Before he outlined “key measures” in his Government’s new budget, on June 7, 2023, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Philip Davis briefly reviewed “some significant aspects of the foundation we’ve built during our first 20 months”, with the work in the year to come building on that very foundation.
“In health care, we saw the vulnerabilities exposed in our healthcare system by the pandemic, and immediately invested in new infrastructure and expanded capacity in public healthcare facilities in New Providence and the Family Islands,” Prime Minister Davis said in the House of Assembly. “We also hired additional doctors and nurses to strengthen public healthcare.”
“In education, we recognized that the years of missed schooling represented an emergency for our children and families,” he added. “We repaired and re-opened schools for the return of in-person learning, launched a task force to tackle absenteeism, and undertook system-wide testing so we can address learning loss.
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that the Find Every Child initiative brought thousands of students back to school, providing them with social and learning support.
“We launched the National Smart Start Programme to provide workforce readiness skills to students left behind during the pandemic, so that they could qualify for jobs in this growing economy,” he said. “We moved to hire 200 additional teachers to address pre-existing staffing shortages.”
“We expedited the rebuilding process for storm-affected islands, launched the Home Assistance Repair Programme, and passed presumption-of-death legislation to expedite that process for those who lost loved ones during Hurricane Dorian,” he added.
Prime Minister Davis noted that, in the northern islands, as well as in New Providence and several Family Islands, his Government saw the urgent need for more affordable housing and “we began to build right away”.
“Within months of our taking office, Bahamians had already began moving into their newly built homes, Madam Speaker, with their keys in hand,” he said.
“Building affordable housing is a priority for us because the high cost of living in The Bahamas prevents too many Bahamians from building economic security.”
Prime Minister Davis related that life was already unaffordable for far too many, in the import-based economy of The Bahamas – and then came the global inflation crisis. He added that, around the world, prices have risen to their highest levels in many decades.
“The problem comes from outside our borders, but we have tried to reduce the impact,” Prime Minister Davis said. “We lowered customs duties, expanded price controls, hired new price control inspectors, expanded BAMSI farmers markets. These measures helped; but not enough.”
He added: “The real solution lies in increased domestic production – we must lower the nation’s food import bill. We are making major new investments in agriculture and food security, providing unprecedented funding for local farmers and agri-businesses. A major initiative, the Golden Yoke Egg Project, was launched earlier this year, with the worthy, ‘eggs-cellent’ goal of producing locally 100% of eggs consumed in The Bahamas.”
Prime Minister Davis said that his Government sees “all kinds of opportunities” in agriculture, where there is “so much room” for entrepreneurship and ingenuity.
“We want as many Bahamians as possible to participate in building a modern, climate-smart industry – starting your own company is an opportunity to do well for yourself and help your country at the same time,” he said.
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that, just as his Government supports home ownership, and Bahamian ownership in farming and fishing, it is also committed to funding and offering resources to Bahamian business owners.
“We allocated $50 million for micro-, small, and medium-sized Bahamian owned businesses – we plan to provide $250 million in funding to Bahamian businesses over the course of our term,” he said.
“And for the first time ever, our country now has a National Trade Policy, to empower Bahamian businesses as they engage in international trade,” he added. “Bahamians will now feel that the government is supporting them in exporting their goods abroad rather than impeding them with unnecessary bureaucracy and costs.”
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that he and Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Chester Cooper were both “an island boy at heart”; but his Government’s commitment to Family Island development was “a matter of both head and heart.”
“The Family Islands are crucial to preserving our culture and heritage, and also key to our national development,” he said. “We have opened airports in Ragged Island and Great Harbour Cay, and as I said earlier, we have begun the process to redevelop 14 airports throughout our Family Islands.”
“The Family Island Development Trust Fund will assist in developing Family Island infrastructure, allowing revenues generated in the Family Islands to stay in the Family Islands instead of going into the consolidated fund,” he added. “This is a game-changer for so many of our island communities.
“Major roadworks are currently taking place in the Exumas, and we are in the process of building a number of solar microgrids throughout our Family Islands. A priority in the coming year is to build sustainable, renewable energy projects throughout our islands, which will lower costs and encourage investment.”
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that, under his Government’s first budget, it “took care” of The Bahamas’ public servants by working through the promotions and regularization backlogs in New Providence and the Family Islands. Back-pay and gratuities were paid, public service pensions were increased, and salary increases were secured for thousands of public servants, he added.
He said: “This includes our beloved teachers and nurses, who received salary increases and additional benefits, including a retention bonus for teachers, a $100,000 insurance benefit for the loved ones of nurses who die in the line of duty, and an additional $10 per hour increase for nurses serving during times of disaster. While these increases were well-earned, we know they deserve even more, and will continue to work toward securing additional compensation.”
Prime Minister Davis noted that, when his Government signed an MOU with local unions prior to the last election, it committed to improving labour relations.
“Now, 19 new union agreements later, we have kept our word,” he said. “Within these agreements are pay increases and increased benefits for thousands of public servants.
“We have increased the national minimum wage – a move that was long overdue – but not even seriously contemplated by our predecessors.”
Prime Minister Davis stated that his Government ‘had done our homework’ and was confident that it was making the right call. He added that he Government knew increasing paychecks for Bahamians was both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
“Now, here we are, many months later: businesses are booming, and employment numbers continue to grow,” he said. “You see, it is possible to help working Bahamians and attract new investment without affecting growth.
“In fact, during our first 20 months, we have secured well over $1 billion in new investments, evidence of the confidence that investors and the business community have in our governance.”
Prime Minister Davis stated that the problem of crime was a serious one, “in our country and throughout our region”.
“It is not a single problem, of course – instead it is many problems, intertwined – including poverty, neglect, mental health issues, a lack of education or skills or opportunities, substance abuse,” he noted. “This complexity means there is no single or simple policy solution. Instead, we need action on multiple fronts.”
“We have expanded Urban Renewal, as well as a Second Chance programme, to reduce recidivism,” Prime Minister Davis added.
He pointed that that his Government had recruited hundreds of new Police, Defence, Correctional, and Immigration officers, and increased funding for saturation patrols in high crime areas. He added that his Government is working to stop gang recruitment in schools.
“I want to say to all Bahamians: when our young people join gangs because they want to belong somewhere, or they don’t see other opportunities, or because they think that’s the only way they can stay safe – as a society we have failed them,” Prime Minister Davis said. “We all need to do more. The government can and must bring significant resources to the table. But we will always need partners. I am so grateful to church, non-profit and school leaders who turn towards the hardest problems, instead of turning away, and continue their outreach and support for families and individuals in crisis.”
Prime Minister Davis said that his Government had launched a comprehensive immigration plan to “protect our borders and enforce our laws.”
“Our task force on shantytowns is working to ensure that when we dismantle illegal housing, we do not create a new homelessness and a crime problem,” he said. “In solving one crisis, we cannot create a new one.”
Prime Minister Davis added: “We continue repatriations at a record pace, even in the face of very strong international calls to stop. I have said very clearly to international leaders and organizations – The Bahamas cannot absorb the burden of crises unfolding in other nations. We will continue to take decisive action to protect our borders, and we will repatriate those who enter illegally.”
Prime Minister Davis noted that, in the 21st century, The Bahamas’ national security policy must also encompass measures to strengthen its defences against climate change.
“The next time we face a national disaster, our nation will now have the considerable assistance of the members of our National Youth Guard, who have been trained to assist existing personnel in a variety of capacities,” he said. “These young people, who have prioritized service to their nation, and are ready to play an active role in protection, rescue, and recovery, deserve our congratulations and gratitude.”
“It was very moving for me, attending the graduation of the first cohort in Grand Bahama, to see their pride, and the immense pride of their parents,” Prime Minister Davis added.
He continued: “You know, it’s so easy to focus on the negative. But if you do that, you miss the reasons to feel good about Bahamians and The Bahamas. You miss the many causes we have for optimism. The young Bahamians in our Youth Guard fill me with hope. When we talk about becoming more climate-resilient, many people think first about infrastructure. But we should also think about people – the role that our people can and must play in strengthening our defences. They will save not just our lives, but our way of life.”
Prime Minister Davis noted that there was more to say and he hoped that his colleagues will share more in their contributions, so that Bahamians have “the fullest possible sense of what is underway”.
“The story of the first 20 months of this administration must include this final fact: we took all of these steps forward as a nation while increasing government revenues, decreasing the deficit, and improving governance through amendments to the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Public Finance Management Act and Public Procurement Act,” he said.
“Despite the health, economic, fiscal, and inflation crises we inherited, we have not made excuses,” Prime Minister Davis added. “We continue to forge ahead with our plans for national development and empowerment of all Bahamians.”