DNA responds to May 2019 Labour Force Survey

  • Numbers are no comfort to struggling Bahamians,

  • Youth unemployment stubbornly high at 20%,

  • Unemployment among women impacting homes,

  • Decrease in private sector employment gain from 3.8% to 1.8%,

  • Data shows slowing overall employment growth year-over-year.

The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) acknowledges the labour force survey results recently released by the Department of Statistics. The results come at a time when the government is desperate for some positive news to distract us from the national crisis that continues to inflict much suffering on residents due to massive load shedding by Bahamas Power & Light, conflicts of interest scandals and the obvious leadership deficit in government.


The May 2019 Labour Force Survey results would have been encouraging if the struggles of the average Bahamian do not paint a totally different picture from the numbers being touted by the government. The reality is that the 60% increase in the regressive Value Added Tax (VAT) rate continues to take a toll on Bahamian families and businesses. The announced decrease in the unemployment rate in Grand Bahama from 11.9% to 10.9% will have many residents on the island baffled following the number of lay offs during 2019 and the lack of credible investments since 2017. This statistic should also be weighed in the context that there has been migration of Grand Bahamians to New Providence and other surrounding islands.


It is common knowledge that since the survey was conducted, several businesses have closed and/or laid off workers in New Providence, Grand Bahama and other islands. The report shows that the number of self-employed persons which increased by 11.9% to 32,475 as at November 2018, remained the same at 32,475 in May 2019. It is unclear whether there was no new self-employed person between November 2018 and March 2019 or there were as much exits as there were entries into this category. The reality is that several persons are forced to become self-employed due to their inability to find gainful employment. 


The DNA supports entrepreneurship and innovation among the populace, and we are concerned by the major impediments to the ease of doing business in The Bahamas. Regrettably, these obstacles remain under an administration that has done little in this regard since assuming office. As a result, several self-employed persons will struggle to survive in the current economic environment. It is noteworthy that the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC) just a few years ago, had estimated that the failure rate for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) stood at 70%. This statistic does not bode well for this vital sector and the real unemployment rate as well as under-employment rate in The Bahamas. 


On a year-over-year basis, employment grew by 3.2% or 6,635 in May 2019; a decrease from the 3.4% or 6,830 in November 2018. Additionally, private sector employees grew by only 1.8% to 137,605 in May 2019; a fall from the 3.8% increase to 135,135 private sector employees reported in November 2018. This suggests that the private sector is not creating enough jobs at the necessary pace to absorb new entrants into the labour force despite the record tourism numbers. The labour participation rate also fell from 83.1% in November 2018 to 82.9% in May 2019. Deliberate policies aimed at reducing the percentage of employed individuals in vulnerable employment are long overdue.


According to statistics, majority of homes are headed by women in The Bahamas. However, the survey results show that unemployment remains higher among women (9.9%) when compared to men (9.2%) despite the higher education attainment of the former. The statistics are worse for young women with an unemployment rate of 20.7% when compared to 19.5% for young men. This statistic impacts the standard of living in many homes and should be addressed with economic empowerment programs for women.


Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high at 20% within our nation and it is disheartening that this demographic is continuously dealt the bad end of the stick. Successive administrations have ignored the young people of our country and by their actions put the future of our nation in a precarious position. A DNA government will change this with intentional programs designed to unleash the true potential of the brilliant and innovative Bahamian youth.


The government had lauded the employment of 1,600 job seekers through the Government's Labour on the Blocks job fairs. Unfortunately, this initiative has provided more temporary than permanent jobs for Bahamians according to recent pronouncements by the Director of Labour. The Director had noted that the Government’s efforts to track individuals hired under this initiative had revealed that many of these persons had been let go. Abaco which was not a part of the labor initiative saw its unemployment rate increase from 7.7% in November 2018 to 9.3% in May 2018.


Bahamians have seen a significant reduction in their purchasing power while their wages remained stagnant. This perilous situation is worsened by the high cost of energy and unreliable power supply under a BPL Board and Minister that have been colossal failures. Parents and guardians of students that are financially challenged to prepare for the upcoming school year are not impressed by these numbers. The struggle for them is real and not appreciated by a government whose proverbial head is buried in the sand.


We implore the government again to devise and communicate an economic growth plan rather than implementing ad-hoc policies and hoping that the economy improves.


Arinthia S. Komolafe 

Leader 

Democratic National Alliance


DNA on Compass Point Saga

  • Saga highlights need to own our economy,

  • Bahamians should never be used as pawns,

  • Government must come clean on promises made,

  • It is time for campaign finance reform,

  • Advert was unnecessary and sends wrong message


The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is deeply concerned by the recent saga involving the owner of Compass Point Resort and the Government of The Bahamas.


It was disappointing to see a foreign investor lambast a sitting administration while using the employment of Bahamian workers as a bargaining tool. Simply put, it is totally unacceptable for any investor to use Bahamians as pawns to force the government to meet his demands.


According to news reports, the licence of Compass Point has now been renewed following the public exchange between the parties involved. However, the Bahamian people deserve to know what if any favors were given and what promises were made to the investor in question by the Free National Movement (FNM) to embolden him to issue a public reprimand to a sitting government. This situation brings to mind the unanswered questions surrounding the shady Post Office deal and Prime Minister Minnis’ early hours calls with former Cabinet Minister Brent Symonette guaranteeing the Town Centre Mall the government’s contract.


This recent debacle shines more light on the role that special interest groups play in our political system and the urgent need for campaign finance reform in The Bahamas. While it is unclear whether the investor at the center of this controversy is or was a financier of the FNM, the DNA maintains that until we address this important issue, he who pays the piper will continue to dictate the tune. This is why the DNA has partnered with the Bahamian people in the Change for Change drive that brings transparency and community funding into politics.


We believe that the only special interest in The Bahamas should be the Bahamian people and all efforts should be geared towards the economic empowerment of our people. It is time for Bahamians to own our economy and determine our own destiny. The economic empowerment of our people will go a long way in preventing threats to our jobs and Bahamians being caught in the middle of power tussles.


The DNA says it is time for the emancipation of our people from economic and mental slavery.


Omar B. Smith

National Chairman 

Democratic National Alliance


DNA responds to WTO Report

  • Oxford Economics reiterates accession is not panacea

  • Broad based reforms not synonymous with WTO accession

  • Case studies confirm flawed approach

  • WTO is no substitute for comprehensive economic growth plan

  • Government must address implications for economy and fiscal plan


The recently released WTO Impact Assessment produced by Oxford Economics and commissioned by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation provided some insights that reinforced widely held concerns by Bahamians. In general terms, the Report did not reveal concerns that had not been expressed by the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) in our position paper on the WTO released in January of this year nor by diverse local commentators and observers albeit it did go into more details on the potential impact of WTO accession on the Bahamian economy. High energy costs, inefficiency of government agencies, lack of enforcement of laws and a deficient governance system plagued with poor transparency and accountability have been highlighted for several years.


The DNA has asserted on numerous occasions that accession to the WTO is not a panacea for the myriad structural weaknesses and should not be the main impetus for long overdue reforms within the Bahamian economy. It is encouraging to see that Oxford Economics shares the same sentiments. The political will to engage in deliberate efforts aimed at reducing the cost of doing business and enhance the ability of local businesses to compete on a global stage should be the driver of positive change in our economy.


In its assessment of scenarios under which The Bahamas accedes to the WTO, Oxford Economics considered the potential impact on the national budget, balance of trade, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), taxation, unemployment and foreign direct investments among others. The key finding on the need for a more broad-based approach to structural reforms exposes the Achilles heel of the current administration which has adopted an ad-hoc and siloed approach to governance.


Case studies outlining the challenges faced by other jurisdictions that have acceded to the WTO is instructive to the government. The level of preparation and strategic planning employed when combined with the extent of reforms implemented prior to accession should not be ignored. From all of the cases highlighted, it is clear that little regard is given to the internal weaknesses of small and vulnerable jurisdictions during negotiations. The government should learn from these experiences.


There has been no articulation of the revenue replacement measures planned and the effect of WTO accession on the aggressive fiscal consolidation plan. Under a described scenario, the Report notes that the budget deficit could widen by 1% or approximately $120 million dollars in 2021. After imposing a massive 60% increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) on taxpayers, how does this fit into the plan to deliver a balanced budget within the stated timeframe?


According to the Report, annual GDP growth is projected to increase by 0.5% to 2% for a cumulative growth rate of approximately 5.6% over ten years if a comprehensive approach to reforms is adopted. An approach that is not holistic is expected to yield a 0.8% GDP growth rate over a decade. It is apparent that both scenarios yield growth rates that significantly lag the 5-6% required to absorb new entrants into the job market annually.


The Report acknowledges consistent international pressures on our financial services industry and appears to dispel the fallacy that accession to the WTO will bring an end to the assault on our number two industry. The authors of the Report highlighted the need to rethink the value proposition of this vital industry as the DNA has recommended to the government on numerous occasions. Simply put, there is a need to rethink, refocus, rebrand and reposition our financial services industry.


In its conclusion, the Report tempers the often-exaggerated benefits of WTO accession by projecting that WTO accession will bring modest or limited gains for the Bahamian economy.  Oxford Economics noted that there are legitimate concerns by Bahamians and residents in relation to the possible effects of international competition. This observation was followed by a recommendation to engage in proper consultation with the populace. The DNA submits that the findings as documented in the Report when considered in conjunction with the crisis within the WTO, justifies its position. We submit that sustainable economic growth cannot be achieved through a strategy that is disjointed and myopic in focus towards WTO accession.


Arinthia S. Komolafe, Leader

Democratic National Alliance



DNA Responds to IMF Article IV Statement

·      IMF confirms aspects of DNA’s position on economy

·      FNM approach inherently flawed and socially disruptive

·      Government ignores significant impact of VAT increase

·      Fiscal accomplishments disconnected from plight of masses

·      Economic and financial service growth plan still lacking

 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its recently released statement following discussions on the 2019 Article IV consultation provided confirmed observations that have been made by Bahamian experts over the years.

 

The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) acknowledges the efforts made by the government to address the fiscal challenges confronting our nation but contends that the approach adopted is inherently flawed and socially disruptive. The sixty percent increase in the regressive Value Added Tax (VAT) rate and the aggressive timeline for elimination of the GFS deficit has imposed significant hardship on the Bahamian people.

 

In its statement, the IMF estimated growth in Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 2.3% at 2018 and projected 2.1% for 2019. However, the economic growth rate is projected to stabilize at 1.5% in the medium term in the absence of a comprehensive economic growth plan which could deliver the 5.5% required to absorb new entrants into the labor market annually.

Our nation remains plagued by unemployment in double digits and youth unemployment at an alarming rate of 23%. The fiscal targets and accomplishments touted by the government have simply failed to translate into economic empowerment or relief for the Bahamian people. The current administration has simply continued the infamous friends, family and lovers’ mentality.

The absence of a growth strategy for the financial services industry has reduced our government to a blacklist avoidance and escape agency.

 

The government is under pressure to restore credibility to financial planning and fiscal projections communicated to the nation under the watchful eyes of international observers. Expenditure and revenue forecasts cannot simply be inserted into the national budget as placeholders but must be underpinned by realistic expectations and assumptions. The current administration must find the empathy to end its relentless assault on the middle and working class in our society. The pontification on prudence in public sector hiring has been discredited by subsequent admission that terminated employees have been retained or replaced. They must rein in expenditure while discontinuing the tax, spend and borrow philosophy which burdens residents under a regressive and oppressive system of taxation.

 

The DNA has long advocated for a comprehensive review of the Bahamian tax system and the introduction of an equitable tax regime. The IMF noted that “Global tax trends and the prospective accession to the WTO thus present an opportunity for a comprehensive review of the Bahamian tax regime with a view to achieving a more equitable and less distortionary tax system. To strengthen transparency and inform future policies, a quantitative review of existing tax and other investment incentives is recommended”.

 

It is regrettable that the Free National Movement (FNM) is heavily influenced by special interest groups and party loyalists that do not want a progressive and equitable tax system. The endangered middle class and less privileged have been relegated to the proverbial backburner with no relief in sight as a result.

 

We have long called for initiatives aimed at addressing structural deficiencies within the Bahamian economy and deliberate efforts to improve the ease and cost of doing business. The DNA maintains that the government has failed to make the case for The Bahamas’ accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in an environment that places Bahamian businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

 

The current administration is notorious for not taking advice or counsel originating from locals but has gained a reputation for moving with haste to implement recommendations made by international and multilateral agencies. Perhaps they will now implement policies that benefit the masses now that the IMF has implored them to do so.

 

Arinthia S. Komolafe, Leader

 Democratic National Alliance

Government imposed hardship not delivering desired results

  • Lazy approach to governance continues

  • Bahamians will not forget hardship FNM imposed

  • DNA warned government on projections

  • Revenue shortfall was foreseeable

  • Poor planning, poor execution and incompetence impacting credibility

The Free National Movement (FNM) opposed the imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) while in opposition and described the introduction on taxes on the Bahamian people as a lazy approach to governance. In true fashion and living up to their reputation as hypocrites, they increased the VAT rate by 60% on the backs of the struggling masses.

The Bahamian people will not forget the actions of a government that passed a budget of hardship. A government that focuses more on numbers than economic growth and the people that are impacted daily with rising cost of living.

The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) warned the government against embarking on an overly aggressive timeline for eradicating the fiscal deficit and urged them to develop an economic growth action plan. We further advised them that based on elementary economics, it has been proven that an increase in tax rate does not automatically yield a corresponding increase in tax revenues.

It comes as no surprise that the Minister of Finance has finally admitted that the government will fall short of its projected revenue for the 2018/2019 fiscal year by seven percent or a whopping $185 million.

The argument that the renegotiated tax structure for gaming houses, lower than expected VAT collections and delay in the establishment of the Revenue Enhancement Unit is responsible for the shortfall is simply unacceptable and inadequate. It speaks to the poor planning, unreliable assumptions, incompetence and poor execution by the government. The FNM administration cannot talk this away or minimize their failure in meeting projections that have been relied upon by Bahamians, investors and international agencies. This could negatively impact the credibility and trust reposed in our nation’s projections in future.

While their admission is commendable, it was always foreseeable and does not exonerate them from this embarrassing outcome. Having placed Bahamians and taxpayers under intense unnecessary financial strain to meet their own self-imposed targets, the DNA submits that an apology is warranted.

As part of its budget of hardship and pain, the government had sought to extract an additional $500 million out of the private sector and by extension the economy. The Minister is now hopeful that they will collect about $400 million in extra revenue as a result of the increases in VAT, fees and other taxes. It is unfortunate that this administration’s focus is not the people but rather making the figures look good; an objective they are also failing to achieve.

The Bahamian people are still waiting for this administration to unveil its economic growth plan rather than grandiose announcements and public rewarding of special interest groups and political supporters.  In the absence of a plan, the government is still struggling to get its fiscal house in order. A priority item for any administration should be addressing the burden and inefficiencies State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) impose on the public purse and ultimately the Bahamian taxpayer. It is common knowledge SOEs receive subsidies and subventions to the tune of approximately $400m annually.  The Government has announced that further studies and analysis will be commissioned in the coming months. This is in spite of multiple studies and reports on SOEs over several years and successive administrations. After almost two years in office, they still lack a comprehensive strategy or plan for SOEs and continue to pontificate with political rhetoric while wasting taxpayers’ funds.

There is nothing to celebrate in the mid-year budget statement for the average Bahamian who continues to struggle to make ends meet amidst rising unemployment. Any commentary on the reduction in the fiscal deficit year on year must be considered in the context of a massive increase in taxes by this government. They continue to pat themselves on the back at the expense of the masses that have seen a decrease in their disposable income and spending power while special interests’ pockets continue to be lined. The Bahamian people are simply not impressed with this uncaring government.

The DNA calls on the government to shape up and harken to the voices of the people. As the saying goes “Time is longer than rope”

Arinthia S. Komolafe, Leader

Democratic National Alliance


Government Urged: Release Fiscal Forecast Details

  • Fiscal projections were in jeopardy before legal challenges

  • Budget impact analysis remains a secret document

  • Transparency and accountability continue to elude us

  • Details of projections should be released

  • Actions fuel suspicion that no financial modeling done prior

 

It was recently reported that the Minister of Finance believes that the legal challenges by the web shop industry will put additional pressure on the Government’s 2018/2019 fiscal projections. This is bearing in mind that the Government had supposedly anticipated an increase in revenue of between $30 million and $40 million based on changes to the taxation system for this industry.

The Minister further suggested that a cutback in the form of more austere measures may be on the horizon should the Government be unable to meet its revenue targets. This is unacceptable; the Bahamian people should not be subject to additional hardship and suffering due to the lack of proper analysis, planning and consultation prior to the implementation of new fiscal measures by the Government.

The Government has ignored repeated calls for the release of the economic impact assessment conducted to justify the significant hike in the VAT rate, other taxes and fees. Rather, the modelling and forecasts document that was referenced remains shrouded in secrecy and away from the Bahamian people. The Government has effectively chosen to ignore the people’s demand for transparency, accountability and good governance while seeking our empathy for potentially missing their revenue targets.

We note that there was significant resistance to the proposed revenue measures in the lead up to the budget debate. The duplicitous actions of the current administration in increasing the VAT rate after opposing the implementation of this tax while in opposition has been highlighted on numerous occasions. The Government was advised that an increase in the tax rate will not necessarily translate into a corresponding increase in tax revenue with potential consequences in the form of reduced consumer spending, confidence and purchasing power. The reality is that the risk of missing revenue projections was always present prior to the legal challenges referenced by the Minister.

The adhoc policy decisions on certain tax measures fuel the suspicion that no proper financial modelling was done by the Government prior to the preparation or implementation of the national budget. We are hopeful that this is not the case and urge the Government to dispel this notion by releasing their detailed projections to the public. The revised projections will ideally factor in the purchase of the Grand Lucayan, the tax revenue forgone for breadbasket items, VAT exempt implications for insurance products and medicines, the increase in the VAT exempt minimum threshold for BPL customers and reversal of the tax treatment for owner-occupied dwellings.

In releasing the economic impact analysis, the Bahamian people will be better informed on the anticipated impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment, the poverty index, inflation and consequently economic growth projections. The Bahamian people are intelligent and can decipher information for themselves. This is the least that we can expect from the people’s time government.

 

Arinthia S. Komolafe

Deputy Leader, Democratic National Alliance