|PM ‘optimistic’ despite looming challenges|
Guardian Staff Reporter
Published: Dec 28, 2012
Prime Minister Perry Christie said he is satisfied with the performance of his government “given the economy of the Bahamas we inherited” in 2012 and is optimistic about 2013.
“My government will take care of itself, but next year I hope that we are able to continue to reduce the incidence of crime to make a real impact on that, and secondly, or concomitantly, to have the economy pick up,” he said.
“We were downgraded (by Moody’s). I expected that based on all of the criticism we were leveling against the government at the time; we are [now] in the driver’s seat.
“I expect to have more foreign direct investment; I expect there to be more jobs; I expect we’ll move into the stage where Baha Mar will hire more people and begin to impact the country.”
Christie spoke on the sidelines of the Boxing Day Junkanoo Parade.
Despite his optimism, the government’s challenges are many heading into 2013.
The administration continues to struggle with high government debt and other significant fiscal challenges.
Earlier this month, international credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded The Bahamas’ credit rating.
In addition, Moody’s said the country’s economic outlook remains negative.
The agency said it saw limited prospects for the fiscal consolidation necessary to strengthen the government’s balance sheet and stabilize debt levels.
The government has projected a deficit of more than $500 million this fiscal year with no clear indication of when it will have this challenge under control.
While the unemployment rate dropped slightly this year over last year, it remained in the double digits at last reports.
Christie has previously acknowledged that the government was facing significant challenges with job creation.
The prime minister also has a looming battle with his negotiations to take back the majority stake in the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC).
He recently admitted that talks with Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC) had reached an impasse and the government would have to pursue other options if it could not convince the company to give up some of the shares.
But resuming the talks will be just part of the focus of the administration early in the new year.
One of the first initiatives of the government in 2013 will be the gambling referendum promised for January 28.
The issue is a hugely divisive one, and although the government “has no horse in the race”, observers say the government would face challenges no matter the outcome of what is likely to be a closely watched vote.
Christie has vowed to shut down the illegal numbers businesses if the referendum fails.
If it passes, his government is expected to be busy establishing the necessary regime for a legalized numbers industry.
On Wednesday, the prime minister acknowledged other challenges he expects in the new year.
“We still have not completed the roads yet,” he said. “It’s an albatross. We’re working hard to complete the roads so we can put that experience behind the country.”
The controversial New Providence Road Improvement Project was a major issue before and after the May general election.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham acknowledged that it had gone nearly $200 million over budget.
With Ingraham now in retirement and the Free National Movement in Opposition, the problems inherited by the Christie administration are numerous.
But the prime minister told The Nassau Guardian, “I’m optimistic on the basis of the direct foreign investment I have that more and more investment is coming to the country and I anticipate that 2013 will be better than 2012.”
However, two weeks ago, he admitted to The Nassau Guardian that the government is challenged with regard to revenue collection and warned the trade union movement to be mindful of the public purse’s fiscal constraints.
Christie at the time called the news of the Moody’s downgrade “very sobering”.
“It reminds us why we must continue to be very, very proactive in direct foreign investment; why we must continue to look for opportunities to control costs; why people who represent workers and have to deal with the government must be mindful of the condition of the economy of our country, and why we must recognize that we are in this together and we must get out of it together.”