As we celebrate 50 years of Independence, it is essential to reflect on our legacy since Independence, the current state of our nation, and how we will determine our future. The legacy of the first 50 years of Independence was a time of tremendous progress and transformation for our country as we built our modern Bahamas’ foundational institutions and structures.
Our economy expanded, developed, and grew, extending education and opportunity to many. A new middle class emerged, keen to build homes and businesses and create wealth for themselves and future generations. However, there are still too profound gaps between where we are today and where we want to be, as a nation and as a people.
Our present context is one of the serious challenges, but progress is possible. Despite the adverse global economic conditions and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are finally moving in the right direction.
We are taking many steps to provide relief to Bahamian families, such as cutting import duties on dozens of food items, increasing funding for social assistance, and building affordable houses. We are also expanding tourism, diversifying our economy, making a historic investment in agriculture, and expanding access to technology.
We have set out three key priorities for the coming year: the Economy, Education, and Crime.
As we gather here today, we face multiple challenges in our community. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a health crisis, and businesses, large and small, have felt its economic impact. However, I am confident that we can overcome these challenges and emerge more vital than ever by working together.
We are committed to providing the police with the necessary resources to fight crime and investing in young people to shift life outcomes. By reducing the incidence of crime through prevention and education, we can create a safer and more prosperous environment for businesses and our communities.
I am encouraged as I share the significant progress we have made since coming into the office to restore our country’s fiscal health. The strong return on tourism and foreign investment has led to rapid economic growth, and we are pleased to see that US consumers have shrugged off inflation concerns.
Our focus on reducing the tax burden on the poor and small businesses to encourage consumption and investment is bearing fruit. Compliance with real property, VAT, and business licenses is critical to achieving our fiscal goals.
We understand the importance of maintaining an open relationship with the business community and have taken concrete steps to ensure their voices are heard. In addition, we have hired a Head of External Affairs Khrisna Russel in The Office of The Prime Minister to manage the Government’s relationship with industries to ensure policy understanding and listen to their concerns.
This roundtable meeting being held before the mid-term budget presentation on Wednesday is an opportunity for us to hear directly from the business community on any regulatory changes or other policy updates you should be aware of.
Our overall strategy for promoting economic growth and innovation is centred around promoting tourism, enhancing social benefits, improving health access, and investing in social services. We also recognise the importance of infrastructure investment, particularly in the Family Islands, which are critical growth drivers. We are aware of the challenges businesses face, particularly the mobilisation of financing for investment, and we are committed to finding solutions that work for everyone.
As we approach the mid-term budget, we focus on reporting on half-year fiscal performance rather than announcing new fiscal measures. We want businesses to be aware that the maritime sector is an area the government believes could contribute more to fiscal revenue through improved tax compliance. To this end, we have established a technical working group to make recommendations. We are working to close the loopholes in our VAT system to ensure compliance and that everyone pays their fair share.
I would also like to emphasise that the government is committed to creating a business-friendly environment in The Bahamas. We understand that the ease of doing business is critical to attracting investment and promoting economic growth. As such, we will focus on measures that streamline processes and reduce bureaucratic red tape. In addition, our administration wants to create an environment conducive to business growth and entrepreneurship, and we look forward to working with the business community to achieve this goal.
We also recognise the importance of improving productivity in the country, which is critical to our long-term economic growth. One of the ways we plan to do this is through education and training reform. In addition, investing in education and training is critical to ensuring that our workforce is equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to compete in today’s global economy.
We plan to work with the private sector to identify areas with a shortage of skilled workers and develop training programs that address those needs. This approach will not only help to increase productivity but also create more job opportunities for Bahamians.
As a government, we are committed to ensuring that Bahamians are included in the age of AI, blockchain, and digital assets. We understand that the world is rapidly changing, and new industries and technologies are constantly emerging. Therefore, we are committed to ensuring that Bahamians have the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in these new industries.
To this end, we plan to invest in training and education programs that focus on future industries. We want to ensure that Bahamians have access to the latest tools and technologies and can take advantage of the opportunities these new industries offer.
We recently announced our new immigration framework, which sends a strong message to the business community that we expect all businesses to comply with our immigration laws. This is particularly important in the construction industry, where there has been a history of non-compliance.
We want to ensure that all workers are treated fairly and that businesses are held accountable for their actions. We will be monitoring compliance closely, and those found to be in violation of our immigration laws may face fines or other penalties. We believe that by enforcing our laws and holding businesses accountable, we can create a level playing field and ensure that all Bahamians benefit from our economic growth.
The impact of an ageing population and low fertility rates among Bahamians is a concern for the government, as it can significantly impact the sustainability of our social programs, including the National Insurance Board. With fewer people contributing to the pension scheme, there is a risk that the benefits that it provides may become unsustainable.
The government recognizes the importance of finding a solution to this issue, and we are committed to working with the private sector to develop new strategies that can help to address this problem.
At the same time, we are also exploring ways to promote better retirement planning and ensure that all Bahamians have access to the resources and support they need to prepare for retirement. This may include increasing contributions to the pension scheme and exploring new investment strategies that can help ensure the program’s long-term sustainability.
I want to challenge the business community to do more to invest in new industries and bring forward innovative business ideas that can help to solve some of the most challenging problems facing our country. As a government, we recognise that we cannot do this alone. We need the private sector to be our partner in driving innovation and economic growth.
There are enormous opportunities for growth in emerging industries such as renewable energy, technology, and creative industries. We urge businesses to explore these areas and to bring forward new ideas that can help to create a more sustainable and prosperous future for all Bahamians. So let us work together to build a brighter future for The Bahamas.
We have much to celebrate and be hopeful about as we commemorate 50 years of Independence. The legacy of the first 50 years of Independence has conferred on us the status of a free and self-determining nation, and it is up to us to determine our future. So let us seize the moment, seize the day, and seize this 50th year of Independence.