, resources, manpower, and collaboration are all required to implement the policies in our Blueprint for Change.
.We’re always learning, we’re always listening, and we’re always looking for ways to deliver more and deliver better.
Like I say, I didn’t come here to sit still.
A few weeks short of the two-year mark, we are beginning a new chapter.
As you know, we have a new Governor-General, Cynthia Mother Pratt. I know she will serve with spirit and with grace, and will use the position to motivate a new generation to volunteer their talents to strengthen our civic life.
After our new Governor-General reads the Speech from the Throne, we will begin a new legislative session in Parliament. We will focus on strengthening economic, national, and personal security, building resilience in these turbulent times, and bringing innovation and improvement to how the government serves our citizens.
We are also launching several important reviews. As I announced over the summer, we will be conducting a comprehensive review of immigration procedures, with the goal of strengthening them, so that Bahamians can be confident that the rules promote efficiency and fairness.
We are also reviewing agreements made with investors in years past, to ensure they are carrying out the commitments they have made to our communities and country.
And we are reviewing work permits in our financial services and tourism industries, to make sure opportunities for Bahamians are not being unfairly blocked.
Having the right policies is just the beginning – making sure they are implemented well is essential. As we move forward with the next phase of implementing our Blueprint for Change, some Permanent Secretaries and civil servants will be in new positions, to reflect efficiencies and expertise.
In addition, some of our Cabinet Ministers will also be taking on new responsibilities with new portfolios, as will Ministers of State who have shown that they are ready to serve as full Ministers in Cabinet.
In making these decisions, my priority was to strengthen policy execution, and to balance continuity and experience with renewal and fresh perspectives. Cabinet is a team – and as on any team, individual strengths and talents add up to make the team stronger.
As the Minister of State in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Jomo Campbell worked to bring important changes to the Department of Public Prosecutions and to the operations of the Judiciary, with a focus on adding capacity and attacking the judicial backlog. His leadership was an important factor in improving conviction rates. He has contributed wise counsel on a range of complex legal and policy issues. He has shown he can do the hardest and most important thing in government, which is to take a plan on paper and make it real.
His ability to drive change will be essential in his new role as substantive Minister for Agriculture and Marine Resources. There, he will build on a wide array of initiatives put in place by Minister Clay Sweeting, who achieved much in these two short years. From expanding education and training, to creating the Golden Yolk Programme, reopening packing houses, and investing in vertical farming, cultivation centres, and climate-smart technology, he has moved the industry forward for the country.
As the new Minister of Works and Family Island Affairs, Minister Sweeting will oversee the significant number of infrastructural projects and upgrades that are underway. Pulling Works and Family Island Affairs together makes sense in our government, because of the scope of our ambitions for our Family Islands. With two new airports already opened, and 14 more to go, and major roadworks across multiple islands, we are looking at transformative change.
Minister Alfred Sears oversaw the initiation of those infrastructural improvements, as well as the very significant repairs which were required to make schools across the country ready for in-person classes after two years of closure.
He has served our nation in previous administrations as the Attorney General, and as a Minister of Education, Science and Technology. Now we are asking him to bring his formidable experience to serve as Minister of Immigration and National Insurance.
As you know, because of the global inflation crisis, Bahamians are experiencing a significant strain in their finances. Because of this, we decided to postpone a much-needed increase in NIB rates until July of next year. This will give Bahamians time to plan, and give the National Insurance Board time to undergo a process of reform.
Minister Sears will be overseeing those reforms, to make the system simpler and easier to navigate. It’s important to prevent fraudulent claims, and to expedite claims for people who deserve them. NIB should be there when Bahamians need it, so we need to strengthen the fundamentals, and improve services and accountability.
Minister Sears will also oversee the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws, and will be responsible for implementing the reforms which emerge from the review of immigration procedures.
I know that he will build on the very substantial accomplishments of Minister Keith Bell.
In less than two years as Minister of Labour and Immigration, Minister Bell recruited a record number of immigration officers and oversaw a record number of repatriations. Because of his leadership, we have a new temporary detention facility in Inagua, which can hold 800 persons, reducing the time and cost of repatriating those who cross into our waters illegally. Also because of his leadership, thousands have been deported for immigration violations, and 600 migrants were taken into custody in Abaco this year alone. He has worked with the Royal Bahamas Police Force to target human smugglers, as well as those who break our laws by employing or housing undocumented migrants.
During his tenure as Minister of Labour, the minimum wage was increased, and Labour on the Blocks job fairs across the country resulted in more than 3,000 job placements for Bahamians.
I know he will bring his trademark energy and determination to his new role, as Minister of Housing and Urban Renewal. Building affordable homes and building stronger communities is a priority for us, and doing it in a big way requires strength and focus.
Keith Bell was part of the team that originally launched Urban Renewal. His experience and commitment to that mission will help to drive the programme to even greater success.
He will be taking over from Minister Jobeth Coleby-Davis, who revitalized a housing department that had not built even a single house in years. She wasted no time turning things around, as the proud new homeowners in the Pinecrest and Renaissance developments can confirm.
I spoke earlier about how important Energy Reform is to our national development.
If we want to make electricity affordable, if we want Bahamian companies to compete and prosper, if we want to create a more dynamic and inclusive economy, we must transition away from our country’s expensive, outdated, and unreliable electricity infrastructure.
Around the world, as companies and countries wake up to the dangers of the climate change era, massive new investments in research and development are leading to technological advances in renewable energy.
It’s a very exciting time, but also a very challenging one.
Energy reform can be a game-changer for us, but no one should underestimate the up-front costs and complexity of transforming the country’s grid.
In a rapidly-changing sector, we need to make decisions that help Bahamians as soon as possible. Change is urgent, but we also need to make decisions that hold up over the long term.
Minister Coleby-Davis to serve as Minister of Energy and Transport, to do the critical work of bringing together and coordinating experts and teams from throughout our government to tackle our energy transition. As many of you know, she has a background in providing legal counsel in the industry, and understands how to navigate complex negotiations with energy executives and companies. Minister Coleby-Davis, whose dissertation for her Masters’s Degree focused on overcoming barriers to renewable energy deployment in The Bahamas, is going to be a formidable advocate for our country as we transition to clean energy.
When we came into office, many Bahamians told us they were inspired to see a new generation of leaders receive top posts in our government.
Minister Pia Glover-Rolle has been another bright star in this new generation. She has overseen salary increases across the public service, including increases for uniform branches, teachers, and nurses, and an increase in public service pensions, and the return of annual increments to alleviate inflationary pressures.
She has conducted a Public Service-wide skills audit to inform human resource needs and policies.
She is revamping how government recruits, onboards, and trains public servants.
She has significantly reduced a decades-long backlog of promotions, and resolved hundreds of pending matters related to backpay, gratuities, and other matters.
She led the first public service-wide promotional exercise in over nine years.
She has terminated more than a dozen under-utilised government leases – saving the government money.
Her work has been important to improving labour relations, setting the stage for the successful negotiation of 22 labour agreements in 23 months.
I am confident she will serve with distinction as the new Minister of Labour and Public Service.
Our administration has advocated passionately around the world for The Bahamas to be supported as we deal with the impact of climate change on our country and our people. As we move forward with our agenda to adapt and make ourselves more resilient, we need to strengthen the work of the Ministry of the Environment.
To help drive this push for more sustainable development, Zane Lightbourne will take on the role of Minister of State in that ministry.
As I mentioned earlier, we have a strong focus on accelerating the expansion and development of airports throughout our family islands. Airports do more than facilitate travel. They are a force multiplier in supporting the economic growth of those communities. Because of the scale of resources and requirements needed to make this a reality, Basil McIntosh will take on the role of Minister of State in the Ministry of Aviation. His long years of experience in major engineering projects around The Bahamas will greatly strengthen our efforts.
While other ministers will remain in their substantive posts, there are some changes in portfolios. The full list of responsibilities will be published later.
Our country is finally moving in the right direction.
Change never comes easy – we have to show up and fight for it every day.
I am blessed to work with colleagues who focus on opportunities, not obstacles.
We share a deep gratitude for the privilege of contributing to a new chapter in our nation’s development.
We will face all and any challenges with a strong and united team.
Early September is always an exciting time.
Across our islands, our children are starting a new school year.
They are walking into their new classrooms with more than their backpacks — they are carrying with them our prayers, and our hopes for tomorrow.
I don’t want any ceilings on what they can dream or accomplish.
My colleagues and I are working hard to build a country in which all of our children can thrive and succeed.
May God Bless You, and May God Bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.