Journal Staff Writer
A plan with a look toward the future is needed for The Bahamas, according to independent
United Nations (UN) expert Attiya Waris, who conducted an assessment on The Bahamas’
recovery going forward in the aftermath of the historic events of Bahamaleaks, Hurricane
Dorian and COVID-19 – events she acknowledged as having ‘big affects’ on the country.
“The Bahamas needs long-term financing, planning to address it’s climate vulnerability and
economic dependence on tourism and it’s way more important that the high-income status is
limiting The Bahamas to international financial institution loans and concessionary rates as
well as development aid should be opened up, but the reality is that the international
community’s assistance and support would go a long way in helping this country improve its
own already very positive efforts,” Ms. Waris, who specializes in foreign debt, financial
obligations and human rights, explained.
After a 10-day visit to The Bahamas where she spoke with various sectors of the country
which ranged from government, to private, to civil society, she spoke with local media on her
She recognized the struggles of The Bahamas and the perpetual cycle to borrow, to rebuild
and have destroyed again by yearly hurricanes.
“The data that I’ve seen which the government has been very kind to share with me is that the
government is still paying off debt for three hurricanes. As we speak, it’s just paid off a fourth
one. So, this is creating a cycle where you recover, partially rebuild, take on debt, but then, in
comes another hurricane and you’re still paying off the previous hurricane and you’re re-
building again,” she said and listed steps that need to be taken for further progression.
“I would like to urge the government to also consider long-term economic planning and
consider the consequences of climate change. In very honest discussions, that is something
that we noted has not yet taken place. The national development plan is not as yet complete.
The national human rights institution has not yet been set up and the Ombudsman Bill is also
in progress, and all of these human rights approaches do need to be strengthened and taken
Prime Minister Philip Davis has long advocated for a change in the index used to determine
countries’ need and access to financial assistance following natural disasters, which currently
is based on a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which can be misleading.
Independent UN expert Waris agreed with the prime minister in that a change is needed.
“What I notice, is that one of the indicators the government has to use is that of gross
domestic product, as well as per capita, but because of the unique challenge of The Bahamas
where you have a large network of high-network individuals, your rates are not reflective of
what is on the ground, and it is important to use more multidimensional indices – and I would
suggest using the Human Rights Development Index because I believe that will result in a
more reflective data set.”
As it concerned whether enough commitment has been shown through action by the
international community towards contributing to assist Small Island Developing States
(SIDS) such as The Bahamas, Ms. Waris believes that debt-to-nature swaps can be useful,
however the exchange rate is too low.
“I think that there is a good case made for financial compensation on this issue. I cannot say I
know the full assessment of it, but I know there is a need for it. My bigger concern is also
around – and I’ve had conversations around it [with] the government, is also around issues
like debt-to-nature swaps. And while I think those can be very useful, I think the measure of
the debt right now, for which the nature is going to be swapped, is too low. I think it needs to
be much higher, because we’re talking about nature swaps for posterity,” Ms. Waris
“And if you trade that with a country in the global north or a manufacturing space where they
will continue to manufacture, continue to make profit, continue to pollute, that trade off
becomes bigger and bigger as time goes by.”
Last month, Pime Minister Davis was outspoken in his belief that not enough has been done
by international partners who’ve given their commitment to assisting SIDS in the fight
against climate change and its effects.
The prime minister went on to suggest that there needs to be a mechanism of compensation
against the biggest contributors towards the climate crisis, something Ms. Waris agreed with.
“The reality of what’s on the ground is my biggest concern, and yes, I would say to a large
extent without knowing what the prime minister said specifically, I think there is a need for
some kind of a compensatory model,” she explained.
“There is currently an initiative – it’s been called the Egyptian Initiative, which is to create a
debtors club the same way you have a creditors club, so that these debtors or anyone who
owes money on the international level can come together and see what they owe and bring
that together so you don’t have a different contract from somebody else if you’re the same
economic level, but if you are different, you see different terms and conditions.”
Ms. Waris also gave her thoughts on the matter of a country being blacklisted, which The
Bahamas works to comply with.
“One of the reasons I was happy to accept this invitation was because as a country that’s still
on the blacklist, I think it’s important to try and understand how long a country should be on
a blacklist, when it has achieved what it’s supposed to achieve, and therefore, when it should
come off the blacklist. And one of the problems I see in global activities of this nature is
regional blocs are quick to make one action of putting countries on lists, but are not as quick
to remove off lists, which is why my assessment is to check and see if they have achieved it,
and if they have, that is what I intend to recommend in my report. But like I said, I’m waiting
on the last piece of data,” she said.
During her visit, she examined a wide range of issues such as illicit financial flows, fiscal
affairs, debt and its implication on climate change. She also met with authorities of taxation,
finance, environment and human rights justice, while meeting with both civil society and the
Ms. Waris said she expects to present here report to the UN Human Rights Council in March