In a matter of days, we will say goodbye not only to 2019, but to the decade. This past year alone has been marked with many highs and devastating lows.
No doubt many pundits will look back on the biggest and most impactful stories that shaped The Bahamas in the past 12 months.
With 2020 now looming, I, and many others are looking ahead, hopeful that the next year and 10 years for that matter, will be more impactful, productive and economically fulfilling.
It is our nation’s leaders and citizens, however, who will have to decide what type of Bahamas they want to see emerge – one that is innovative and progressive or one that is stagnant and reactionary to external forces.
The world is changing and we must adapt quickly. Those who do not wish to adapt should not occupy as much mental space as those who do. Here’s my wish list.
The Writing’s On The Wall.
Two years ago, I walked into a local retail store that was going out of business. The store was an institution in The Bahamas; generations of Bahamians had shopped there. As I was sifting through the remains on the racks, I turned to the owners and asked what happened. The female owner admitted that they didn’t adapt. She said a customer once told her to take her business online because that’s where people were shopping. She dismissed the suggestion, figuring that people would always want to go into a brick and mortar store to buy clothes. After decades in business, she was forced to close up shop. All of her customers had gone online.
The Bahamas is that store owner. Everyone and everything is suggesting that the time has come for us to start exploring alternatives to our two main industries – tourism and banking.
We’ve talked about it ad nauseum, but haven’t been keen to act on it. As we’ve seen, we are extremely sensitive to external forces. Any act of terrorism, superstorm or blacklisting could threaten our financial existence. Tourism and banking will not sustain us in the years to come no matter how much we want it to.
Oil exploration and the decriminalization of marijuana are now on the table. Let it be known that I am not a fan of either. But, I also know when to put my personal feelings aside for the greater good. While we are only exploring the latter for medicinal purposes, I, like former Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader, Branville McCartney, believe that a thriving industry could help us pay down a lot of our debt.
As for the former – oil exploration – if we do find oil and are able to produce it sustainably, we may be forced to proceed. Environmentalists often suggest The Bahamas follow the lead of more developed countries that are doing away with fossil fuels and opting for renewable energy sources. It is then that I am reminded of something Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) CEO, Simon Potter said to me recently, and I am paraphrasing. He said we should be careful about listening to countries who made their wealth off of fossil fuels only to turn around and lecture others about doing the same.
Take a look at a country like Norway, for example. It’s a large energy producer and one of the world’s largest oil exporters. Its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund is so huge that it eclipses its public debt. In fact, Norway is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have to borrow money. Compare that to The Bahamas which stays with its tail between its legs and its hands outstretched.
Norway is getting rid of some of its oil and gas holdings now. But, it certainly didn’t do that before making its money.
Can We Make Doing Business Easier?
Botswana, Ghana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, West Bank and Gaza. Take a look at those countries. Those are just a handful of places where it’s easier to do business than The Bahamas. Friends, it is easier to do business in the West Bank and Gaza, a place rocked by violence, militant groups and a lack of basic human rights than it is to do business in this archipelago. Something is seriously wrong there.
I want 2020 to be the year where I can pay my National Insurance Board (NIB) contributions online, where most government ministries and departments are properly digitized and managed and where civil servants are effective, friendly, not requiring tips to do their jobs and actually want to get you in and out of their office in a decent timeframe.
I want to be able to license my car online and have my renewal stickers mailed to me. Speaking of which, I want to get my mail in a decent amount of time – not eight months after a letter was sent to me.
Don’t Waste A Crisis
I will never, in my lifetime, forget Hurricane Dorian. I think of the lives lost, the families torn apart, the mass devastation and the feeling of hopelessness many felt and continue to feel as they pick up the pieces of what remains of their lives.
That crisis, however, gives the government an opportunity to move Marsh Harbour, Abaco and Grand Bahama residents to areas that are not so vulnerable to massive hurricanes. It gives us an opportunity to rebuild those areas properly and to improve our building codes.
Few people know this, but The Bahamas was the first Commonwealth Caribbean country to enact modern, mandatory building codes. While our codes are regarded as the best in the Caribbean, they are still missing some crucial elements, which cause our buildings to be vulnerable. There’s also a lack of enforcement by inspectors, so deficiencies are not caught.
With superstorms like Dorian becoming the norm, this gives us an opportunity to enhance our building codes and decide if we are going to put mandatory evacuations in place.
As a country in need of foreign direct investment, this also presents an opportunity for foreign entities to invest in the country at ground zero.
Hopefully, 2020 will be a year where new entrepreneurs with bright, innovative ideas emerge. I’m optimistic that investors with an appetite for risk will also emerge as everyone knows that even the best ideas need to be backed by money in order for them to come to fruition.
On a final note, I want to thank all of my amazing readers for supporting my column over the past two years. I don’t take your support for granted and I hope that I have been a source of education and entertainment for you. Happy New Year!
See you in 2020.