By Arinthia S. Komolafe
“The first 100 days is going to be important, but it’s probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference”. These are the words of U.S. President Barack Obama concerning anticipated judgement of his initial performance as President. The words in a sense downplay the significance of the decade long concept of the first “100 days” in office that was pioneered during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. The concept itself is used as a benchmark to judge a U.S. President’s term in office.
President Roosevelt assumed office in what at that time proved to be difficult economic times in the midst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt promised the American people a “New Deal”- a policy that promised to deliver the 3rs – relief of the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy to normal levels and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.
The New Deal policy is similar to the campaign promise that the Progressive Liberal Party promised the voting electorate – a government that “Believes in The Bahamas and puts Bahamians first”. The challenges that face the new Christie administration are similar to those faced by the Roosevelt administration. The administration has entered into a precarious fiscal position brought about by the global economic crisis combined with the economic and fiscal policy adopted by the outgoing Ingraham administration.
The Christie administration is aware that they must move fast to tackle the socio-economic position of the country. In this regard, the administration committed itself to the American concept of the first “100 days” in office that will witness the implementation, creation, re-introduction and priority of multiple programs that will address social and economic concerns in an attempt to bring about relief, recovery and reform.
The PLP promised to create a Ministry for Grand Bahama that will focus on the economic recovery and the continued growth of that island. It is noteworthy to state that the Minister for Grand Bahama has already been appointed albeit the actual ministry and its structure have not been fully constituted. The administration also reintroduced the Ministry of Financial Services to provide undivided attention to an industry that is the second largest contributor to the Bahamas’ Gross Domestic Product. As developments in the Eurozone continue to provide uncertainty for the global economy, it is imperative that the Bahamas government maintain open dialogue with industry professionals and adopt a proactive approach in addressing the needs and concerns of the financial services industry – bearing in mind that many of them have their headquarters based in and will be impacted by developments in the Eurozone. The Bahamas must gain a competitive edge in financial services and enact creative and innovative policies that will make it easier and more attractive to do business in The Bahamas. Our products offering must be expanded and geographical diversification of our clientele is imperative.
The Ministry of Investments will play a significant role in spurring economic activity through both local and foreign direct investments. Specific focus on the repositioning of the Bahamas Development Bank and the creation of an environment for Small-Medium sized enterprises (SME) to flourish will be crucial in reducing the unemployment rate. Failure to drive the SME sector will result in an increased burden on taxpayers who will pay by way of tax increases to
meet revenue shortfalls, increased reliance on the government for employment and increase the government’s expenditure on welfare programs.
Tax Reform and Revisions
The reality of a shrinking government revenue base and expanding expenditure levels can no longer be avoided. It is only fitting therefore that this administration has agreed to confront our taxation system with a view to implementing a more effective regime. However, the government in its review should ensure that the new system is progressive and equitable.
The administration has committed to certain tax adjustments and concessions to spur economic activity in the real estate industry among others. It is anticipated that these rate reductions will do much to provide incentives and relief for the real estate industry. Additionally, the proposed ceiling on real property taxes is expected to be reintroduced following its removal during the previous administration. There is widespread optimism that these initiatives will act as catalyst for increased activity in construction and create employment for Bahamians.
The administration has committed to addressing the issues of crime, education, healthcare and foreclosure prevention. The crime fighting plan will launch key elements that will focus on child protection laws, reintroduce urban renewal, school based policing, witness protection, and swift justice while addressing the issue of firearms.
Preparations for economic recovery will be incomplete if the citizenry is not equipped to take advantage of this recovery. During the campaign trail and in its “100 days” pledge, the PLP committed to prioritising a doubling of the nation’s investment in the education and training of Bahamians.
National Health Insurance will also be on the new administration’s agenda with special focus on acquiring cancer screening technology for Bahamian women. Considering the alarming rate of women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas, this is a given. It is unclear however, where this ranks on the government’s list of priorities.
Finally, the much debated but necessary mortgage relief program will require further consultation and compromise before full implementation. However, it is promising to note that the long overdue position on gambling will be addressed as well as increased initiatives for border control to stem illegal activities.
Fiscal Reality and Delivery
While it is believed that the plans of the Christie administration are ambitious, no one will doubt that they are necessary and more importantly achievable. However, the attainment of these promises will not be an overnight delivery considering the fiscal constraints of the government. Nevertheless, the Bahamian people have been crying for economic and social relief and on the 7th May, 2012 they elected a government to carry out that mandate.
The administration must move swiftly but cautiously to address the needs of the people. In the midst of fiscal constraints, they must find innovative and creative ways to introduce portions of
their programs while demonstrating to the international community that they are committed to fiscal prudence by containing and servicing the deficit as best as they can.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Christie can take comfort in the words of President John F. Kennedy regarding his first 100 days “All this will not be finished in the first hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
Arinthia S. Komolafe is an Attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at email@example.com.