Govt cannotĀ solve covid-19 alone

By YOURI KEMP

Tribune Business Reporter

ykemp@tribunemedia.net

A member of the Fiscal Responsibility Committee (FRC) watchdog yesterday warned that The Bahamas cannot solely rely on the government to carry the country through the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Gowon Bowe, also a former Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) chairman, told attendees at the Eleuthera Business Outlook webinar that the pandemic's economic fall-out included "elements that have never been experienced by most of those who are living today".

He added: "Persons who would have gone through such a significant global impact as this go back to the 1929 stock market crash. But, as we think about the events that are taking place up to this point and time, as a country we have to bear in mind we have been through difficult times before.

"We have had recessions following the Gulf War, following 9-11, the financial crisis that took place in 2008, and we have been around in terms of hurricanes up to this point in time. So it is not to be disheartened simply by the fact that it is more difficult now, and certainly it isn't something that could have been predicted."

Mr Bowe said there is a "natural tendency during "fear and uncertainty to look to safe harbour, and the government is typically that element of safe harbour that persons turn to. With that there is a lot of anxiety and questions about what is the government going to do in order to help us get through this.

"The main message I would like to bring is that it is not a government alone initiative, and it is not the government alone that will carry us through," he added. "What we need from government is leadership and direction. It is building and instilling confidence to allow persons to unleash the collective spirit so that they are willing to invest and bring the country back.

"The government, though, does have a very specific role to play, notwithstanding the very direct contribution and input into the healthcare infrastructure and healthcare spend to make sure we are managing the actual pandemic itself. Economically, a number of things have taken place."

Mr Bowe said the National Insurance Board (NIB) had never predicted that so many persons would be unemployed, and requiring benefits and income support. While social assistance programmes, such as food vouchers and other support, were vital to ensuring Bahamians have sufficient to eat, he added that acting "as our brother's keeper comes as a cost".

He also urged businesses not to rush to judgment on the government's $60m tax credit and deferral initiative that is designed to provide payroll support for medium-sized and larger enterprises, Mr Bowe said that while such programmes may "seem a bit obscure or ambiguous", the whole COVID-19 pandemic was new for everybody.

He also warned Bahamians not to pay attention to the US and its $2tn stimulus package, and believe The Bahamas can do similar. Mr Bowe explained that the US is "printing money", which The Bahamas is unable to do because of its reliance on the currency peg to the US dollar.