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 Bahamas Commentary

2003-07-05 18:34:50

A Radical Roadmap For Economic Survival

An economic report commissioned by the Tourism Task Force on Trade Liberalisation points out some harsh realities Bahamians must face up to if we are to maintain our freewheeling lifestyle and relative prosperity.

The task force was made up of representatives from the Bahamas Hotel Association, the Bahamas Hotel Catering & Allied Workers Union, the Bahamas Hotel Employers Association, the Bahamas Tour Operators

Association and the Nassau Tourism & Development Board. Its five-month

study was an attempt to analyse the challenges the Bahamian economy faces from the rapid march toward globalisation and free trade.

The report came to the following conclusions:

* We need foreign investment for sustained economic growth

* The high cost of doing business here is endangering tourism

* We must change our behaviour and codes of conduct

* We must act now to avoid more drastic measures

* We must become a desirable place to do business

* We must invest more in education and training

There is nothing that is easy in such a plan, since the changes involve protected business interests, powerful labour unions and entrenched bureaucracies, the report warns.

Its prescription includes fixing the education system, privatising state companies and agencies, reforming the police and judicial systems, ending price and rent controls, eliminating Bahamian business preferences, and rooting out corruption and inefficiency in the civil service.

"The proposed elements (of the plan) are based on the best thinking available today," the report said. "Making steady progress on these fronts will require a collective political will where the goals are accepted and the difficult small steps are identified and taken."

The report argues that the Bahamian economy stands at a crossroads and that, despite the investment of $2.2 billion in the hotel sector and the creation of the Atlantis mega-resort since 1993, tourism, the industry that has produced our post-World War Two prosperity, is losing market share.

The report notes that foreign direct investment is a key ingredient for economic growth, but the high costs of doing business in The Bahamas put us at a distinct commercial disadvantage. The resulting low rate of return encourages new investment dollars to go elsewhere, where profits are higher.

The Bahamas must find the leadership skills and the political will to confront its cost and fiscal problems in order to avoid devaluation and possible economic instability.


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