As we close the 2023/2024 National Budget debate, we do so with confidence in the Bahamian people and optimism about the bright future we can build together.
The policies and investments in this budget reflect our conviction that inorder to build enduring and inclusive progress – in order to build a better today and a better tomorrow for our people — we must grow stronger.
National, economic and personal security are central to this budget.
Because while we are optimists, Madam Speaker, we are also realists.
In today’s world, every nation must navigate increasingly complex and interconnected challenges.
And that is especially so for a nation like ours — a nation on the frontlines of a changing climate.
Economic and financial crises, invasions and armed conflicts, highly transmissible diseases, supply chain breakdowns, global inflationary pressures – these problems may begin in other countries, but none are contained by national borders.
Problems which originate elsewhere find their way to Bahamian shores – often sooner rather than later.
A planet that is warming because of the carbon emissions of industrialized nations means more extreme weather events everywhere, including more frequent and more intense hurricanes in our region.
Gun merchants who care only for profit sell the weapons that flow into our region.
Social media platforms produce benefits, but also produce misinformation and lies, which spread quickly and increase cynicism, rage and division.
These are the facts.
The policy choices that give rise to or perpetuate many of these problems are often made in national capitals and corporate headquarters thousands of miles from here.
We cannot control the decisions made in other nations, but getting stronger as a country and as a people – that is something we can and must do.
Wecan take responsibility for our security and our future.
No one is going to do it for us.
No one should do it for us.
Our country is finally on a more secure path to progress.
We are asserting ourselves on the world stage: fighting for fair climate finance, leading the way to establish blue carbon credits, working for a more stable region, and promoting our nation as a first-class destination and investment partner.
We are investing in Bahamian agriculture – because food security is critical to economic security.
We are investing in learning recovery, and in our students and our teachers; we are investing in our artists and our athletes; and we are investing in Bahamian entrepreneurs – because investing in our people, and giving Bahamians the skills and resources to thrive in a 21st century economy is at the heart of economic security.
We are investing in our Defence Force, with new vessels, new recruits, new training opportunities, and strengthened partnerships – because national security requires border security.
We are investing in the new National Youth Guard, providing young Bahamians not just training for future careers but the opportunity to fortify our nation’s emergency response efforts. As hurricanes grow more intense, strengthening our national capacity to protect our people and respond in a crisis is a key element of our national security.
We are investing in anti-crime and anti-violence initiatives, saturation patrols, and anti-gang resources in schools; we are investing in Urban Renewal, the Second Chance programme, and in street lighting, neighborhood clean-ups, and community centres – because all Bahamians deserve safety at home, at school, and in our communities.
We are investing in new affordable housing, because, as any Bahamian will tell you, there’s nothing like the security of owning your own home.
We are investing in infrastructure in the Family Islands, in renewable energy, in Family Island clinics and in our green, blue, and orange economies. We are also attracting unprecedented levels of investment in our Family Islands, with several Family Islands securing multi-million-dollar investments, which will create new entrepreneurial opportunities, provide jobs, generate revenue for local government, and provide opportunities for local businesses.
And we’re investing in a major expansion of hospital facilities in New Providence and Grand Bahama, the renovation and improvement of multiple clinics throughout our islands, an expanded Catastrophic Health Care Fund, and a first-ever organ donor programme to save lives and improve the health of the Bahamian people.
These priorities reflect our profound belief in the dignity of every one of our citizens.
This budget is designed to lift people up, to widen and deepen Bahamian participation in our economy, to make us safer, and to help us care for one another.
We believe it is vital to build our country’s strength and resilience because we live in an era where one external shock is quickly followed by another.
To lead is to deal with the facts as they are, not as we would wish them to be — and so it is that we are choosing to confront this reality: that in order to survive and prosper we must grow stronger.
What’s more, Madam Speaker, we are working toward a brighter future without forgetting that many Bahamians need and deserve support today.
We worked hard to create a budget that balances addressing our most pressing needs today — with investing in the long-term, nation-building solutions that will be the foundation for our next chapter as a nation.
Fifty years from now, many of us will no longer be here, but what will stand the test of time – God willing — is our vision, the impact of our policies – and most of all, the lives changed forever by opportunities made real in this budget.
Just think of it:
Securing opportunities and ownership will empower more Bahamians to break the cycle of generational poverty – and live the Bahamian dream that has eluded too many Bahamian families for far too long.
In fifty years, there will be Bahamian families who can trace their family’s first real step toward generational wealth back to a business grant, or keys to a first home, that were funded by this budget.
The seeds of a new, more inclusive Bahamian economy are in this budget.
There are young men and women who will be given a new lease on life – a chance to overcome childhoods in which they may have been neglected rather than loved.
Young Bahamians will be given the grace and opportunity to overcome early mistakes, and choose a different, better path.
We believe the circumstances of your birth should not limit your potential.
We believe that mistakes made early on should not foreclose the possibility of turning things around, and leading a productive, fulfilling life.
We are building a secure foundation, but a foundation is only the beginning; to truly realize our vision, that foundation must be built up to completion.
That is the point of strategic national development. There must be continuity, not just across budget years, but across successive administrations.
That’s why so many Bahamians hated “stop, review, and cancel” – they understood it was partisan politics, not national development, that was being prioritized.
That’s why, in our Blueprint for Change, we promised The Bahamian people that we would complete and implement the National Development Plan. We have inherited a beautiful country and we have an obligation to protect it for future generations. The best way to do that is through a properly organized national development plan. In our prior administration we spent years consulting with Bahamians from every walk of life to create the National Development Plan, a foundational and comprehensive long-term plan for the country’s development and prosperity. We specifically promised that we would, relaunch, complete and legislate the National Development Plan. We intend to deliver on that promise.
The Government has re-appointed the National Development Plan committee, appointing a chairman to complete the plan and then prepare an implementation plan. We are currently reviewing recommendations for the steering committee to oversee the work. We have included civil society, the business community, labour and religious leadership on the committee. Additionally, the government will appoint a secretariat to support the implementation of the work. We already have an initial draft legislation that will create the framework for implementation. We eagerly look forward to having a completed and updated National Development Plan, and implementation plan along with supporting legislation tabled for debate in Parliament.
There are important new initiatives in this budget, but in many cases, we prioritized the strengthening and expansion of programmes launched after our first full budget. We moved quickly when we came into office, Madam Speaker, and we were able to launch within our first year or so many of the policies outlined in our Blueprint for Change.
After we launch new initiatives, we study what works best, address problems which need solving, and then increase our investments in subsequent budget years, so we can expand the policies’ impact.
We built affordable housing – now we’re going to build some more. We launched the Youth Guard – now we’re going to expand our recruiting efforts. We added hundreds of new police officers to the force and invested in a fleet of new vehicles – now we’re going to have saturation patrols in the neighborhoods where they’re most needed.
A budget is a plan for the allocation of resources. And it is maintaining focus over the course of multiple budget cycles that allows for effective national development.
I am confident that our emphasis on security and progress is the right focus at this critical juncture in our growth as a nation.
And I believe that this budget reflects core Bahamian values, and provides important answers to the most important question:
What kind of nation do we want to be?
I believe we want to be the kind of nation that provides shelter for survivors of domestic violence.
We want to be a nation that ensures our schoolchildren don’t start the day hungry.
We want to be a country that can feed itself.
We want to create such a wealth and diversity of opportunities that our people choose to build their lives, raise their children, start their companies, and contribute their expertise here, at home.
We want a Bahamas that is owned by Bahamians.
This budget makes new investments toward these goals and many others – as is only fitting in our 50th year of independence. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished, as a nation and as a people, and yet we are fully aware of how much road there is yet to travel.
I never tire of expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve.
I serve the magnificent people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador, and I serve Bahamians across our beautiful country – what an extraordinary blessing.
My faith, and my Bahamian brothers and sisters, give me strength, and I rely on that strength — because when one endeavors to take on big challenges, there are always difficulties and setbacks.
The problems facing all countries in 2023 are significant and complex.
We strive to approach policymaking and governance with open minds, with flexibility, with a willingness to listen and course-correct as necessary, and with the desire to create and strengthen partnerships across our country.
Last week, the Ministry of Economic Affairs hosted the second quarterly financial services industry briefing for the year. We understand how important it is to meaningfully engage the stakeholders of this second pillar of the Bahamian economy. We brought these briefings back after years of inquiries from the sector about why they had been halted in the first place.
We have positioned The Bahamas for continued success as a financial services jurisdiction, helping the industry grow stronger by addressing pressing issues.
We are making amendments to the existing legislative framework for digital assets and registered exchanges to address ongoing developments in that field, and to offer more oversight and protection mechanisms, with the full expectation that we will retain our position as one of the most well-regulated fintech jurisdictions in the world.
In 2021, The Bahamas joined some 136 jurisdictions around the world in a landmark international agreement, which specified a 15% Global Minimum Corporate Tax for multinational enterprises with revenues over 750 million euros annually.
The Ministry of Finance has created and shared a Green Paper, which explores various possible paths for implementation in our country. The Green Paper is not a policy position paper; rather, it is a consultative document intended to support a full and constructive national conversation. We look forward to productive consultations in the months to come.
We are taking the initiative to proactively create a framework that works well in our context, and for our country. We will move forward on our own terms.
As we have detailed throughout this debate, our government has made very important progress in strengthening our nation’s fiscal security.
Fiscal security is no abstract matter – our nation’s fiscal health directly affects the ability of the government to make critical investments in our people and country.
On the issue of taxes, we made the decision to focus on targeted revenue collection and generation measures rather than introduce major new taxes.
Despite the very significant debt and fiscal crisis we inherited, this budget does not increase the tax burden of the vast majority of Bahamians – in contrast to the approach of our predecessors, who increased VAT by 60%.
We have adjusted the Departure Tax for cruise passengers upwards by $5, we have added a tourism sustainability levy of $5 for each cruise visitor and a $2 levy for all travelers for tourism enhancement. Tourism enhancement includes critical projects like cleaning up Bay Street, business incubation centres for tourism-related businesses across our islands, cleaning up monuments, the Junkanoo Beach Village restoration, and more.
The sustainability levy for cruise ship passengers will be introduced as of July 1st, 2023 and the departure tax increase and tourism levy will take effect on January 1st, 2024.
All the revenue measures I’ve just listed will give us better returns on our in-demand tourism product while still maintaining prices that are competitive regionally.
In fact, we are confident that our tourism product will remain the strongest in the region. And we stand firmly by our conviction that those who visit and travel through our beautiful waters must play at least some role in preserving our beautiful marine environment.
At this point I wish to address some points raised by the Leader of the Opposition where he stated that Infrasoft, an Indian Company won a bid to provide services to the Government. That is incorrect. The proposal by Infrasoft was never approved by Cabinet. The Leader of the Opposition went further and stated that Digisoft and Adolpha didn’t go through the proper approval protocol. Again, this is incorrect. Both applications were uploaded into the portal at the close of the bid and they went before the tender committee and were approved by Cabinet. The contracts were also vetted by the Office of the Attorney General for execution. We are happy and proud of the young Bahamian men behind Digisoft who are creative, talented and extremely bright. It is high time young Bahamians were given equal opportunity to compete for Government contracts. These young men have educated themselves, returned home and are making a positive contribution to The Bahamas. They have earned whatever reward they receive and deserve our support and respect.
I am sure the Leader of the Opposition like myself cares about the advancement of young people, but I want him to understand that unlike them we deliver on our promises and there’s more to come. Just read our Blueprint for Change and follow our accomplishments to date.
The Leader of the Opposition continues to raise the point that the Government is breaking the law. But the answer is clear that no laws were broken. The only think broken is the trust that so many young Bahamians previously placed in the FNM.
Unfortunately Madam Speaker, The FNM is getting a reputation for fighting for everyone else except hard working Bahamians. We in the PLP Government will continue to encourage our young people to dare to dream, dare to compete and dare to take advantage of the opportunities we will create for them.
Digisoft has been awarded the contract to design a portal which will finally tap into revenue streams that have previously gone unnoticed and that is millions of dollars in revenue in which the government will be able to collect from private boat owners and charters who enter our country and move about from port to port. This project will help the Bahamas to close this loop hole and bring in much needed revenue and ensure that we are inline with international port operating standards.
Madam Speaker :
To further strengthen our maritime sector we have also eliminated duty and VAT for yachts and pleasure crafts, but increased registration fees, in order to encourage domestic registration for these vessels– this is an important step forward to creating a yacht registry and improving the strength of our marine sector.
There has been representation to us that we should consider providing the same incentives to the aircraft industry to encourage more aircraft to register in The Bahamas and grow our aircraft registry. We are actively exploring this opportunity.
We have also increased work permit fees. These increases will go into a Immigration Levy Fund;for purposes associated for Immigration Enforcement, National Health and Wellnees and Educational programmes.
As you know, this modest increase in the work permit fee was objected to very loudly by members of the opposition. Apparently, they oppose making it more costly for people who want to hire foreigners to come into this country to work.
We accept that in some instances foreigners are required to fill positions where expertise and experience does not reside locally. However, I want to make it clear to employers that in these instances we expect a Bahamian to understudy and be trained for that position. The Department of Immigration and by extension the government should not find itself in a position where an employer is asking us to renew a work permit after 10 to 15 years. This is unacceptable, especially when our database at the department of Immigration shows that Bahamians are qualified to fill the position. I’ve asked the Department of Labour to hold these employers accountable and deny renewal applications where we have suitably qualified Bahamians living here or abroad. Enough is Enough! A word to the wise should be sufficient!
A great example of the partnership I expect and welcome from those in the hotel sector is the Culinary and Hospitality bridging programme at the University of The Bahamas where my government has provided funding of over 1 million dollars to train over 200 young Bahamians over the next 2 years to take up entry level food service kitchen positions and entry level hospitality positions in the hotel sector. These positions include prep cooks, line cooks, kitchen assistants, bakers’ assistants, front desk agents, guest service associates, concierge and sales coordinators.
These positions require little or no prior experience and provide the foundation for learning and advancing within the food service and hospitality industry and if they desire, upon completion of this course, they can pursue an Associate or bachelor’s degree in hospitality.
The following hotels have committed to onboard these students upon their completion of the program: Atlantis, Bahamar, Lyford Cay, Albany, Margaritaville and RIU. I wish to thank our partners. This is how industry and government should work hand in hand to create more opportunities for Bahamians.
I will always stand up for the Bahamian worker!
We made a very deliberate choice to raise much-needed revenue through the more efficient collection of existing taxes, while also introducing or raising a very small number of targeted fees that do not impact most Bahamians.
The side opposite can try to convince the people that a cruise passenger fee, a yacht fee, a tourism enhancement fee, and a foreign work permit fee add up to some huge new burden for the people – but they’re going to continue losing their war with reality.
They also have very strenuous objections to the Revenue Enhancement Unit, and the Large Taxpayer Unit, which focus on enforcing compliance with existing laws.
We are all aware that, unfortunately, there are those who want to reap the benefits of our nation while contributing the least amount possible.
Why is the side opposite objecting to enforcing the laws of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas?
The Large Taxpayers Unit focuses on compliance for businesses making over $5 million per year. Should such businesses not be asked to pay the taxes they owe?
This is a nation of laws, and we intend to enforce those laws. Those who suggest the government should not make efforts to collect taxes on the biggest companies or the most expensive properties – they’re telling us everything we need to know about who they are – and who they’re for.
There was a time in this House when members would be embarrassed to be that shameless. Everyone must pay their fair share.
Bahamians know that for too long, many of those who can afford to pay have simply ignored their tax bill.
Meanwhile, most Bahamian pays taxes through their consumption. They do not have the ability to evade their tax obligations because they are taxed when they purchase goods and make use of services every day.
If our efforts to require those who can afford it to live up to their tax obligations is being treated as controversial, it is because there are certain circles in our country who are not accustomed to being held accountable.
When it comes to Real Property Taxes, the vast majority of back taxes owed are owed by second homeowners. This is not an issue affecting most Bahamians. Raising the cap on real Property Taxes affects owners of multi-million-dollar properties – which again, does not include most Bahamians. The irony is that these same people pay their taxes in their home countries but for some reason a few believe they don’t have to pay their taxes here as subscribed by law.
Remember when the previous government refused to take action on Real Property Tax reforms because a certain community wrote an “angry letter”?
Yeah…well that ain’t us. And that most certainly ain’t me!!
Imagine a country in which the tax laws are optional for some people and some businesses – how can anyone who claims to represent the people in this chamber take the position that such a system is defensible?
This budget is about securing progress for our people, now and in the future. That is where our focus properly belongs.
But facts matter, and they must once again be re-established in the face of deceptive attempts to rewrite our recent history.
One very important fact is that it mattered very much who won the election in September 2021 – across the board, on issue after issue – and especially when it came to the economy.
Remember the key points of the Minnis administration’s economic record:
- A shock 60% increase in VAT.
- Billions in new borrowing.
- A stagnant economy.
- The Oban humiliation.
- The decision to buy the Grand Lucayan.
- No significant new investment.
- No increase to the minimum wage.
- The incompetence and lack of compassion after Dorian.
- The pandemic, which they managed to handle worse than other governments in the region, in terms of…well, in terms of everything — from lives saved to impact on the economy to borrowing as a percent of GDP.
- The harassment and fining of Bahamians just trying to survive.
- Lockdown after lockdown, often with little or no warning.
- Curfew extensions.
- The travel visas, and of course:
- An erratic and unpredictable Competent Authority, who broke promise after promise to lift Emergency Orders.
No one believes that a government with that kind of record was on the verge of ushering in a healthy economic recovery!
We moved quickly to end this sorry state of affairs. We lifted the curfew, we ended the travel visa, we implemented free COVID testing, we expunged the records for minor breaches of the Emergency Orders, and we worked hard to safely reopen the economy and our schools.
Don’t tell me they would have done the same.
They had their chance….and did none of that.
They said free testing was impossible. In fact, as reported in a local daily on October 29th 2020, the member for Killarney said and I quote “ the PLP lives in Alice in Wonderland of fantasies. They must stop using politics and one day face reality” close quote. Well 1 year later in 2021, Killarney faced reality where Bahamians in The Bahamas, not wonderland enjoyed free testing.
They said the prolonged curfew was necessary – with no evidence.
You think the Competent Authority was going to end the Emergency Orders in November 2021, as we did? That promise would likely have ended the way all such previous promises did – broken, ignored, trampled on.
In fact, in November of 2021, he was warning again of a new wave. We were concerned, too, as successive waves slammed into other countries – but we knew we didn’t need oppressive Emergency Orders to be effective. We worked with doctors and nurses, we distributed free medical-grade masks, and we issued special protections for the most vulnerable. We trusted the Bahamian people to act responsibly and follow the guidelines and protocols to protect themselves and their loved ones.
The idea that the recovery would have unfolded at the same pace and at the same strength no matter who was in government is not credible to anyone who lived through the grim times that preceded September 2021.
And let me say that I am grateful to all those who worked so hard alongside us, so that we could bring swift and much-needed change.
We took an economy in crisis and turned it around. And we are not done yet.
The success we are seeing now was not inevitable. Our unemployment rate is now lower than the previous administration’s best pre-Dorian and pre-COVID years. And we are now setting records for the number of tourist arrivals coming in each month. This year we will welcome over 8 million visitors to our shores. This is the story of a country that has shaken off the worst of multiple crises and is finally headed in the right direction.
We inherited record high levels of unemployment. A minister in the previous administration speculated that the unemployment rate could have been as high as 50% at one point during the pandemic.
A Labour Force Survey conducted in 2019, prior to the pandemic, stated that the unemployment rate was 9.5%.
A new Labour Force Survey has just been completed, and the unemployment rate is now down to 8.8%. This number is not only an improvement on the 2019, 2018, and 2017 unemployment rates, it is the lowest recorded unemployment rate since the onset of the 2008 global recession.
It is wonderful to see so many Bahamians working – and we know there’s still much more to do. Everyone in our country can be learning, training, working, upskilling, contributing, innovating – and making the most of their God-given potential.
As government revenues continue to increase, we are well on our way to realizing a surplus in just a few years. Each quarter that goes by, we continue to meet and even surpass our own projections.
This is in stark contrast to the previous administration who during their 4 1/2 years in office never once met their revenue or expenditure targets. Not once! In fact they weren’t even close to achieving their targets.
For the foreseeable future, revenues will continue to go up. And deficits will continue to go down. We are on track for a balanced budget in 2025 barring any unforeseen events.
Our National Debt Management strategies are paying off as well. As global interest rates increase, our decision to focus on cheaper domestic sources of funding has allowed us access to credit facilities at more affordable interest rates than can be had internationally.
To better facilitate our revenue enhancement strategies, we are investing in the technology necessary to improve operational efficiency. The “One Tax Bahamas” portal currently being developed will serve as unified system to facilitate all tax payments, providing a more streamlined user experience.
We are committed to innovation and improvement throughout the government. Let me provide an additional example. The Bahamas Investment Authority has now assigned officers specifically to focus on monitoring new and existing projects, and exploring expansion opportunities where expansion would be in the national interest. Data shows that reinvestments by existing investors is an increasingly important part of any national investment strategy.
We’re creating a road map to maximize the potential of our relationships with investment partners, but we also want to hold them accountable to the commitments they made in their Heads of Agreements. In the past there was little accountability and checks and balances. That will change.
We also have full-time staff dedicated to developing a promotional strategy for islands throughout our archipelago.
I’ll never stop being an island boy – I know we can preserve the beautiful character of our islands while also providing new opportunities for islanders.
The strength of the economic recovery is not in doubt.
But things are still tough for a lot of Bahamian families.
This is primarily due to a global inflation crisis which has added to the already too-high cost of living.
That’s why our administration lowered customs duties on a range of food items, decreased VAT from 12% to 10%, increased targeted social services support, launched new solar power projects, raised salaries for nurses and teachers, increased compensation for uniformed officers, and raised the minimum wage which gave these families the equivalent of an extra weeks pay every month.
Are these measures of some help? Yes. Life would be harder for many Bahamians in the absence of these policies.
But they don’t fully cushion the blow.
We have been talking about external shocks, and the need to get stronger.
One way we can protect ourselves against future inflationary pressures that originate abroad is to grow much, much more of our own food.
We are determined to lower the nation’s food import bill.
The pandemic and inflation have underscored for us the vulnerabilities of living in an import-driven economy.
There is so much upside to innovating and investing in agriculture: it’s an opportunity to diversify our economy, to develop our Family Islands, to increase Bahamian ownership, to modernize a sustainable industry and focus on climate resilience. It’s an opportunity to grow more of what we eat, and make sure healthy food is affordable for our people.
I’m not going to make any more egg puns, I promise. But the Golden Yolk programme is ambitious, and it is important.
We are changing the way the country feeds itself and does business. Instituting a new model takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But the fact that it takes time doesn’t mean we are taking our time.
Change is happening as we speak, and more change is on the way.
For many years, the people have called for changes to the way the city of Freeport, as the economic engine of Grand Bahama, is managed. As the government, we have done what we can to make important investments in Grand Bahama. We are investing in a new airport, a new hospital, and a multi-million-dollar jobs programme. While these initiatives are much needed, they do not address the more fundamental need for change. Grand Bahama lost 9% of its GDP last year. Our position is clear: the Port Authority under its present structure is not realizing Freeport’s enormous potential; the status quo is not working, and the people of Grand Bahama deserve better.
It is important to note, that Section 1(5) of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement specifies that costs borne by the government for certain activities and services provided are to be reimbursed by the Grand Bahama Port Authority, for amounts in excess of customs duties and emergency taxes collected. My government has begun to invoice the Port Authority for these reimbursable expenses, as calculated by an independent accountancy firm. To date, the Port Authority has not provided reimbursement in connection with any of these invoices.
We need to have a serious conversation in this country about the best way forward.
I am of the belief that the GBPA needs a management and governance change in order to realize real growth and opportunities in Grand Bahama.
We are open to a range of different possibilities. And we are committed to consulting with the people of Grand Bahama and the licensees of Freeport to determine their outlook and views.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that some people are more cut out for complaining than for doing.
People who never built a single house when they could have, now imagine themselves as contractors and engineers and experts in the housing field.
Likewise, with no major roadworks to their name, some have a lot to say about roads.
They should talk to the people of Exuma, where we’ve paved hundreds of miles of road.
This year, roads will be paved and improved in New Providence, Cat Island, Eleuthera, and Long Island.
Long Islanders have waited so long for a major roadworks project to make its way to them. The previous government played a dirty trick on Long Islanders Madam Speaker. Just before the last election they scraped and striped miles of road in the north and left them that way on election day cruelly forcing long islanders to drive miles of these dusty dirt roads.
They have no shame! I see they were down at the regatta earlier this month driving on those same roads and telling their supporters to get ready for a by-election. They mussy know something I don’t. So many of the FNM hierarchy were down there I thought they were having Convention.
Those new roads we are going to build will make a real difference to the local economy and to the quality of life for long islanders and those who travel and vacation there.
Major investments are underway in the Family Islands: from 15 new airports to new and upgraded health facilities to significant renewable energy projects.
We have also been paying close attention to the issue of banking.
Throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, unbanked populations are in the millions and growing as commercial banks close branches and withdraw services to preserve profits. The Bahamas too has been impacted, especially on some Family Islands.
Earlier this year, I spoke to the Atlantic Council about the need for greater financial inclusion across the region. Understand that these banks do not solely operate in The Bahamas; they are regional and multi-national operations, and when they make operational and financial decisions it is often in the context of regional strategies.
While speaking with the Atlantic Council, I called for uniform regional standards for anti-money laundering and counter terror financing measures, with the understanding that streamlined measures will lower related compliance costs.
I also support working with corresponding banks and commercial banks to develop country-specific solutions.
In the meantime, promising developments like the Sand Dollar can help fill in the gap, and thus we are working to expand the use of the Sand Dollar on all of our islands.
From day one this administration moved swiftly to clear the public service promotions and backpay backlog that was allowed to grow for so many years. We increased public servant pensions, increased the minimum wage, and increased the salaries of thousands of public servants, including nurses, teachers, and the uniform branches. And we signed nineteen new industrial agreements.
Our track record when it comes to how we treat public servants is quite clear.
For the first time in over nine years, a public service wide promotional exercise is being rolled out during this budget cycle. The last time this happened was under the Christie administration.
Public servants know the truth, Madam Speaker. They know the previous administration stopped annual public service increments and we came in and brought them right back.
We are committed to building on this very strong start.
Regarding the recent concerns by BPSU, I am informed that the Ministry of Public Service and the Public Service Commission are working at record speed to resolve the matter of promotions for financial officers. In fact, public service officers are working weekends just to make it happen. Fifty promotions are now at various stages of being processed and they will be formalized as quickly as is feasible.
As we finalise agreements to improve salaries, benefits, and conditions within the public service, we are also implementing widespread HR reforms to promote improved efficiency and productivity. This includes our investments in digital document management and a human resources management information system. It also includes the modernization of HR policies for greater accountability and performance across the public service. The end-result will be better experiences and faster services for the general public.
Expanding the capacity of our public healthcare facilities is a major priority of this administration. We know that in some cases, long-neglected facilities are in unacceptable condition, and we are committed to addressing this in a meaningful way. This budget expands bed capacity, provides additional supplies and resources to PMH, and includes a major transformation of the Rand Memorial.
While these efforts are needed and important, improving healthcare in The Bahamas requires more than improving facilities. We are investing in training and retraining, more robust recruitment of doctors, nurses, and technicians, and programmes that expand access to healthcare.
National Health Insurance, the Prescription Drug Plan, and the Catastrophic Healthcare Fund must work together in an integrated plan. New drugs for non-communicable diseases will also be added to the pharmacy plan.
Too many Bahamians have had the terrible and tragic experience of losing a family member, friend, or colleague because of that person’s inability secure an organ transplant.
The Bahamas National Organs Transplant Programme is a critical new step forward for our country, one that will open the door to life-saving transplants for Bahamians.
We will begin with kidney transplants from live donors, to help patients who are currently on dialysis, and expand from there. Much of the preparatory work and training has been done. The funding in this budget allows us to launch in the coming months.
As we move forward with educational and consultative activities – we urge all Bahamians to become informed and become involved.
When the programme expands to include the donation of one’s organs after death, registering will be the ultimate act of love.
Listen to this extraordinary fact: one registered donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation.
And listen to the words of Jesus: “I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” The foundation of the Christian faith rests on the fact that Jesus gave his life so that we might save ours.
This is why organ and tissue donation is viewed as an act of neighborly love and charity by many civic and religious organizations, who encourage their members to support organ donation as an unparalleled act of selflessness and generosity.
We encourage Bahamians to give the gift of life.
We are a government that understands that both the big picture and the small details matter.
We are the first to admit that governance is like any other human endeavor – imperfect, and sometimes filled with frustrations and setbacks.
There’s a saying “ nothing in life comes easy” .
But we are not deterred by obstacles. The size of our ambitions for this country is only a reflection of the greatness of our people.
We see problems clearly, but it only inspires us to grasp the opportunities.
In this Jubilee year, with the courage and resolve of those who marched and fought for our independence serving as inspiration, we are determined to take the steps necessary to secure the future of this great nation.
Our 2023/2024 budget focuses on becoming stronger, securing our borders, making our communities safer, building a country that can survive the era of climate change, and creating economic security through Bahamian ownership and new industries.
It is a budget that looks at the big picture – but from the point of view of the people. One by one.
Because we understand that when we change the trajectory of one life, it has a domino effect.
When we change one life, we change many lives.
And when we change one life, we change the future.
Thank you, Madam Speaker. May God Continue to Bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.