Bahamas -Prime Minister Philip Davis is marking the second anniversary of his ruling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) re-shuffling his cabinet, as well as outlining reforms in immigration.
In a nationwide radio and television broadcast, Prime Minister Davis also reflected on a broad range of gains he said his administration intends to build as part of the drive towards a new change.
“We’ve made some important progress implementing our Blueprint for Change, but we know there is still a long way to go, especially in tackling on some of the most difficult problems our country has been facing for a long time,” Davis said, adding “change, real change, rarely comes easy, but we’re here to change the status quo, not to defend it”.
He said when his government came to office following the September 16, 2021, it faced a “multiple” of urgent crises including a national debt that had skyrocketed and an economy battered by a series of lockdowns and curfews.
“We had the worst unemployment crisis in our modern history. Our hospitals were overflowing, with some patients receiving treatment in parking lots. Our schools were closed, with no plans in sight to repair and reopen them, and thousands of children had barely been able to participate in remote learning.”
But Prime Minister Davis told the nation that as part of the government’s “aggressive rescue operation” it lifted the curfew, implemented new financial and health measures that “despite the severe fiscal crisis, we made it a priority for the government to pay off significant arrears owed to Bahamian companies”.
He said this decision injected US$100 million into the local economy and saved a number of businesses from bankruptcy.
“We brought back festivals and regattas and world-class sporting events, in some cases bigger and better than ever before. You trusted us to release the stranglehold on the economy and to fight the virus at the same time, and we did.
“Our policies jump-started the economy, and Bahamians, always resourceful , responded with energy and enthusiasm. Many businesses are now thriving. We now have a 15-year low in unemployment. Our fiscal situation is much stronger.”
Davis said that the country is in better shape because of the efforts of the Bahamian people, who remain vital partners as we make progress in our national development.
But he said that a top priority is reducing the cost of living, adding “I know how hard it is to pay for just the basics. Prices have been too high for too long, but a global inflation crisis has made things even worse”.
He said the government has also started building affordable homes and launched a Catastrophic Health Care Fund, to help families through medical crises.
“We raised salaries and bonuses for nurses, who had been our superheroes during the pandemic. In the public sector, we did something long overdue – we settled promotions and inequities in the system. In addition, we paid salary arrears to public servants which had been outstanding since 2017, approved the return of annual increments for public servants, and increased public service pensions.”
He said the government also raised the minimum wage, ignoring those who argued against it, negotiating and concluding 22 labour agreements.
“And we decided we never again want to be so dependent on other countries for the food we put on our tables. We are working to build food security, so we can grow more of what we eat, and create new ownership opportunities for Bahamians in a modernized, revamped agriculture sector.
“In tourism, we are having a blockbuster year. And we continue to build for an even better future. We are expanding into new markets, introducing innovations, and encouraging Bahamian ownership throughout the sector. We want to ensure that investments and opportunities are spread across our islands.
In fact, our Family Islands are a major focus, with new airports, infrastructure, and revamped health clinics all in motion.”
Davis said that there has also been improvements in education, adding “the years our children did not attend school had a real impact.
“In education, we brought together a coalition of the caring, to bring our children back into school, to conduct nationwide assessments, and to start building a learning recovery initiative.
“Our Smart Start programme focuses on job readiness for our young people who missed out on their last years of high school during the pandemic.
“In the coming weeks, we will begin our School Breakfast Programme – an initiative that will be expanded throughout the school year. We think it will make a real difference to our children, their families, and their teachers.”
On the issue of climate change, the prime minister said the government is fighting to get other countries to reduce the polluting emissions which are warming the oceans and creating more intense hurricanes.
“We are fighting for fair climate finance, since the Category 4 and 5 hurricanes that have hit us in less than one decade have cost us billions, accounting for a large share of our nation’s debt.
“We are demanding that Europeans judge our financial services industry by the same standards they use to judge their own, instead of adding extra burdens on majority-black countries. We have filed an amicus brief against US manufacturers of the weapons that are trafficked into our country, and we have told both the US and the UN: no, we cannot accept the burden of migrants in our country.”
Prime Minister Davis said that across The Bahamas, the authorities have recruited hundreds of new police, immigration, and Defence Force officers, strengthened security and intelligence partnerships to fortify the borders, and added and upgraded equipment and technology to modernize the country’s capabilities.
Prime Minister Davis said that in a few weeks time, the government will begin a new chapter and following the new Governor-General, Cynthia Mother Pratt, delivering the traditional Throne Speech “we will begin a new legislative session in Parliament.
“We will focus on strengthening economic, national, and personal security, building resilience in these turbulent times, and bringing innovation and improvement to how the government serves our citizens.
“We are also launching several important reviews. As I announced over the summer, we will be conducting a comprehensive review of immigration procedures, with the goal of strengthening them, so that Bahamians can be confident that the rules promote efficiency and fairness.
“We are also reviewing agreements made with investors in years past, to ensure they are carrying out the commitments they have made to our communities and country,” Prime Minister Davis said, adding “and we are reviewing work permits in our financial services and tourism industries, to make sure opportunities for Bahamians are not being unfairly blocked”.
He said in addition, some of Cabinet Ministers will also be taking on new responsibilities with new portfolios, as will Ministers of State who have shown that they are ready to serve as full ministers in Cabinet.
“In making these decisions, my priority was to strengthen policy execution, and to balance continuity and experience with renewal and fresh perspectives. Cabinet is a team, and as on any team, individual strengths and talents add up to make the team stronger,” he said.
According to Prime Minister Davis, Pia Glover-Rolle will assume the newly constituted portfolio as Minister of Labour and Public Service, while the Minister of State for Legal Affairs, Jomo Campbell, will assume the portfolio of Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources.
Zane Lightbourne will serve as Minister of State for the Environment in the Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources with Basil McIntosh taking on the role of Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism, Investments & Aviation.
Clay Sweeting will assume the portfolio of Minister of Works and Family Island Affairs, while oversight of the portfolio of Minister of Immigration and National Insurance will become the new mandate of Alfred Sears and Keith Bell will assume the portfolio of Housing and Urban Renewal.
Jobeth Coleby-Davis will assume the portfolio of Minister of Energy and Transport.