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PM touts first-year achievements

Claiming much has been accomplished since coming to office a year ago, the Davis administration is focused on helping Bahamians find relief from the high cost of living, while still focusing on “transformative changes”, Prime Minister Philip Davis said yesterday.

He said the Progressive Liberal Party has laid a foundation for recovery from the fiscal, health, education and economic crises that were plaguing the nation when he first took office.

“For a long time now, the cost of living in The Bahamas has been too high. But with global inflationary pressures driving prices up across the board, life has become unaffordable for too many Bahamian families,” the prime minister told the House of Assembly during a statement on the first anniversary of his government.

“The government is working hard to help the country recover and to provide relief from these multiple crises. At the same time, we are also working to bring about the big, transformative changes which will make us stronger, less vulnerable to future crises, and bring us closer to fulfilling our national potential.”

Davis’ speech touched on many areas of governance, from the reduction in value-added tax (VAT) to agriculture, to the national investment policy, to seed funding for Junkanoo on the Family Islands and the growing scourge of violent crime, but leading off, he focused chiefly on areas that tied into the economy and the shifting tone in governance compared to the Minnis administration.

Noting how the cost of living is “squeezing Bahamian households”, Davis said the government has used several tools at its disposal to ease the pressure.

“In the past year, we have therefore reduced import duties on dozens of food items, including healthy options like fruits and vegetables,” he said.

“We have lifted the import ban on Canadian beef, which will lower cost of meat to consumers. We have expanded the list of food items on the price control list and have also hired new price control inspectors to ensure compliance with price regulation requirements.”

He also pointed to investments in agriculture that he said will increase the nation’s food security and lead to more affordable food.

Regarding his administration’s tackling of the health crisis – specifically the COVID-19 pandemic and its shocks to the healthcare plant – he pointed to the introduction of free testing, distribution of free medical-grade masks, the engagement of more doctors and nurses and upgrades underway at local clinics.

Home ownership is something Davis said his administration has keenly focused on, touting housing developments underway on New Providence, Abaco and Eleuthera, and initiatives to make access to housing easier.

“We have expanded concessions to first-time homeowners, which includes the purchasing of land, building and purchasing a house, and renovating existing structures,” he said.

“We increased the level of exemption for VAT on homes from $250,000 to $300,000. And we also implemented broad-based reduction of duties on building materials.”

Insofar as recovery from Hurricane Dorian is concerned, Davis noted the government’s extension of tax breaks and hurricane-impacted recovery zones, as well as launching the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Home Assistance Repair Programme on Grand Bahama and Abaco.

Social initiatives such as relief grants to vendors and lump sum payments to the unemployed and elderly, free Wi-Fi in dozens of parks and several Urban Renewal programs were also touted.

“We enacted legislation concerning the ‘presumption of death’ in order to allow survivors to more quickly settle the affairs of loved ones, who go missing after circumstances of peril, such as hurricanes,” he said.

Davis also highlighted enhanced tax collection measures and the groundwork laid for potential new revenue streams.

“The Revenue Enhancement Unit was re-established to collect over $1 billion in tax arrears through more efficient collection, more effective compliance measures, and enforcement of laws,” he said.

“New carbon credits legislation was passed, which will enable The Bahamas to be compensated for the role that our mangroves and sea grasses play in eliminating carbon from the atmosphere.”

As far as tourism, Davis not only highlighted visitor levels returning to near pre-pandemic levels, but also pointed to airlift and infrastructure that could bolster those levels in the near to mid term.

“A successful RFP was issued for the Grand Bahama International Airport redevelopment,” he said.

“We were successful in negotiating the introduction of new direct flight services to Grand Bahama from Orlando, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, and the resumption of the Sunwing service from Canada.

“Negotiations for closing on the sale of the Grand Lucayan are on track to close in November. Carnival Cruise Line broke ground on a new cruise port in East Grand Bahama which will result in 1,000 local jobs.

“My government commissioned and built a new airport terminal in Ragged Island and the Great Harbor Cay Airport terminal was completed.

“A memorandum of understanding was signed with the United Arab Emirates to explore joint initiatives in tourism.”

Davis said the launch of the first TSA pre-check outside of the United States opening at Lynden Pindling International Airport and the rollout of global tourism and investment missions will “strengthen our ability to draw visitors from around the world”.

Additionally, legislation for digital assets “and expanded promotional efforts to attract leading fintech, crypto and blockchain firms to the country” have led The Bahamas to become a leading jurisdiction in crypto-regulation, Davis said.

As for the way forward, the prime minister said his administration will continue to build on what has already been done to “provide relief, opportunities, and security for all Bahamians”.

He said healthcare, particularly mental health, will continue to be highlighted.

“This includes a $10 million new catastrophic care fund to help medical patients, and a new wellness program from the Ministry of Health,” he said.

“We have launched new orthopedic clinic and wound care services at the Princess Margaret Hospital.

“We are especially excited at the prospect that a new hospital in Grand Bahama will soon break ground.”

Increased social service assistance, a shelter for women and children in danger and The Abaco Centre, a community center and state-of-the-art hurricane shelter, will be constructed, Davis said.

“And a contributory pension plan will be introduced for the public service – to take better care of future retirees,” he said.

Fiscal reforms to improve the management of public finances, along with a number of amendments to “deal with some practical issues arising from statutory requirements” will also be implemented, he said.

Legislation to better deal with climate change – one of Davis’ main causes – is also planned.

“Ever mindful of the increasing challenges surrounding issues connected with climate change and the environment, we intend to introduce new legislation and update existing legislation to improve the various ways in which our natural resources are protected, managed and commercialized,” he said.

Davis also complimented his colleagues on conducting themselves in a manner he believed was more fitting to good governance in the Parliament.

“Against so many criteria, and in so many ways, The Bahamas is in a much better place than it was a year ago,” he said.

“Truly, what a difference a year makes. Much has been done, but there is still much to do.”