The world has changed, continues to change in sometimes subtle, and in instances, dramatic ways because of COVID-19. The new normal that is often spoken about is here and has been here for the last year and a half. It is however fair to say that the evidence thereof is getting clearer each day. The shift which is taking place will render past approaches and thinking impotent. The economic disruptions and displacements will stress and challenge countries in their effort to recover. Anything short of sound policies, strategies and effective and urgent execution will be punished economically. This is the new world in which we will operate for a while to come. The only way the Bahamas will progress in this environment, over the next five years cycle and into the future is to find ways of growing the economy beyond what has become the normalized level. Additionally there must be a serious demonstration of political will to usher in the reforms needed to revolutionize all aspects of national life but especially as it relates to the social, public and private sector. This is important and we must not lose sight of how grave the current circumstances of The Bahamas are. The economic numbers bear this out and tell an important tale. The most prominent of these numbers is the national debt of $10B with the possibility of increasing to $11B by the end of fiscal year 2021/22. It is a very frightening number which can easily (only) be tamed with a regime of growth focused strategy, programs and initiatives. There is no doubt that a target north of 2% is what is needed to arrest this debilitating trend which picked up greater momentum over the last two years on the back of very unfortunate shocks to the economy, Dorien and Covid-19.
THE RESPONSE BEYOND THE POLLS
This piece was complete when I saw the headline in the Tribune “Bahamas needing “small miracle” to avoid austerity”. My immediate reactions were firstly, there is no “small miracle” which is capable of shifting the fate of the country at this point it will need to be a significant miracle! This article written by Tribune Business Editor Neil Hartnell is based on an interview with former Central Bank Governor and Minister of State for Finance James Smith. The sentiments expressed so efficiently and clinically made the case and supportive of the points I had written prior that I have now gone back and intersperse aspects of it throughout this piece. The second major reaction I had is that The Bahamas may not be well served by little miracles. History has shown that in each instance they turn up the country has allowed itself to doze back from the urgency of the crisis just faced to maintaining the status quo, failing to effect the fundamental changes necessary to pave the path to greater resilience.
In less than a week The Bahamas will go to the polls to decide which party it wishes to lead the country for the next five years. Conventional wisdom and history suggest that that party will be one of the big two, which together have collectively led the country for the last forty-eight years. The parties have outlined their platforms with a view of impressing upon the public the way forward. As a competitive adventure, they each are seeking to represent the best value proposition for 2021 and beyond. The plans are varied and there is room to argue each for pros and cons. There are new initiatives, not so new initiatives, recycled ones, revitalized ones and some that are effectively continuations and perennial carryovers. The true test of the efficacy of all platforms in the face of the current economic state of the country is whether they are primed to deliver growth and to openly confront the issues that challenges it. The latter point is supported by the former Governor’s response in the article as seen in this quote, “A quick answer would be “No” Mr. Smith replied, when asked by this newspaper whether each of the parties had been sufficiently forthcoming with voters on what might lie ahead”. The way forward is fraught with challenges, most of which are readily know. They will however become exponentially more difficult if they are not called for what they are and the implications thereof laid squarely on the national table for candid deliberations.
The Bahamas is at an exciting but precarious crossroads moment. The country is faced with a very complex state of affairs, one which is fixable in my opinion but requires an open and clear admission. While there is no place for despondency or negativity, it is important to understand exactly where we stand and the seriousness we are faced with as a country. While there is no time or place for the timid and those who may be afraid of a disruptive future, nothing underlines our true state of affair more than the fact that for the current fiscal year $1.4B of the $1.8B proposed borrowings goes toward the servicing of debt, when you take into account principal and interest payments. This immediately reminds us of the narrowness of resources available for aspirational plans, the narrowness of government’s fiscal space, and the increasing influence debt is exerting on the economy through loss of capacity for investments in the future. By the numbers, interest on debt represents approximately 17% of projected revenue. By the numbers the total projected borrowings outstrips the deficit. This tells the tale of how the country is affording its ability to service its debt burden. Consequently, the proposition of all aspiring leaders must necessarily take on a strong leaning towards growth, even if, in my opinion, that means there will be a period of disruptive shifts in the economy. As long as the initiatives are sound in delivering green shoots over a three to five year period, sustainable and not likely to cause any major near term stall in the economy it must be pursued.
The government recently released the fourth quarter numbers for the fiscal year ending 2021. There was good news on a number of fronts, not major news but importantly positive news. Firstly, the deficit did not widen beyond that which was projected. This is important because for those who follow these matters closely there was a point before the close of the year where it was clear that expenditure was tracking hard against projection but the same could not be said for revenue. The fact that the deficit settled at $1.348B is good news on the revenue side as evidenced by the projections slightly surpassing the target by 6.2%. The more important news however, is the fact that this is indicative of some level of robustness taking place in the economy and could signal that despite the difficulties being faced, an important momentum is being created in the marketplace. The main market place we know is the tourism industry, the “Golden Goose” which has been laying golden eggs for the country for many years, and in partnership with financial services has buoyed the economic state of affairs of the country. The big question which looms as we look forward is, “do we need another “Goose” or how can we extract more from the existing one?”
I have often argued for the diversification of the tourism industry, even in the face of significant chastisement and sometimes cynical and unimaginative snickers. This is however not the time to delve into the rudiments of what can be done. Suffice to say that going forward, whoever leads this country must solve two things as it relates to tourism. Firstly, the economic impact of the industry must be felt in more tangible ways at the grassroots level, beyond simply employment, and diversification within the industry is the only way to achieve that. Secondly, the formula for domesticating more of the profits generated from the industry must be found and leveraging diversification and linkages outside of the industry is the only way to achieve it. The thinking behind this is very simple. If the most productive asset you own is at work benefiting your friend more than it does you at some point you will at least, if you are a rational thinker, contemplate how you can shift that dynamic. Until the Bahamas finds ways of keeping more of the productive output of its major industry it will struggle to come to grips with its economic dilemma. By the numbers, the oft-stated eighty cents of each tourist dollar that goes back out of the country must be reduced. The strategy therefore will demand a deeper exploration of other aspects of the economy. I do not believe it is hard to come up with such a strategy but of course the tensions at play will be of concern. The major contemplation here is optimizing the exploitation of the Bahamian patrimony more in favour of the country. The propositions of the parties must be examined through lenses such as these because as we have already established, the road forward demands growth in revenue.
Historical levels of debt have challenged the last administration and others before. In fear of higher debt and deficit, over many cycles, we have consistently sacrificed capital expenditure as a means of containment. Ultimately this is a near term strategy which undermines the potential of the economy. My proposition is that we shift our gaze and look at what drives debt. Debt is a function of other things such as growth or lack thereof; level of taxation; structural weaknesses in the economy; wastage of resources; lack of innovation and growth in the private sector; and a function of leadership decisions. If the country fixes these things, including most importantly securing growth, it will be in a better position to start addressing the debt. There is no way around this position and therefore as we look on at the proposition of the parties we must contemplate how deep and robust are the suites of reform which are necessary to solve the issues which have tripped up and slowed the economy for decades. Reform that fundamentally changes the way governance is performed, reforms that deepen the effectiveness of public financial management, reforms that discourages suboptimal deployment of national resources. Reforms designed to create a culture of excellence, meritocracy, and high productivity. Reforms that severely punish any attempt to accrue benefit without commensurate value for the country, or behaviours contrary to the highest standard of transparency, accountability and ethics, at all levels.
LESSONS FROM THE PANDEMIC
The COVID-19 crisis is teaching the world and every country some important lessons. It would not be an understatement to suggest that we have been, for the last eighteen months, in the front seat of a masterclass. This is a class taught by an uncompromising, brutally objective and impartial teacher. This teacher is agnostic to race, geography, wealth and all the normal factors that generally represent lines of demarcation, it simply does not care. The testing and grading system used is beyond question, its integrity impregnable, it is not about subjective assessments or re-sits but the extent to which one can perform and secure results. Public policy, economics and finances, leadership and governance, public finances, social arrangement and state of infrastructure, level of economic resiliency and the potency of geopolitics or lack thereof are all elements that are being laid bare for objective assessment. As a result, the average person has developed a deeper, useful and more practical understanding of the workings of the country and the economy. Going forward, it will become difficult to rationalize underperformance and justify underachievement, given that so many are now exposed to the fundamentals of the country’s economy and have greater insights into the things necessary for driving its effectiveness and those causing its current deficiencies.
Having sat through a year plus of intense lessons, having engaged in a serious discourse we should be well prepared for advancing the country. Having intensely debated the pros and cons of the economic wellbeing of the country and people and having secured or ought to have secured a clearer view of what is needed for the road forward, it is my proposition that The Bahamas is better placed, than at any other point in time, to meet the objectives of national growth and development. Failing to get it right at this point will spell significant challenges for the country for many years to come. The teacher is teaching and we have but one obligation and that is to effectively learn the lessons, implement the changes and be prepared to reap the benefits, or do otherwise and reap accordingly. The state of affairs demands action and in instances very urgent action. It is against this backdrop that parties are offering solutions and making propositions for change. Without speaking to the efficacy of the ideas being proffered, what is important, from a broader perspective, is to ask how exactly the country will be able to afford the plans stated, whatever the plans may be. Having regard for the state of the county’s finance, the expectation of continued growth in borrowing, the expected continuation of the global financial crisis, one must contemplate how truly attractive any particular proposition is outside of a careful analysis of the proposed cost of these initiatives. It is important to consider the timing of the election. It is set two and a half months deep into a settled budgeted fiscal year with a projected deficit of $951M and as stated before a borrowing need of 1.8B of which $1.4B is for servicing debt. With almost ten months to go from the date of the election, any brand new initiatives proposed which doesn’t find congruence and fits neatly into an existing budgeted expenditure is likely to be unfunded and will at best be up for serious implementation only within the next budget cycle.
Objective analysis suggests that the next year will be tough and the winning party forming the administration will be significantly constrained in its efforts, whatever those may be. I think that it is time for all to consider how and what role the entire country will play in the process towards recovery. A critical and important element is a reflection across all sectors as to how each will contribute to this important and urgent process. From the article the former Minister states, “From a policy perspective we are going to be facing enormous challenges for a couple of years out unless something extraordinary from the outside comes on to change our outlook, Bahamians can only cross their fingers and hope that like in the past a small miracle happens”. The keen eye will readily notice the use of the word extraordinary and its potential clash with “small miracles”. This though is not fatal as all miracles are extraordinary. The challenge in this instance is that the “outside” is not as primed as in past crisis and the ubiquitous nature of the issues impact on a global level is both frightening and likely constraining in the emergence of miracles. This time, with a heavier load to carry along a more perilous path The Bahamas must urgently uncross its fingers and take a serious look within with the view of creating a series of homegrown miracles to move it forward. The risk of not doing so is potentially grave.
ARE WE TRULY COMMITTED?
In this vein, there are important questions to be considered. Firstly, let us ask: to what extent are we committed to work in our own areas of competences to contribute to the building of the country post September 16, regardless of which party wins? To what extent have we identified the imperatives for moving the country forward having regard to the fact that The Bahamas and the rest of the region will undoubtedly experience a long tail recovery? This recovery for us is likely to display behaviours akin to the 2008 crisis, which we have not yet recovered from in real terms. As mentioned above, the propositions being outlined by the parties have not been costed out, as we would often observe in the case of the USA, for certain initiatives. There is no clear understanding as to how the existing narrow fiscal space of the government will affect these plans and initiatives. This is the main reason we will often hear liberal use of “we will implement over five years" or "we will look at it after x time". Given the level of the debt stock, the narrowing space between local debt and foreign debt and the implication thereto, there will no doubt be serious challenges. Given the proportion of national earnings that goes to debt servicing, and the fact that the level of capital investments will remain contained, there is no question that the winning party will be faced with either some shades of structural adjustments or a serious treatment of debt rescheduling.
Regardless of nature of the plans, this represents the baseline for discussions going forward because every initiative has to be afforded, that is paid for with earned or borrowed funds. The party that wins and form the government must become acutely aware of where it will secure growth, primarily because in the face of no growth, there will be pressure on the need to borrow more and without borrowing, there will be limited resources available for investments, unless the private sector steps up in ways that are hitherto now unprecedented. Even then, the nature of some of the infrastructure investments needed, public goods with long or low payback, to facilitate growth may be inconsistent with the private sector motives of profit. Even with great use of public private partnerships, the government will have to find funds to drive the economy. Where will we find these resources? The options for raising funds are always limited for countries. The government can either sell assets, raise taxes or borrow money. Considering that range, it is clear that the options are significantly limited for The Bahamas and the much dreaded thoughts of increase in taxation remains a real possibility going forward. This is one of the harsh realities faced by the country. This is not a popular or comfortable matter for discussion. It represents an important issue which policy makers will be very constrained in embracing due to its political implications. It is indicative of the extent to which leading going forward will require a very delicate balance. The truth is that many of the decisions to be made may be unpopular and therefore will exert tension on decision makers. Failure though to make the tough decisions will be a fatal mistake for the economy and for future governance. Making the tough decision will create a level of discomfort for the administration. Such is the gravity and seriousness of the issues faced at this time.
Historically growth has not been very robust. While it will be a critical element going forward, growth from existing or new sectors are at best realizable in the mid-term and more likely long term. Certainly, there are areas where quick wins may be possible but mostly these are longer-term issues at play. How will we fare over the next three years? It is my view that the direct effects of COVID-19 could be with us for another twelve months at least. This means that the path to full economic recovery still faces significant headwinds. When one considers the implications of continued disruption of supply chains, exacerbation of supply side shocks for many important goods and services such as that currently being felt by the construction sector and the implication that holds for economic recovery, it should become patently clear that challenges are many. As we focus locally, our most important trading partner, the USA is flirting with the rumblings of a bubble about to pop. There is clear indication that assets in the USA are highly inflated. This inflation is being actively imported into The Bahamas and inevitability given the proportion of goods and services purchased from abroad. Beyond the normal generalized impact on the economy, why is this important? Citizens and residents are experiencing one of the most sustained periods of high employment, dramatic loss of income and questionable sources of alternative employment. This means an increase in cost of living because of imported inflation, driving up the cost of living, which increases the potential that there could be significant economic scarring on the population, especially for those in the lowest socio-economic strata of society. While the effect will be greater for individuals, the private sector will not escape the effect simply because they have the ability to pass on cost. The individuals represent their market, their ability to thrive is a function of the state of the economy. Therefore, one must consider the capacity of the private sector to stay in business and invest going forward. The question remains how ready are we to really battle through the next three year, supporting whoever is leading the country as we work to claw ourselves back, tooth and nail to stability moving towards greater resiliency. Are we ready to discuss austerity measures? Are we comfortable with new tax regimes? Are we at the place where we are willing to "invest" and "suffer" the next five years so that the back end of the decade will bear the fruits of our sacrifice? Are we truly ready for the reforms, which COVID-19 has helped us to better appreciate, and are we clearly contemplating how will they will influence governance?
Let us assume that the winning party shows the deep political will needed and usher in, responsibly, the reforms to governance and the structural issues that have perennially plagued the country. Let us accept that such moves will cause noticeable disruption, as they must if properly implemented. As a people, generally, would we be willing and prepared to support these changes? Importantly, are the segments of the society, with significant power and influence, willing and prepared to support these changes? Given that such changes could radically disrupt the normal arrangements of the country, causing shifts in the power structure, the national social fabric, and disrupting what has become the settled way of doing and achieving things (the status quo), are we ready for the journey to a new reality? Where are we mentally in our outlook for the next ten, fifteen or twenty years recognizing that the reconstruction of many aspect of the country can only be achieved over the long haul and will demand everyone giving up some of what was “normal”. This is a personal perspective but one predicated on the idea that only through real commitment and willingness of all to sacrificially “invest” in the future of the country. It is my view that the time has come for The Bahamas, Bahamians and well-wishers to take a different look, as compared to that which we have embraced up to now, and to accept that what is in front of us demands urgent personal, dedicated and effective action as much as it calls for sound collective, consensus based efforts.
I believe that the American prisoner of war, Admiral James Stockdale’s words ought to inform our approach going forward as we contemplate the growth and development of the country. He stated, "You [we] must never confuse faith that you [we] will prevail in the end—which you [we] can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your [our] current reality, whatever they might be.” The current realities are many, well known and stark, and for many persons very stark. The circumstances affect all of us differently, this is likely to be less so for most of the persons in the upper echelon of society deemed to be leaders and captains of industries who others look to be able to maintain that hope which Stockdale speaks of. Nothing will be achieved over the next few years that will not require hard considerations of debt, deficits and debt servicing. These are factors that I believe will impose significant pressure on governance and will be critical to the framing policies. We can easily appreciate that unfunded mandates are never effective. The extent to which any administration is unable to find financing space for new plans is the extent to which we could see a lag in implementation of necessary changes and a loss of momentum, all of which could impose significant cost on the back end due to loss of time. Any policy initiatives pronounced, which are not properly analyzed for cost and feasibility are simply positions awaiting costing to determine viability and if viable the extent to which they can be afforded, which may make the end decision radically different from the promised position. Clearly, any plan advanced by any party would be because they are considered important and necessary. This is how important the economic state of affairs is on future governance. This is how critical the fact that there is an already agreed budget with significant deficit in the midst of a struggling economy is to the post-election delivery of promises. As a country we must remain hopeful about the ability to advance and grow the economy, however, we must normalize our expectations not because we do not desire more but the brutal fact is that affording our desires is not as easy as we would like.
I believe that the future calls for some very important focus in areas which may not be getting direct mention at this time but which are critical for the advancement of the country. We may not always have ready answers but it is important that we frame honest questions that help to coalesce our thinking around what is necessary for balanced reform. Therefore, going forward how will we afford and facilitate economic equity? The full potential of the country will always be less than optimized until there is a greater distribution of not just wealth but the opportunities for wealth creation. Are we prepared for greater social equity and equality? This question is very important in that there are aspects of securing this equity and equality which necessitates potentially making constitutional changes in an environment where there is clearly demonstrated unwillingness to make any such change and where any such attempt quickly becomes politicized. How will we reduce the expanding and burgeoning numbers below the poverty line? How will we diversify and domicile more of the earnings from tourism? How will we expand the economy through development and growth of new or fledgling industries?
Are we prepared to take a broad based look at diversification, or forward integration where the sectors allow? agriculture or marine for example? How will we address the inability of firms to scale up in the country with limited internal markets due to population size, a fact that exerts adverse influence on innovation from the private sector? This area comes with its own set of complications, as matters affecting immigration are hugely problematic but inherently rich with growth opportunities but fraught with a mind field of cultural and historical challenges. How do we truly discuss broadening the country’s foreign earnings potential but in a reality where we only have small concentrated local markets and highly dispersed and remote population centers all of which are challenged in facilitating appropriate incubation and growth of export capable businesses or industries? How will we reduce the trust gap between leaders and the populace, a factor that will be critical to making positive advancements? Finally, how will we as individuals conduct ourselves such that we are always adding to the betterment of the country? This latter question is fundamental in that it calls for a shift in personal approach of how an individual manages all interactions such that we are focused on bringing value that is in the best interest of the country, always.
BEYOND THE LIMITATIONS
In order for there to be growth in anything, it is necessary for there to be a surmounting of whatever limitation may persist, real or perceived. It is not difficult to speak of great performance, articulate world class standards or consistently reiterate the expansive and unique endowments of the country. It is however a very different matter in demonstrating true alignment, vision, espousals and actions towards the realization and maximization of these things. There are some clear limitations with which the country must contend and overcoming these will rest squarely in the wheelhouse of leadership, not the leaders but the kind of collective self-leadership guided by a carefully crafted vision and curated mindset generally observed in thriving economies and countries. Permit me to share a few thoughts with you on why I think we have not always consistently found ready solutions to our social, economic and other national problems which limit us. These are matters that I believe must be addressed and which will demand committed and dedicated leadership to achieve. Firstly, there is a lack of consensus around a common national vision, there are simply too many people who hold that we cannot do better and that the genius of the country is concentrated in specific groupings, and this reality is indeed very debilitating. Consequently, the brightest minds are not consistently leveraged. This is extremely limiting given the size of the country. There is no way the country will solve its major problems with only a portion of its capacity committedly engaged at any point in finding the solutions. In fact, there is circumstantial evidence that suggests that the lack of tension in idea generation may be a significant contributor to this state of affairs. The strongest oak trees are said to be those that faced the greatest winds. The process of charting a transformational course demands being exposed to and becoming comfortable with ideas being challenged rigorously. Intelligent and committed minds in open, honest but productively brutal engagement is the best means of achieving this. The idea of growth and innovation does not seem to be well understood as being an intentional process as opposed to the often observed approach of near capitulation in the face of the last viable option largely because earlier possibilities were left to wither on the vines and lost to time. The economic system we have, as currently structured and unchanged for decades, is limited in what it can deliver and is likely close to the top of its potential, left unchecked.
The idea of diversification has for too long become near taboo and is often misunderstood by many. The too normal impulse to react with “and move to what?” is a telling reality which needs urgent rehabilitation. There needs to be a national mindshift on this matter. There are many who understand it and recognize its potential ability to be disruptive, and given their level of comfort with what currently exists actively resists any such discussions. Here lies a case of good being an active enemy of great. There is a level of being satisfied with what prevails while failing to see that the state of affairs lacks sustainability. To understand this clearly, if we eliminate the deficits for the last two years, treating them as outliers, change nothing in the current economic arrangement, in ten years, based on the average deficit, the national debt would increase by $5B! There is no way with increased population growth, greater demands for services and new infrastructure, and the need to replace old and crumbling infrastructure can this be seen as an advantageous position. Unless we eliminate these artificial limitations, brought about largely because of how we think about growth opportunities, the country will suffer in the long term. Failing to look down the road and accept the realities, as they exist, the people of The Bahamas believe that the country is better off than the economic state, properly assessed, will show and therefore are more comfortable than should be. This creates a lacking in the urgency needed to fight for the changes that are necessary to secure the social and economic future of the country. Some may challenge this position and I readily understand and appreciate that, after all the points here are but considered opinions. But consider for a moment the statement made by Mr. James Smith in rationalizing why parties may have not been fully upfront on certain issues. “Not surprising that the political parties had not been totally forthcoming with the voters about the realities all will likely face moving forward as you obviously don’t want to scare the voting public”. What exactly is there to be scared about if the state of affairs of the country is perfect? Why would an individual who has a unique view and appreciation of the inner working of the country and the economy even contemplate that there is something from which, and with which, fear could be generated? For us to get beyond the limitations they must first be known. The one thing which the country cannot afford to do is to squarely face reality. Courage is displaying bravery and boldness while still being scared; it is not an absence of fear. We must in this moment act with great courage or pay the price for any measure of timidity. This moment forward can either be a defining one, the result of our efforts and actions or one which defines us in ways which harm.
The country has an economic structure with a weak facilitative environment where production is difficult to scale up and therefore the potential for surplus production and foreign exchange earnings is limited. While some important work has started in this regard much more needs to be done. There must be a push to secure a more effective and efficient government machinery that supports and complements the work of the private sector at levels and which drives national productivity to unprecedented levels. The current tax regime is feeling pressure from both internal and external forces and there are significant unacknowledged aspects of taxation, which the country has not openly discussed, and up to now seemingly reluctant to do so. Unless there are bigger internal markets or deliberate production for external markets, which necessitate larger internal work force the ability to grow other industries such as agriculture will always remain limited. Consistently the country appears to be solving a mathematical problem while desiring to hold too many of the factors constant. For example, if growth is a function of labour then the immigration policy must change. If maintaining the peg is a function of foreign exchange inflows and there is none then borrowing must increase. If survival and success of the financial sector is a function of some form of corporation taxation then holding tax at zero is futile. These are just examples which I believe aptly captures the national sentiments on these matters. I am not here advocating for any particular changes. The main point is we are consistently setting our arguments in ways that make the outcomes effectively predetermined, resulting in little or no real change. As an example, if I want to make a policy change for growth but the current players in a particular sector desire to have no competition, we can simply solve for the level of growth possible with zero competition, change everything and enjoy the suboptimal expansion. This is limiting and policy positions being promulgated for implementation beyond this current election must necessarily go beyond that in order to mine the growth the country so desperately needs. We have to open up the conversations and the thinking in order to innovate and grow.
So are we ready for the next ten years? My questions here are by no means suggesting that the country is incapable of securing the growth it needs by making the changes necessary. In fact, I strongly believe that great things are possible. I believe that The Bahamas remains poised for growth because of its untapped resources and capacity. I believe that with the right focus and with a true national thrust built on consensus and guided by a national vision, articulated broadly in a national development plan, the country has the ability to really flex its muscles in the region, in the Americas and gain greater status on the global stage. However, I also believe that without confronting the things that currently have limited that from happening up to now, none of this will happen, at least not to the extent that would be ideal.
IT’S ALL ABOUT LEADERSHIP
Some of what I will say here I have written before but it remains acutely relevant and worthy of repetition. On the eve of an election, every discussion is almost by default centered on leadership. The changes desired, the benefits hoped for, the value to be accrued rests squarely in the lap of leadership, everything will turn on leadership. Though election draws the mind in a particular direction it is not only political leadership that is being called into play, but all levels of leadership that impact national life! Many of the discussed challenges are deeply rooted in the leadership decisions which should have been made, were made and yet to be made in the relevant arenas. In my opinion, The Bahamas has yet to come to grips with the need for some of the shifts necessary to steer a path of growth. Success over the years, primarily in tourism and financial services, have in a general sense caused a delay in the forward shifting that were, and are still needed. There have been many instances of discomfort, like we are experiencing now but they never lasted long enough to demand constant, riveting attention.
There are clearly some hard decisions to be made and attendant to those decisions are potentially painful realities for many. The trees that need to be planted now will likely see none of the major players today sitting in their shade. That is really a significant part of the dilemma faced. How does one get actively engaged in works for which they might realise no benefit and in fact, importantly so, may even reduce their current level of wellbeing. Leadership must tackle this important tension head on refusing to sacrifice real long-term sustainability at the altar of expediency. In a very profound sense, this is the essential characterization of the period after the election. Will the victors who will form the government do what is necessary to create long-term value for the country by making the hardest of decisions at all the relevant levels and areas? The current group of persons who are leaders and captains of industries, government and civil society must see themselves as guardians of the future for future generations. That guardianship demands sacrifice and it demands taking risks, making generational shifts, proposing and making hard uncomfortable decisions, casting an attractive, elegant and "seductive" national vision, implementing strategies which can only be completed effectively with the proper grooming, development and mentoring of the emerging generations. This in my mind is the only way to navigate the future, bold, open, inclusive, honest, courageous and always “for country”.
“Sometimes you have to be open and transparent and treat the people as intelligent and articulate. It’s a challenge that many of us are prepared to meet and there is no point in sugar coating it because it will reveal itself in short order”. The main issues that the country must grapple with will emerge one way or the other. This is akin to a pregnancy, you may wish to hide it, not talk about it, ignore it but the process never stops, it will keep on announcing itself, acknowledge or not. The scene as set is not 1967/1968 neither is it 1992. Those were both critical turning points in the history of the country. And while rich with their own set of drama and expectation, both lack the dynamics of today, lack the vagaries of high debt to GDP levels, lack the reality of a closer proportionality between internal and external debt, and definitely were not in the context of a nightmarish and damaging pandemic with major attendant economic effects. If The Bahamas we desire is to be a reality over the next ten to twenty years, and beyond, then the work must start now. The work must start and continue in earnest. The effort must be broad based, empowering and inclusive. The standards must be high, the accountabilities, transparency unimpeachable, and the vision clear and pregnant with visible integrity such that it violently repels everything and everyone whose intentions are contrary to what is in the best interest of the country, while attracting those undyingly committed to moving it forward, upward onward, together!
© Hubert Edwards 2021
Hubert Edwards is the Principal of Next Level Solutions Limited. Hubert specializes in finance; internal controls; enterprise risk management; governance, risk and compliance (GRC), with over twenty years of experience in corporate governance, policy and procedures development, enterprise risk management, regulatory consulting, anti-money laundering and strategic planning.
Former Chief Business Development and Strategic Planning Officer at financial institution. Senior Manager Audit and Regulatory Consulting with a Big Four firm. He holds a MBA and LLB, with honours. He has lectures and trains on topics such as anti-money laundering and compliance; internal controls; corporate governance; and risk management.
Edwards is the Founder of HubertEdwardsGlobal and Success Summit. He a radio and television host and is the producer and host of the radio show The Essentials! in addition, he is a regular radio and television commentator on economic and financial issues.