Projected Contraction in Tourism Activity to have Adverse Impact on the Bahamas’ Foreign Exchange Reserves Position
#NASSAU, The Bahamas — March 19, 2020 — Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Peter Turnquest stated that the projected contraction in tourism activity will inevitably have an adverse impact on The Bahamas’ foreign exchange reserves position, which stood at a healthy $2,030 million at mid-March 2020.
“Based on preliminary projections, external reserves could decline by some $900 million by end-2020, DPM Turnquest explained as he presented the Statement on the Fiscal and Economic Impact of COVID-19 in the House of Assembly, Wednesday, March 18, 2020
“Under this scenario, the country would still have a manageable level of foreign reserves. However, the Central Bank will continue to monitor and judiciously manage the reserve holdings.”
He said the Ministry of Finance will support the measures that the Central Bank adopts to ensure that the country’s foreign reserve holdings remain adequate for ongoing financial and commercial needs.
Government Package of Policy Measures to Deal with Economic Impact of COVID-19
The DPM explained that the Government has adopted a package of policy measures to deal with the tremendous economic impact of COVID-19 that is already starting to be felt as hotel occupancies have fallen, as cruise ship arrivals are on a 30-day hiatus, and as hotel workers are being asked to take unpaid or vacation leave.
“These provisions have been put in place first and foremost to protect public health. They will also provide a safety net for individuals as we ride out this turmoil together.”
He stated that in addition to the nearly $5 million the Government has already earmarked for healthcare response, we are allocating up to an additional $11 million to cover detection, isolation, treatment and other COVID-19 mitigation activities.
DPM Turnquest said the Government is setting aside $4 million to provide food assistance and social support for displaced workers directly impacted by the virus, through the Ministry of Social Services.
“These food assistance vouchers, of $100 every second week will be targeted primarily to persons within the hospitality industry who are facing reduced work weeks.”
He also explained that the Government is allocating $10 million to provide for a temporary unemployment benefit, administered through the National Insurance Board, for self-employed persons working in the tourism industry.
“Self-employed persons, such as straw vendors, tour operators, Jet Ski operators, do not ordinarily qualify for the National Insurance unemployment benefit as part of their benefits package.
“However, the Government is making a special accommodation for those self-employed individuals in the tourism industry, given the unprecedented COVID-19 impact.”
The DPM added that for persons in this category, the Government will offer a sponsored unemployment assistance of $200 per week, for up to eight weeks. To qualify, these self-employed persons must be currently registered with NIB or they must register at the time of application for this benefit. The time frame for this benefit may be adjusted according to need.
He said under the normal provisions of the NIB insurance scheme, individuals who contract COVID-19 or are quarantined because of exposure or suspected exposure will be eligible for sickness benefits.
DPM Turnquest added that individuals who are temporarily laid off because of the economic impacts of COVID-19 will be eligible for unemployment benefits, up to the regular 13-week period, if necessary.
“NIB published information on this yesterday to remind persons of these benefits already available to them under the NIB programme. The government encourages all persons who are eligible to contact NIB.”
He explained that the Government has requested that Water and Sewerage reconnect all recently disconnected services for residential customers to ensure that personal hygiene is not compromised.
“Further, the government is also directing both Water & Sewerage and BPL to defer payment of bills – for an initial period of three months for residential customers who are diagnosed with the virus, who are in quarantine, or have been laid off.
“I must stress that this allowance is for this specific group of persons and that it is important that these impacted persons contact BPL and Water & Sewerage to register for this benefit and verify their situation as necessary.”
He said the Ministry has included the Clearing Banks Association in its consultation on the proposed mitigating measures to address the current situation.
“The banks have reiterated to me their commitment to helping their clients through challenging times. They have advised that if persons are experiencing financial difficulties during this period, that they should contact their banks to understand the options that are available to them, such as payment deferrals, credit limit increases, or other measures to offer temporary relief.
“As this issue progresses, the banks have stated their intent to offer more tailored products and services to persons who financially are negatively impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19.”
The DPM said, “The banks have however stressed that for now, it is important that clients who – because of their changing circumstances – find themselves in financial duress, that these customers should go in before they fall into arrears so that their specific situation can be assessed and addressed within the range of the banks’ available tools.”
BIS NEWS By Llonella Gilbert
Kamala Harris to meet with Caribbean leaders in The Bahamas
#USA, June 5, 2023 – Kamala Harris, United States Vice President will journey to Nassau Bahamas in June for a top level meeting with Caribbean leaders, marking the first time she will visit the region since occupying office in 2021.
According to the White House in a statement, the meeting will bring attention to a range of regional issues. Harris and the Caribbean leaders will continue talks on the shared efforts to address the climate crisis, such as promoting climate resilience and adaptation in the region and increasing energy security through clean energy.
Additionally, the statement informed that Harris’ trip “delivers on the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advance cooperation with the Caribbean in pursuit of shared prosperity and security, and in recognition of the common bonds and interests between our nations.”
The June 8th meeting builds on and strengthens the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030, which was launched by the Vice President and Caribbean leaders in Los Angeles at the Summit of the Americas as further mentioned by White House Statement.
PM Davis ‘confident’ that Revenue Outturn will near $2.9 billion
By ERIC ROSE
Bahamas Information Services
#NASSAU, The Bahamas, May 30, 2023 – Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Philip Davis said in the House of Assembly, on May 31, 2023, that public revenue receipts were strong over the nine-month period of July 2022 to March 2023, due to legislative reform, effective policy decisions, strengthened economic conditions and more efficient collection efforts.
“Analysis of the trends of the first three quarters of this fiscal year, and the years prior, suggest that the government is potentially set to exceed the $2.85 billion target set forth in the February 2023 Mid-year Supplementary Budget,” he said, during his Communication on Budget 2023.
“I am confident the revenue outturn at the end of the Fiscal Year 22/23 will near $2.9 billion.
Public spending has remained on track, and is well within the budgeted amount,” Prime Minister Davis added. “For this reason I am confident that expenditure at end of the Fiscal Year 2022/23 will almost reach the target of $3.1 billion set in the Supplementary Budget.”
He pointed out that the primary balance will, therefore, record a surplus of $68.4 million at the end of the fiscal year, a $54.8 million increase from the $13.6 million surplus projected in the supplementary budget.
“Likewise, the overall deficit is expected to improve to $520.6 million, down from the $575.4 million outlined in the supplementary budget,” he said.
Speaking of Government financing, Prime Minister Davis said that The Bahamas’ borrowing costs had begun to experience a downward trend in the previous quarter; but the cost of borrowing rose at the end of March 2023.
“At the end of the third quarter, the total average cost of borrowing for current outstanding debt had risen to an interest rate of 5.55 percent,” he pointed out. “This is notably higher than the previous year’s rate of 4.93 percent at the end of March 2022.
“This increase in borrowing costs is primarily attributable to the higher costs associated with external loan facilities.”
He added that, more specifically, the average interest rate for external financing had risen by 1.99 basis points, resulting in a rate of 5.55 percent as of March 2023, compared to the preceding year’s 3.56 percent.
“Throughout the past year, the interest rate policies of the major Central Banks have been restrictive, with a series of interest rate increases,” Prime Minister Davis said. “These adjustments have been primarily motivated by the escalation of inflation, and the resulting upsurge in interest rates has had an impact on the Bahamas’ external borrowing costs.”
He added: “However, the cost of borrowing in the domestic market has been declining over the past quarters.
Looking at it in more detail, we can see that:
- The average interest cost for domestic loans subsided by 27 basis points to 4.62 percent at end of March 2023, from 4.89 percent in the previous year;
- And the average interest cost for domestic bonds subsided by 3 basis points to 4.63 percent at the end of March 2023 from 4.66 percent in the previous year.”
Prime Minister Davis noted that those statistics affirmed the Government’s latest medium-term debt strategy, which aimed to shift its borrowing away from costly external commercial debt.
“Such debt has seen a sharp increase over the past five years, including recent interest rate hikes,” he said. “This strategic move will enable the government to once again rely predominantly on the domestic market to meet its financing requirements.”
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that, when considering the maturity of debt, or the average time it takes to repay the principal amount in the government’s debt portfolio, a longer maturity period led to a reduction in refinancing risk.
“In essence, prioritizing longer maturities is key to managing debt effectively,” he said. “And so another element of the government’s medium-term debt management strategy is the goal of prolonging the average maturity time of its debt.”
Prime Minister Davis said that, in the face of “unprecedented turbulence” in the global financial markets, the Government was able to maintain its average time to maturity.
“At end of March 2023, the average time to maturity has decreased slightly to 6.7 years, down from the previous 6.8 years in March 2022,” he said. “This variance is due solely to the external loan component, as the average time to maturity on internal debt has remained steady at 7.1 years.”
“This highlights the significance of maintaining a prudent approach to debt management, and aligning this administration’s practices with the government’s optimal debt strategy,” Prime Minister Davis added.
“It is imperative that we continue to exercise prudence in this area to ensure financial stability.”
(BIS Photos/Ulric Woodside)
PM states HCA model not working during budget debate
By ROBYN ADDERLEY
Bahamas Information Services
#FREEPORT, Grand Bahama, May 30, 2023 – The model of the Hawkbill Creek Act, the agreement between the Government of The Bahamas and the Grand Bahama Port Authority, is not working, said Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis during the opening of the 2023 Budget Debate on Wednesday, May 31 in the House of Assembly.
The island of Grand Bahama, he said, contributes 12 percent of the country’s GDP, however, there was a decline by 9 percent when compared to the previous year. Tourism, he said, increased in 2022 showing a growth in accommodation and food service.
“Unfortunately, the statistics show a prolonged decline in the Grand Bahamian economy. The evidence confirms the view of my government that the Hawksbill Creek economic model, which was meant to attract foreign direct investment, does not work.
“Furthermore, in our view, the government model of the Grand Bahama Port Authority must change, in order to realize the promise, growth and prosperity we all desire.
“Additionally, the Government of The Bahamas has serious concerns regarding the compliance of the GBPA and its related companies with the terms and conditions of the Hawksbill Creek Act, and its subsequent amendments.”
In the past, said the Prime Minister, administrations have attempted to address the issues however they appear to be “systemic and fundamental.” Decisive action will be taken, he continued, and a separate detailed announcement will be made at another time.
Prime Minister Davis mentioned that even though the GDP for several islands has experienced growth, Abaco and Grand Bahama have not done as well. Abaco, he said, saw a decline of 6 percent in 2022 with its contribution to the economy at 2.8 percent ranking the island as the third largest contributor.
“While there was a slight improvement in Abaco’s economy compared to 2019, it has yet to reach the levels seen before Hurricane Dorian. The decline in the economic activity is directly related to the slowdown in the real estate and construction sectors.”
He continued, “Declines in the real estate sector are directly as a result of a shift to higher intermediate consumption in 2022 from that of the previous two years. In terms of declines in construction, it should be noted that in 2020 and 2021, Abaco experienced significant recovery efforts in the form of debris removal, site preparation and building of damaged structures.
Such efforts bolstered the value added to the island’s GDP during those years. As those efforts wrap up, the industry saw a gradual decline as construction tempered to normal levels in 2022, resulting in a lower GDP.
Additionally, the Prime Minister said the Grand Bahama International Airport will be repaired, and a new healthcare facility will be built. Provisions have also been made for the continuation of an employment program for $4.7 million, along with the construction of a 50-meter swimming pool facility.
The House of Assembly has adjourned until Wednesday, June 7, when the debate will continue.
(BIS Photo/Ulric Woodside)
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