News statement by Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie MP, Leader of the Opposition.
I am deeply disappointed that the Prime Minister took this long to address the nation and after all this time, left more questions than answers.
For some time now, the PLP and others have been calling for the Prime Minister to advise the country of the implications of the global economic crisis to the Bahamian economy and to the job security of Bahamians.
The impact of the crisis in the United States, our major tourist market, has led to unemployment and decreasing consumer spending.
This has led to the tourism industry in our country, the major employer, being in deep, trouble.
Many hundreds of Bahamians have already lost jobs and many hundreds more will lose their jobs.
Additionally, it is of deep concern to the Progressive Liberal Party, that the Prime Minister’s address seemed not to take into consideration the thousands of young Bahamians who have completed high school and colleges in 2007 and 2008 and those to come in 2009 who cannot find jobs.
As a result of having no employment experience, these young Bahamians may not qualify for the unemployment assistance programme that the Prime Minister just announced.
This is a national dilemma of misery and hopelessness that must be comprehensively addressed by the government.
I wish to say a word about the announced unemployment benefit.
While we do not oppose any benefit to help the unemployed, no responsible party can accept a government programme for which no details have been supplied.
We wish, therefore, to call for the details to be supplied in the quickest possible time so that we are all certain that the National Insurance Fund is not adversely impacted; and that the programme is done in conformity with all applicable laws.
We believe that the statement of the Prime Minister did not provide the country with a way forward in a difficult time.
In addressing the nation on Monday, the Prime Minister was unable to provide that sense of hope for the Bahamian people. Instead the country listened to him describe the problem without any clear sense of direction as to what we should do.
What was expected of the Prime Minister last evening; and what the Bahamian people did not get, was an answer to the question: where do we go from here?
The Progressive Liberal Party reiterates the call that it made several weeks ago for the convening by the government of a special meeting.
The meeting should comprise participants from all sectors of the economy with the aim of developing a comprehensive plan of action to address the problems afflicting the Bahamian economy.
It is only by calling on the intellectual capital of a broad cross-section of our country that we can develop the consensus and the “buy-in” that is required for any plan to be successful.
The people of the country were expecting specific ideas on how the mortgages will be settled for those who are unemployed. They expected to hear what the are the long term investment prospects for the country; what kind of Christmas could they expect.
It was not simply good enough for the Prime Minister to say that the government is going to design a programme for the unemployed.
He ought to have said what his plan was.
On no less than three occasions, I have called for an economic summit.
The summit would bring to together the bright minds of our country from all sectors of the economy and all political persuasions.
I have also suggested that there are emergency measures that need to be taken in order to support homeowners and small business owners as well as emergency measures to keep people in jobs in the hotel sector.
None of these ideas were incorporated in the Prime Minister’s address.
In the over all sense then, the singular and most glaring omission of the Prime Minster is that he provided no sense of a need for national togetherness. There was no call for bipartisanship.
In these extraordinary times that is the only way that we can move forward for the betterment of our country.
We in the PLP stand ready willing and able to assist.
We encourage all those who have ideas to come forward to assist. In these times, all of us must contribute.
The Progressive Liberal Party stands ready to do its part and to co-operate fully with the government in such an endeavour.
It is unfortunate that the address by the Prime Minister broke no new ground. Some have described it as a recitation of the causes of the problems that we face in The Bahamas, not a summons to action.
Many of these projects announced last night were capital development projects left in place by the PLP. We think that public works projects would be one way to help stimulate the economy in this crisis.
Some of these projects left in place were subjected to undue delay by the present administration.
If they had been allowed to continue, they could have provided some cushion from the effects of the economic slowdown.
To now concede that these projects should be accelerated is a belated endorsement of the PLP’s policy of undertaking public works projects to drive the economy until the Foreign Direct Investment projects came on stream.
We again urge the government to ensure that as far as possible, the benefits of this government spending is shared among a large number of Bahamians and does not only benefit a few.
The Prime Minister himself referred to this crisis as being in uncharted waters.
There is no quick answer to this crisis. Even the most knowledgeable and gifted financial analysts, he said, are not willing to gamble on its outcome.
In The Bahamas, we cannot afford to treat this crisis as a gamble. Too much is at stake.
This must be about devising the best strategies to protect the national progress That is why we in the PLP have always seen this crisis as requiring a bipartisan approach, led by the government, no different to what we see going on in the US today.
The country needs its best and brightest minds of whatever political belief, to advise on short and long term solutions to the challenges we now face.
That is why I now renew my call for a national conference on the economy to chart the way forward.