The Truth About Grand Bahama

Wednesday 27th, April 2011 / 09:38 Published by

I read with interest a letter by one Kevin Evans concerning what he termed the “the great economic disaster in Grand Bahama.” Mr Evans seems like a fairly educated person who writes well. His description of the state of the economy of Grand Bahama is reasonably accurate and I do not take issue with much of it. Then again; it does not take a brilliant person to describe a problem; especially an obvious one and many of us Bahamians are very good at that. What does take a bit more intelligence is analysing a problem and drawing conclusions on the basis thereof; this is where I fault Mr Evans. It is so tragic and such a massive over simplification to boil down so many of our problems to politicians, members of parliament and cabinet ministers; indeed the Government. This is especially true for the economy. The truth is that Governments are limited in what they can do in creating the economy, especially when there is global economic fallout.

Let’s look at Grand Bahama. Too many Grand Bahamians are out of work; the last we heard the percentage was as high as 17 per cent according to the Department of Statistics. Given a labour force of some 30,000, this would mean about 5,000 persons being out of work and-therefore there is need to find this number of jobs. This can only happen by new businesses coming on stream or existing businesses expanding to employ those 5,000 people. It would also be necessary for those persons to have the skills needed for those new or existing businesses. Why would those new businesses come on stream and why would existing businesses expand? They would only do so where the owners see the profit opportunities to do so.

There was a time in Grand Bahama when this was so and that was during the period 1996 to 2002 when Grand Bahama’s unemployment rate decreased from. 10.6 per cent to 6.4 per cent.

In that period Grand Bahama experienced an economic boom, with the construction of Our Lucaya, the Container Port, the Shipyard, Polymers and with the redevelopment of Royal Oasis. Then though, the global economy was much better.

What happened? Try the tragedy of September 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked the USA and changed world travel forever, including travel to The Bahamas.

The U.S. ecoomy began a downturn that impacted travel. In 2004/2005, Grand Bahama lost a major hotel facility in Royal Oasisi, putting about 1,500 people out of work directly and hundreds more indirectly. A number of small businesses also went out of business, as they could not survive the affects of the storms’ devastation. By 2005, Grand Bahama’s unemployment rate went from an all time low of 6.4 per cent to a high of 11 per cent. In 2008, the world went into a global recession and with it The Bahamas, further impacting Grand Bahama. I also note for the sake of Kevin that in December of 2004, Edward St George died and with that began a fight between the principals of the Grand Bahama Port Authority that also impacted business morale in Grand Bahama.

I bring these statistics to readers’ attention to make two simple points. First, educated, thinking people know that the economy of The Bahamas suffers powerful influences from global forces and Grand Bahama is included in that. When things go well, we do well and when things do not go well we do not do so well. Pretend, all we want, when such forces are at work, there is precious little that this country can do. Even today, the great Unites States of America struggles through its economic dilemma.

Secondly, given this fact, it is simply oversimplifying things to start blaming MPs and government for what does or does not happen in the economy unless one can point to some specific policies that impacted negatively or positively the economy.

MPs and government cannot make people invest money in new businesses or expanded businesses, if those people do not see profit opportunities. When the world economy is bad, those profit opportunities are reduced in a country that relies on tourism and financial services.

If profit opportunities do not exist, then new jobs and new business growth will not happen. What you can blame MPs and government for is their response to economic downturn when it happens and looking at what has happened in Grand Bahama over the last four years reveals much.

The Ingraham government, with whom I do not always agree, did provide important injection into the economy through the capital works done like the beautiful new government office complex under construction, the development of sea walls, docks and expansion of the Rand Memorial Hospital and the new Mary Patricia Junior High School. Without them, many hundreds of construction jobs would not have existed, I think. They did provide millions of dollars in increased social assistance which is necessary when you have widespread economic fallout. They did provide hundreds jobs during the temporary jobs programme for Grand Bahamians, which provided some relief. A number of friends of mine benefitted and I know. They also created that unemployment benefit programme at the National Insurance Board which helped thousands in Grand Bahama to have at least 13 weeks of relief in their unemployment and if I am not mistaken, this went back to help people who were unemployed even before the programme was created.

As for Kevin’s point that “every other day you hear about some new project in Nassau,” besides being a shameful over exaggeration, it again over simplifies things. The fact is that the only new project you hear about in Nassau was Baha Mar and that was after much controversy; Nassau’s unemployment level is up and thousands are hurting. According to the last report by the Department of Statistics, it was up 14 per cent, which given its labour force meant that some 130,000 that would mean about 18,200 people out of work, which is three times the number in Nassau. There are not enough new businesses or expanding businesses to soak up that number of unemployed persons, so Nassau has its issues too. Given what the FNM is doing in Grand Bahama, as I described earlier, and in Nassau, it is simply disingenuous to say that it only cares about Nassau. In fact, in 2001 when the unemployment rate was 6.4 per cent, the FNM lost three seats in Grand Bahama. The question would be who cared for whom? I could go on but I believe I have written enough. Kevin simply seems to me to be someone who is simply opposed to the FNM and to its Grand Bahama MPs and would probably have not been supporting them anyway.

This notwithstanding, he ought to know that there are many of us out here who are educated and thinking and who can do more than simply string words together in an articulate fashion.

We can also analyse and make judgments based on facts and not mere rhetoric. God will always help us, but we also need to help ourselves and may at times need the help of others, like a growing world economy.

Stephe Hepburn
Freeport, Grand Bahama
April, 2011

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