Monday, September 18, 2023

Perceived Issues Which Stand Out as Having the Very Real Potential of Destroying The Bahamian Way of Life in The Bahamas

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is going along with a scheme to put the people of The Bahamas under great financial, social, physical and psychological pain...

I am proposing that if The Bahamas and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are serious about our future and the future of our children here in The Bahamas, that we begin a discussion asking the IDB and other lenders to completely forgive our existing debt...

By: Norman Trambulsy Jr 

Mangrove Cay, Andros Island, The Bahamas

Islands of The Bahamas
There are two issues which stand out as having the very real potential of destroying our entire way of life, our standard of living and our national security in The Bahamas in the very near future.  I postulate a conservative estimate of the very near future being five-15 years time.

The two existential threats which are now upon us are as follows: Our looming debt crisis and sea level rise.

Each of these threats have the potential to totally upend life as we know it here in our beautiful country.

One of the greatest criticisms I see, of this and previous Bahamian administrations is the lack of transparency, and the lack of accountability.  One flows from the other.  Without knowing what our politicians are doing, it is not possible to contribute, nor to criticise, the actions of those who represent us.  It appears this is our history and present day attitude among those at the political top.  By their own words and actions, those in Parliament seem to believe that the Bahamian public has little right to know what they do.

This seemingly valid complaint comes from watchdog groups, the press, and the public with a usual stonewalling by those in government.

The “financial experts”, those who make their living speaking on such matters, the accountants, the bankers, the Minister of Finance, know exactly what pain will be imposed on The Bahamian people in the coming years.

They know the consequences of this odious debt our country now finds itself in.  They have seen this exact same scenario play out in countries around the world.  Whether or not they were present when the government took out these loans, they must, if they are to be called financial experts, know what is coming.

Under what are loosely called Structural Adjustment Programmes, The Bahamas will be raising taxes and cutting social spending.  Who will be impacted most heavily?

What I am claiming is that The Bahamas has a whole lot of so-called “financial experts” in government, in finance, in banking, in accounting, in consulting, in business - who are refusing to tell the Bahamian people the truth about where we are headed.  If these experts have paid attention these last few decades, and they have, they know just what to expect from the experience of other countries, even more advanced than The Bahamas.

The cuts to social services and the raising of taxes will take a very heavy toll on this country.  Who will bear most of the burden and suffer the most?  The poorest among us.  And, what effects will the cuts to social services have on our small island nation and the hardscrabble Family Islands?

Perhaps these experts have entrenched interests.  Perhaps they do not believe the Bahamian public would understand.  Perhaps they are afraid of losing clients if they tell the truth.  Perhaps they believe they may be blackballed by the political class.  Or, worse, that those who speak the truth will be voted out of office if Bahamians knew how careless these politicians have been.  Careless, as in not caring about all of our people in this island nation.

“Politics is killing this country” is something I hear from many, many people here.  They are not wrong, as far as I can see.

According to Mr Hubert Edwards, now head of the Organisation for Responsible Governance, in a recent Tribune article, says “The Bahamas finds itself at a place where it has a significant concentration of external debt, maybe more than it has ever had in the history of the country..... It has suffered over the last couple of years a number of credit downgrades which effectively put it into ‘junk’ bond status.  There are elevated external pressures on The Bahamas at this time......” “At some point in time, the Government is going to have to get their fiscal house in order.”

Now, I would like to reference an article in the Tribune, by Neil Hartnell on August 25, 2023, entitled “IDB: $856m strategy for The Bahamas ‘too ambitious’”.  This article focused on the fact that for the most part, the Inter-American Development Bank and The Bahamas have failed in far too many of the projects and programmes the IDB had lent money to The Bahamas to implement.

Not only that, the actual money spent was five times what the experts originally budgeted.  Most of the blame was as follows:

- The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has admitted its last country strategy for The Bahamas was “overly ambitious and unrealistic” despite approvals for over five times the originally-forecast level of financing.

- The multilateral lender, in a report by its internal watchdog, the Office of Evaluation and Oversight, found that the 2018-2022 Bahamas’ country programme made no or little contribution to seven of the 11 strategic objectives for improving areas such as fiscal consolidation, strengthening the Government’s institutional and digital capabilities and bolstering “integrity and transparency” in the public sector.

- The country programme evaluation attributed the Government’s low implementation capacity to a lack of technical experts to design and implement financed programmes, slow decision making, low co-ordination capacity, and lack of political commitment.”

So, where did that billion dollars go?  One might ask.

Of even greater concern to me is the near term financing needs that will be necessary for our country to deal with the immediate need to mitigate sea level rise impacts.  This, the IDB makes very clear they acknowledge, along with the fact that some of our debt burden is due to the impacts of 4 hurricanes in the last 10 years.

Has anyone seen the forecasts for hurricanes in the coming years?  Such as more frequent and more intense storms?  Does anyone deny, today, that sea levels are rising and the science behind these claims?

Now, let’s be real.  There are no surprises in the idea that The Bahamas government squandered money, and failed to do the things they said they would do.  Use whatever pretty words you wish to make excuses.  Our governments have a history of failure.  Is that a fair statement?

Now, with that said, let’s ask what are the Inter-American Development Bank’s responsibilities?

The IDB is a lending institution with a mandate to help improve the lives of the people in the country they are working in.  Do they have no culpability in these failures?  And what of the consequent economic burdens on the Bahamian people because of the loans taken out in their name, who got little to nothing in return?

Did any of these IDB experts, or their Bahamian liaisons, have a reduced salary because of these failures?  So, truth be told, the only ones who have to pay the bill for these failures are the poor and working people of The Bahamas.

The exact group of people who has no say in the programmes, no say on the loans, no benefits from the failed programmes.  Sounds like a recipe for utter failure and true injustice.  How can any thinking individual think this is OK?

I would suggest that after the first round failures and the consequent poor results of the IDB’s Project Implementation Units to follow, there should have been the rethinking of the due diligence, for the sake of The Bahamas increasing debt obligations, in making sure the IDB wasn’t further burdening our country with more odious debt.

I believe that the Inter-Development Bank has also failed in a major and equal way.  As much as we have failed here in The Bahamas.  Either by accident or by design, these loans were ostensibly intended to help develop The Bahamas in a financially sustainable way.  In fact, where we are now, I believe, is in a decidedly worse place than we were before the IDB stepped in.

Now, we are taking out loans, big loans, for the sole purpose of paying the interest on the loans we’ve already taken out.  And now, at higher interest rates.  This is NOT sustainable.

The IDB experts know full well what Structural Adjustment Programmes and austerity measures will be put into place in The Bahamas if The Bahamas performs in the way they have, historically speaking.

Do they believe in miracles?

They know through experience, that with either a PLP New Day or an FNM People’s Time, the results do not change.  They say as much in their report.  We know politicians lie.  Is this wrong to say?

So, the IDB is going along with a scheme to put the people of The Bahamas under great financial, social, physical and psychological pain.  The experts at the IDB know all too well that the poorest among us will be paying the highest price for the sins of those who claimed they were representing us.

Those we voted into office.  They know full well that the austerity measures they will require the government of the The Bahamas to impose on our country will cripple our economy, and our standard of living.

Bahamians will suffer for the sins of those whom we elected to look after us, and for the sins of those we invited to our shores to help us out of this mess.  The IDB is not blameless.  They know poverty will increase in The Bahamas.

Another question I have, which I believe is pertinent, is why The Bahamas has any debt, at all?  Why does a country, that all the experts say is one of the richest in the Caribbean, not have a surplus of money?

After 50 years of independence, this is where we are as a country?  We are in so much debt that it is strangling our economy, destroying any hopes for national development, dashing the dreams of our youth and sending so many Bahamians into poverty.

Is this the best we can do?

With these thoughts, I am proposing that if The Bahamas and the IDB are serious about our future and the future of our children here in The Bahamas, that we begin a discussion asking the IDB and other lenders to completely forgive our existing debt.

Let me say it again, I believe we must ask the IDB and other lenders to completely forgive our debt.

At some point, we have to put people above money.  Given the existential economic threat posed by our indebtedness, and the all too real climate events unfolding upon us, is it really unreasonable, as decent human beings, as adherents to something called Christianity, that we ask for this debt forgiveness?

Is this asking too much of those who say they wish to help us?

The Bahamas simply cannot continue to see millions of dollars leave our shores each day solely to pay the interest on loans.  There is no way, absolutely no way, that The Bahamas can prepare itself for the expenses associated with mitigating the effects of sea level rise and future hurricanes, take care of our Bahamian people, and still make the outrageous and odious interest and principal payments coming due in the next few years to these financial institutions.

I am sick and tired of watching people all over the world suffer - terribly, innocent, hard working people, all because a handful of corrupt people couldn’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar.  It is not fair to punish a whole country for the crimes of a few politicians.  It is patently unChristian, let alone an affront to human decency to allow collective punishment, as we will soon experience, for the crimes of our ruling class.

At some point, the people of the world must stand up to the rulers.  Whether they are the rulers of their own country, or the heads of the big banks and transnational corporations.  It is way past time to truly put people’s lives and human decency first and foremost.

Debt forgiveness for The Bahamas – 2023