Prime Minister Philip Davis’s 2024/2025 Budget Debate Closing: Changing The Status Quo, Changing Lives

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Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis KC

Madam Speaker:

As we bring the 2024/2025 National Budget Debate to a close, we are grateful this debate afforded us an opportunity to make clear the scale of our ambition for The Bahamas and for Bahamians, and to detail some of the major investments we are making in the country and in our people.

Our government is united in our determination to solve problems that for too long have been treated as unsolvable.

We are determined to create historic change across our islands — with game-changing energy reforms; with major investments in infrastructure to promote our economic growth and prosperity; and above all, with significant investments in the health, education, safety, and dreams of the Bahamian people.

From our first days in office, just a little more than two and a half years ago, we have worked to preserve and honour and cherish everything that makes our islands, our communities, and our way of life special – just as we have worked to take on the longstanding problems which have been holding us back as a people and country.

Together, colleagues, along with the Bahamian people, we brought this country back from the brink.

We started our term facing a crisis in the economy, a crisis in our hospitals, a crisis in our schools, a crisis in the nation’s finances, a crisis in governance, and a crisis in morale.

We didn’t hesitate, we didn’t pause, we didn’t wait a moment to get started.  (And we certainly didn’t take a long vacation, as our predecessors did when they began their time in office).

Instead, we got to work on day one, because we believed – and will always believe – in the ingenuity and strength of the Bahamian people. We knew that if we lifted the curfew, ended the lockdowns, ended the state of emergency, and started investing in Bahamians instead of punishing them, that we could recover faster than anyone expected. And that’s exactly what happened.

It’s never a good idea to underestimate Bahamians. That much has been clear for a long time. After all, talk to our most successful nation-builders, and you will hear stories of humble beginnings and triumphs against all odds. 

We are a small country, with big talent, and we are never afraid to lead the way.

I am talking about world-leading talent in business, sports, entertainment, and science.

I am talking about innovation and leadership in financial services, tourism, and in the fight against climate change.

Greatness is what we achieve when we decide not to settle for “good enough”.

That’s why simply recovering from the pandemic was never our goal – we always wanted to exceed the “norm” and break new records, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

This administration is committed to solving our country’s hardest challenges, even when the obstacles are formidable.

It is true that many of our most complex and intransigent problems flow from the outside in – the weapons and the viruses which cross our borders, the more intense hurricanes and rising temperatures and seas caused by climate change, and the plague of misinformation and disinformation flooding our screens and phones.

The climate is warming because of pollution produced by the largest countries in the world, but we are the ones left with the bill – and I mean that quite literally – four Category 4 and 5 storms in under a decade have cost our country billions.

The interdependence and complexity of the modern world is why it’s so important for smaller countries like ours to build strong relationships with other countries and their political and business leaders, to promote our country and our country’s interests, to seek new opportunities for Bahamians, and to build the kinds of strong coalitions in the international arena that can lead to change and progress. 

Everyone who understands the way the world works understands the importance of doing so.

However, not all of our problems arise from outside our borders — I regret to say that some of our misfortune can also be traced to bad decision-making and bad actors at home.

Think about, for example, the shock 60% increase in VAT in 2018.

And while everyone remembers 2019 as the year of Dorian – do you recall the first eight months of that year, or the year prior? Look back, and you’ll see a stagnant economy, no significant new investments, and billions in new borrowing.

And, of course, the tragedy and disruption of the pandemic were made more calamitous by capricious decisions, onerous travel visas, and haphazard, cold-hearted policies.

And then there are all the lies that pollute social media – regrettably, plenty of that garbage juice is produced locally.

But listen, my colleagues and I agree – in The Bahamas we have too much work to do, too much potential to realise, to let either the bad policies of the past or the manufactured lies of the present slow us down.

Madam Speaker:

All of our problems must be attacked, no matter their origin.

When we entered office, a growing global inflation crisis led to double-digit price increases, with prices rising faster than they had in more than 40 years.

Supply chain disruptions after the pandemic and the war in Ukraine caused price increases that hit import-dependent nations like ours particularly hard.

While inflation is now beginning to moderate, prices are still far too high, and continue to cause hardship for many.

I know exactly what it is like when a little money comes in, and you’re forced to decide which bills get paid and which have to wait, because there ain’ no way to pay them all at once.

We’ve introduced multiple policies to offer relief for Bahamian families, and of course, relief from the burden of high bills is a crucial motivator for our game-changing energy reforms – because you can’t take on the cost of living and the cost of doing business in The Bahamas without taking on the cost of electricity.

The impact of our innovative energy reforms will be felt across our islands.

These energy reforms are central to our efforts to build an economy that is more competitive, more prosperous, more dynamic, and more inclusive — with more paths to security and success for more Bahamians.

The scope and scale of our energy reforms reflect the scope and scale of our ambitions for Bahamians and for The Bahamas, and I will address them in more detail momentarily.

Madam Speaker:

The theme of our 2024/2025 budget is Changing the Status Quo, Changing Lives – because our ambitions for our country and people can only be realized by leaning into change.

 It won’t be easy. 

“Status quo” just means “the way things are now” – and believe me, there are forces who benefit from the status quo, who don’t feel the way we do about changing the way things are now.

So:

There are entrenched systems that need dismantling.

There are outdated ways of thinking that need dislodging.

And there are antiquated policies that need disrupting.

We have learned that every step forward that we take is going to be accompanied by a barrage of attacks.

Now, understand – I’m not talking about good-faith concerns – our doors are always open, and we are always, always, going to be receptive to thoughtful suggestions about how policies can be improved.

I’m talking about those who put self-interest or politics ahead of their patriotism.

You know who I’m talking about – the types who can generate grievances and conspiracies – but not solutions or progress.

If you want to change The Bahamas, you can’t pay any mind to these bad-faith complainers.

You have to keep moving.

Let me give you some examples of forward motion:

We raised the minimum wage.

We successfully concluded thirty labour negotiations (a record number in contrast to the zero agreements signed by our predecessors).

We cut import duties on dozens of food items and many essential goods.

We put free Wi-Fi in our parks.

We have served more than 100,000 free breakfasts to our schoolchildren.

We’re building affordable housing.

We cut VAT from 12% to 10%.

We are requiring our largest and wealthiest taxpayers to pay what they owe, so that the burden is more fairly distributed.

We increased the threshold for paying Real Property Taxes from $250,000 to $300,000, which means many more Bahamian property owners now don’t have to pay real property taxes.

Let me pause here to remind everyone that when we began our term, there were widespread assumptions that major tax hikes were the only way to stave off catastrophe, just as there was widespread speculation that the former government called for elections eight months early so they could raise taxes on ordinary Bahamians after they voted, not before.

But we knew people couldn’t take any more hardship.

So we provided widespread relief AND rescued the country from fiscal crisis AND put our economy on better footing – all without those major tax increases which had been so widely forecasted and expected.

There are special interests out there who pay their mouthpieces a lot of money to push narratives about us that do not reflect reality. 

They pretend there are new taxes, when really, they are unhappy that businesses are simply being asked to comply with the law, and pay what they owe, same as everyone else. This is a basic principle of fairness. 

These paid talking heads defend people who own million-dollar properties who feel they are above paying taxes in The Bahamas, and luxury boat owners who want to enjoy our paradise while making minimal contributions.

This idea that we are a playground for the elite who get to dictate policies, disobey the law, and fail to live up to their tax obligations while reaping all the benefits of living here is just one example of how the status quo has harmed us.

We all remember how just one letter from a private community when the FNM was in office, got them to alter the planned real property tax rate on multimillion dollar homes. 

That tactic may have worked before, but it won’t work with this administration. 

We are building a foundation for a more inclusive and fair society where everyone truly pays their fair share.

Madam Speaker:

While much work remains, the Bahamian economy is finally moving in the right direction.

We took an economy that had fallen to record lows and lifted it to new heights. 

Real Gross Domestic Product has grown for consecutive years despite high global inflation. Not every country can say this. 

Global inflation does continue to act as a drag on our economic growth however, as it does everywhere. And of course, when you lift up an economy from the deepest depths, an economy struggling from the stifling lockdown and curfew policies, you get the kind of meteoric growth in the first year that is followed by more moderate gains – explaining any decreases in year-over-year Real GDP gains.

What matters most to Bahamians is that overall economic activity is up.

Last year’s Nominal GDP, which measures total economic growth without taking inflation into account, was higher than forecast. We forecasted a growth rate of 7.4% and actually achieved a rate of 9.2%. 

In doing so, we exceeded international and local financial expectations when it comes to spurring economic activity and growing revenue.

The revision in the real growth forecast therefore does not reflect a slowdown in economic activity but rather something more technical, a spike in the GDP deflator, a metric which takes inflation into account. 

Since much of this inflation is imported, unfortunately, until other reforms we are advancing begin to take effect, we must live with this reality. However, by any measure, economic activity continues to grow.

Madam Speaker:

Unemployment is at its lowest rate since 2008. More visitors are experiencing the beauty of our islands than ever before, and prices are finally starting to go down. Revenues are increasing, driven both by the strength of our economy, as well as structural improvements, including a well-designed and well-executed compliance programme. The deficit is under control and there are regular primary surpluses. Debt to GDP has decreased from over 100 percent to 79.9 percent in 2 years and it continues to decrease.

These are the economic and fiscal indicators that can truly assess the health of a country. So, we’ll let the data speak for itself.  

International observers are astounded that we’ve been able to have the results we’ve had outside of a structural adjustment programme, which tells us we’re performing exceptionally well.

During his contribution, the member for Killarney suggested that the lives of Bahamians were better under the FNM.  

Now, before you laugh — maybe that was true for FNM politicians, their cronies, and the elite who support them. Maybe life was better for the people who got to live their best lives during the pandemic while the rest of the nation was living under dictatorship conditions. 

But you won’t catch ordinary Bahamians looking back at those times with nostalgia.

Since leaving those dark days behind, the economy is objectively better by all metrics. The government’s fiscal situation is better. More Bahamians are working, and consumer spending is up. 

It’s time to stop with the fairytales about the last administration. At this point, it sounds even more delusional. 

Nobody’s buying what the FNM is selling. Not when we achieved more in one year than they did during their entire term.

We’re at the point now where we don’t even talk about returning things back to pre-pandemic levels anymore. That would be a step backwards for us. 

We’re talking about growing this economy to levels never seen before. 

We have approved over $8 billion in investments to facilitate economic growth.

And when we sit at the negotiation table with investors, we let them know that hiring and empowering Bahamians is a mandatory part of their plans. 

We make it clear that for any specialised roles that non-Bahamians are hired for, we are enforcing our Notice of Vacancy policies to ensure that a Bahamian will be trained to fill that role. We inform them that Bahamian suppliers, taxi drivers, excursion company owners, vendors, creatives, and other small and medium-sized businesses must be incorporated into their plans.

As a result of our efforts, we are seeing unprecedented levels of Bahamians hired throughout the nation and more local businesses and entrepreneurs included in and around the premises of these major developments.

Economic gains must bring widespread benefits for Bahamians – that’s the only thing that makes moral and economic sense to us.

We’re also making sure more and more Bahamians are ready for new opportunities. 

That’s why we are introducing the National Apprenticeship Progamme this year, to train and encourage our young people, preparing them to launch careers in the largest and most in-demand industries in our nation.

We committed 1.2 million dollars over a two year period to the Culinary Skills Programme at The University of The Bahamas to prepare 200 young persons for entry level jobs in the culinary field. 

The first class was in September 2023 and the University is preparing for its next class in September 2024. These are positions that previous governments had to approve work permits for. Simple entry level jobs that can now be filled by talented Bahamians.

I want to thank the Culinary and Hospitality team at the University of the Bahamas for bringing this programme to life, changing the status quo and changing the lives of hundreds of young Bahamians.

We are recruiting young Bahamians into our National Youth Guard – to strengthen our nation’s ability to respond during times of crisis. 

I see our young people as a source of our strength – the same valuable skills they learn during their training to serve on the front lines during a disaster are also the skills supporting high rates of employment for participants once they graduate. Because employers recognise the value of the training they received. Once again, changing the status quo and changing lives!

We are investing in the widespread economic empowerment of Bahamians through training and employment, as well as helping more Bahamians become owners in their country.

We are building affordable homes, after not one home was built by our predecessors.

Our Rent-To-Own Programme has taken time to build but will help even more Bahamians fulfil their dreams of owning a home.

And, of course, we are investing millions in funding for Bahamian business owners through our grant and loans programmes, including $30 million in grants for farming and fishing businesses during the upcoming fiscal year.

These grants will function as seed funding for the expanding agriculture and fisheries sectors. 

As we lower grocery bills by feeding ourselves, the National Trade Facilitation Committee will pursue strategies to lower our food import bill up to one-third by identifying new policies and trade opportunities, forging new trade agreements and partnerships, and making our shipment processes more efficient.

This new investment in trade is significant – and it returns to my earlier point about the importance of developing and strengthening international relationships, and always seeking new opportunities. The next global crisis may be around the corner – we can’t control that. But we can act to make our economy more resilient to external shocks. We can grow more of our own food and create the conditions which support diversifying our economy. 

Madam Speaker:

Our investments in people extend to our public servants. As I alluded to earlier, we have signed a record 30 agreements, after not one agreement was signed in the four-plus years of the previous administration.

Those thirty trade union agreements raised salaries across the public service, including much-needed raises for the uniform branches, teachers, and nurses. 

Then, we held the first public service-wide promotional exercise in over eight years for over one thousand clerical staff, putting millions of additional dollars in their pockets. 

In the meantime, we also promoted over one thousand Bahamians who were on the promotions backlog, and processed hundreds of additional general and executive promotions.

Those gains for public servants were meaningful — but we aren’t done yet. 

The review we will conduct this year on public servant salaries will ensure that we continue to make increases to secure competitive pay for public servants. 

We have allocated sufficient funding to ensure that the review can immediately be followed by action.  The recommended salary increase will begin during this fiscal year.

I was shocked to learn that there were members opposite who seemed to have a problem with the allocations we made to facilitate this effort. 

I was shocked until the Leader of the Opposition said on page 14 of his speech that he intends to radically simplify and streamline the public service bureaucracy that he says continues to burden Bahamian residents and businesses costing untold millions of dollars in lost productivity and petty corruption. 

Here we go again, calling Bahamians corrupt and calling our public servants a burden. 

Let’s be honest, when you use words like “radically simplify” – this strikes me as a fancy poetic way to say you’re planning on reducing the public service. It sounds to me like you’re announcing the FNM’s intentions to come for public servants’ jobs.

In this administration, we don’t view our public servants as a burden. That’s why we promoted them and raised their salaries when the FNM didn’t. 

That’s why we are investing in training and onboarding to upskill and uplift public servants and investing in digitalisation and modern technology to promote efficiency and productivity. 

That’s how you create a modern 21st-century public service workforce — not by attacking the people who do the work of government. We should all want to see our hard-working public servants receive competitive compensation. What is the FNM’s issue?

While we’re on the topic of perplexing attacks – I have to admit, I am astonished there are those who are so out of touch and out of sense that they would question the value of providing breakfast to Bahamian schoolchildren. 

Especially since the FNM had promised it during one of their previous administrations. But like many of their plans, it remained in their heads – just empty promises on paper. But, Madam Speaker, we made it happen.

If you don’t have a heart for the children who sometimes had to start their school day with empty stomachs…if you don’t have a heart for their families, trying to put meals on the table during a global inflation crisis…if you don’t have a heart for the teachers trying to coax children who are hungry through their lessons….then at least use your head to do your research. If you do, you’ll discover that school breakfast programmes are considered one of the most successful interventions governments can make, with a well-recognized return on investment.  This is the right thing to do, and it is the smart thing to do. We are very proud of the National School Breakfast Programme – and we are grateful to our Delivery Unit and the Ministry of Education for their care and dedication, grateful to the teachers and administrators who ensure things run smoothly, and grateful to the Bahamian vendors across our country who supply the food and the love.

We are very proud that this year we will expand the programme to every school on every Family Island.

Madam Speaker:

I think I understand why some people may not get the importance of the breakfast programme. 

This programme isn’t for the people who have enough money to take breakfast for granted. 

It’s not for people who have housekeepers and babysitters who help get the children ready for school, ensuring that there is time to prepare and eat breakfast. Those people won’t get it.

I’ll tell you who gets it, though. The children at our primary schools get it. I’ve had the honour of joining them for breakfast, at different schools, and let me tell you – their smiles are all we need to know that we’re on the right track.

They appreciate having a hearty and healthy breakfast to start the day. 

Their parents are appreciative too. That is who we are doing this for. That is who we are changing the status quo for.

Administrators and teachers around the country are on record stating the noticeable impact this programme has had. 

This is reflected in the data demonstrating a noticeable bump in attendance in the schools where school breakfasts are served.

Nationwide, our efforts to bring our children back to school have been a resounding success. 

We now have 92% enrolment in our public schools after a major decline during the pandemic.

Thanks to systemic changes we’ve made, the graduation rate has improved by 14%. And now, we have launched a curriculum reform process that will modernise our subjects and generate better learning outcomes so that our children are better prepared for the future. 

To support these improved outcomes, we are hiring more teacher’s aides for special education, pre-primary, pre-vocational, and general areas. We are also investing in educational facilities. Last week, we announced the plan to build eight swimming pools at public schools throughout New Providence, beginning with the Government High School, which will also benefit from a world-class track and improved sports facilities. 

And schools in the Family Islands like Patrick Bethel High School, Arthurs Town Comprehensive School, the Emma Cooper Primary School, and Coopers Town Primary will benefit from classroom block extensions.

Along with education, our investment in the well-being of Bahamians has been further expanded into healthcare with repairs and refurbishments to clinics throughout our islands and the construction of two new hospitals. 

This will be the first new public hospital in New Providence in over 70 years. It will be the first new hospital in Grand Bahama since Independence. 

The side opposite initially said building new hospitals was a pipe dream that could not be accomplished.  Their former leader, the member for Killarney, just last year was quoted as saying it would cost over 1.2 billion dollars to build, which made it impossible to be launched within this term. 

And then, when we announced the plans to build the new hospitals, unsurprisingly, when they realised we were making it happen, they then tried to say we shouldn’t build the new hospitals. The member for Killarney had to eat his words and start singing a different song. They’re not saying it’s impossible anymore. 

Their chairman said we should just slap some repairs on what was already there. They want us to just put another expansion on PMH. 

They implied that we don’t have the local talent to ensure the success of a new facility. 

Why do they keep underestimating the Bahamian people? 

Obviously, we won’t neglect the healthcare infrastructure that is already in place. 

We are upgrading PMH, renovating our clinics, AND building the new hospitals in New Providence and Grand Bahama. We are doing all of the above. 

Madam Speaker:

Grand Bahama holds a special place in my heart. I lived there for a number of years. 

I know many great Grand Bahamians, and I feel their frustration at the lack of progress on the island over the years.

We have expedited the process for the new hospital, which has already started, and the demolition of the Grand Bahama International Airport to make room for a new airport has started as well. 

We have well over $2 billion in incoming investments ranging from the new Cruise Port, the Shipping Yard expansion, and multiple new resorts that will provide jobs and business opportunities on the island. 

The government is purchasing the Princess Towers Hotel, the El Casino Building, the West Sunrise Road, the International Bazaar, and the  for redevelopment to bring about even more growth on the island. Our objectives are clear, and unlike the poorly thought-out decision by the Minnis administration when they bought the Grand Lucayan, we have a fully developed plan to use these assets to further grow the Grand Bahamian economy.

And we are not done. 

Our fight for prosperity on Grand Bahama will continue with our efforts to completely revamp the arrangement with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, which has stymied growth on the island for decades. I caution the members opposite to keep in mind that the people of Grand Bahama will remember who stood with them for a better Grand Bahama and the people will also remember who served as water boys, carrying water for the Port Authority. 

Fearmongering to try to make Grand Bahamians afraid to challenge the status quo won’t work this time. 

Those scare tactics are falling on deaf ears as the vast majority of people on the island are hungry for change. 

And while we’re on the topic, let’s stop pretending that pushing for improvement is somehow bad for the investment climate. 

The way Grand Bahama’s economy is set up right now, investors are eagerly anticipating the changes at the Port Authority too. 

So, I encourage the side opposite to stand on the side of change; or be remembered as the enemies of progress. 

Be remembered as the water boys who were on the wrong side of history.

Because we will not stop pushing for progress on Grand Bahama until the Port Authority does right by the people and all parties can come to an agreement on a solution that serves the best interests of Grand Bahamians.

Madam Speaker:

As we spread our developmental dollars throughout the nation, our Family Islands will see unprecedented levels of development, much of which has already started.  We have started renovations for multiple airports. We have paved roads, brought potable water to settlements throughout the central and south Bahamas, and prepared Family Island economies for unprecedented growth as new private investments are made. That work will be expanded upon in the upcoming fiscal cycle.

We have made targeted investments in social support to help the vulnerable among us as well. 

We made targeted increases to specific line items for social services and increased the amount we give to local NGOs that serve our community. In this budget, we have also made the largest allocation for mental health support in recent memory.

Crime remains at the top of our agenda. 

We have moved forward with our plan to address the five pillars of prevention, detection, prosecution, punishment, and rehabilitation.

These efforts have made a difference and we will continue to move forward with plans to hire more officers to sustain saturation patrols, buy more modern crimefighting equipment, and invest in crime detection technology.

We will also make our borders more secure by hiring more Defence Force Officers and investing in new boats and equipment. 

Unsafe and unregulated shantytown communities will continue to be demolished. This government will uphold the rule of law for everyone. 

Madam Speaker:

Just a few days ago, on the 10th of June, we announced our plan to tackle energy reforms. And on the 12th, the Minister responsible for Energy, the member for Elizabeth, spoke to more of the details of our plans here in this House.

Before I go on, I want to respond to a few things the Leader opposite had to say during his contribution regarding the legacy of the FNM on energy reform:

First of all, the FNM left no plan in place for wide-scale solar to be incorporated in our energy mix in the Family Islands or New Providence.

The FNM left no plan or financial structure in place to modernise and upgrade our aging, outdated and on the verge of collapse, transmission and distribution systems.

The FNM also left no plan in place to transition to LNG or any cleaner fuel. In fact, as I will talk about later, they rented generators and purchased generators inaccurately stating they were capable of using LNG as a form of fuel. They even put this false narrative on the BPL website.

The FNM left no plan in place to tackle the hundreds of millions in legacy debt. 

They couldn’t even get the ill-fated rate reduction bond off the ground, leaving the government to pay over 20 million dollars in professional fees and nothing to show for it.

The FNM left no plan in place to address the $130 million unfunded pension liability. In fact, I’m not sure they were even aware of it or had any concern about.

The FNM also left no plan in place to raise the 500 million needed to bring a new era to our energy infrastructure. 

To sum it up: the FNM had no plan.

Madam Speaker:

Hedging is not a plan, it’s a gamble! If they had a plan to reform our energy sector, they kept it to themselves.

Now, the FNM and their surrogates continue to spew this false narrative that we are privatising BPL. The magnitude of this lie is on the scale of the one they told in 2017 that the Bahamar opening was fake. Their lies won’t work this time! Bahamians know they can’t trust anything coming from the other side.

 Madam Speaker,

One would have thought that when the leader opposite read the definition of privatisation he would have abandoned the notion of defining our energy reform as privatisation after reading the 4th word of the definition he quoted which defines privatization as, “the act of selling..”. we have sold nothing. If you want to know what selling is, selling is what happened under the FNM when they sold all of BTC’s assets for an alleged $200 million when the company was generating 40 to 50 million dollars a year in profit. The asset was sold and we got little to nothing in return. That was an example of privatisation, although it was a poorly executed example. They should know by now that we don’t operate like them. We will teach them the difference between strategic partnerships and privatisation.

Madam Speaker:

The leader of the side opposite asked many questions about the BPL reforms which the member for Elizabeth addressed during her contribution. 

The member was forthright and disclosed the facts that she had on hand. She explained that negotiations were ongoing in certain respects, and details of those negotiations would be disclosed when finalised. 

And I can assure you that as soon as the ink is dry on those agreements, the details will be shared with the Bahamian people.

I just wanted to ensure that I directly addressed the misinformation that the side opposite has spread about our energy reform plans.

Now, let’s talk a bit more about those plans.

BPL has needed major reforms for many years. Much of the existing infrastructure and machinery have needed to be replaced and modernised for decades.

At this point, we are facing the prospect of an energy crisis as crucial parts of our aging power grid are in danger of collapse, which would literally leave us in the dark.

Madam Speaker:

Let’s be honest – there’s a reason that governments have kicked the can down the road, hoping and praying that band-aids and patches could hold our electricity grid together, declining to do the hard and challenging work of comprehensive reform.

Fixing BPL ain’t for the faint of heart, and no one says it’s going to happen overnight.

But it’s happening – finally.

Let me be clear – the people who brought us the Wartsila engines and the Oban fiasco never had the intellect, the imagination, or the courage to create or deliver real solutions.

Meanwhile, we are paying for their mistakes. 

Due to foreseeable infrastructural limitations, including the fact that the building housing the engines was inadequate and not structurally able to withstand running all seven engines, we can only run five of the seven Wartsila engines they purchased at once, which means those engines are not living up to their capacity for savings. 

We were also told by the FNM that the Wartsila engines could use LNG as a part of their fuel mix. This was not true. Now we will pay an additional $30 to $40 million in conversion costs. 

The FNM really passed on a huge mess to us.

Madam Speaker:
We have a power company that is still burning the most expensive and dirty fuels for power generation, with generators that cannot accommodate fuels which emit less carbon, like LNG, and infrastructure that cannot accommodate solar energy. 

We have an aging and crumbling power grid with limited power generation capacity, requiring load shedding on New Providence and experiencing multiple catastrophic failures through the years.

We have ancient crude oil and diesel generators that constantly break down, leaving huge segments of New Providence sitting in the dark. 

Some of these generators and engines are so old that we can’t even find parts for them anymore to repair them for the next time they break down. As a result of our shortfalls, we rent generators from other companies that cost us millions each year.

We have over $500 million in legacy debt — with another $500 million needed for repairs, upgrades, and the purchase of new equipment and infrastructure. 

That’s over one billion dollars needed to fix this situation. 

To put that in perspective, our entire capital expenditure budget for this upcoming fiscal year, which is spread across all ministries, would not even make up one third of the amount needed just for BPL.

To make matters worse, we lack sufficient power generation capacity to accommodate population and business growth, which means that our issues with our power grid will eventually limit our economic prospects. Additionally, as temperatures increase due to climate change, the use of air conditioners will also increase, putting even more strain on our power grid.

This is the dire situation we met at BPL when we came into office.

So we had three paths to choose from.

The first option was to continue business as usual. 

To continue, in other words, with the status quo — using patchwork fixes as things break, and pray that nothing major goes down. With this option, we would continue burning dirty, expensive fuels that pollute our air, make climate change worse, and make electricity bills more expensive. 

The status quo path would also mean continuing to let debts rise, and leaving BPL’s finances in disarray, threatening employee pensions and preventing the company from rolling out real solutions. 

This might – and I emphasize might – because we must remember the real possibility of catastrophe – this might have cost us less in the shorter term, but that’s the way only short-term thinkers think. Not the way people who actually understand the true risks and consequences of the status quo think.

The second option was to pay the full bill for modernisation and upgrades ourselves; no private partners, just putting the expense on the backs of the Bahamian public. 

This would require us to add $500 million in debt on top of the $500 million in legacy debt. 

It would take many years for these changes to be rolled out, which means that it would be years before bills could be lowered and the power grid could be strengthened and expanded to prevent failures and make loadshedding a thing of the past.

Even after all the reforms and upgrades were in place, the one billion dollars in debt we’d incur would limit the amount we could decrease electricity bills, because, ultimately, BPL would have to generate the money to pay that one billion dollars back.

Taking this option would come at the cost of delaying energy reforms, holding back our economic growth, and putting an even bigger bill on the Bahamian people.

The third option, the one we chose, was to achieve comprehensive energy reform through partnership.

Our energy reform plan was developed to provide practical and efficient solutions in conjunction with industry leaders. 

We will deliver immediate relief to Bahamian families and businesses while also making the necessary investments in long-term energy solutions.

We have partnered with a wide range of companies involved with solar, LNG, and large-scale infrastructure projects to make this process financially feasible and expand our capacity to make changes at a national scale. Partnerships are powering many of our biggest initiatives and they will be critical to our energy reform plans.

The decisions we made to select our energy partners are based on the recognised need for urgency. 

Our power grid doesn’t have years to wait for our resources to catch up with our needs. 

So, we partnered with a wide range of local solar providers  to ensure that solar solutions could be fine tuned for each island and implemented simultaneously. The selections were made based on a full RFP process that included competitive bidding and objective standards for selection.

In cases where we used alternative procurement processes, such as single sourcing, the appropriate official justifications and selection channels were used. 

Our announcements this month made it clear who the partners are, what they will do, what the financial and operations arrangements are, and most importantly, we’ve made it clear that we will live up to our obligations to BPL workers to secure their jobs. We have outlined everything we are doing. 

This is in contrast to the opposition’s failed plans with Oban.

In fact, all of their BPL reforms were shrouded in secrecy.

In October of 2021, the Tribune ran a story in which the consultants the FNM hired to review their plans at BPL described what they were doing as “oblique” and “lacking transparency.” 

These are their own consultants saying that. This was the second such report backing up an initial report conducted by the leading firm Ernst and Young that also pointed to a lack of due diligence and transparency at BPL under their watch.

If members opposite want to see a lack of transparency, they can even look beyond BPL at the Dorian relief supplies that never made it to the people of Abaco and Grand Bahama. 

They can look at their pandemic food relief programme where shoddy records were kept and money is still missing that can’t be accounted for. 

Meanwhile, this administration has revealed the full extent of our energy reform plans, including all of our partners, who were selected based on their respective strengths.

In addition to our solar partners who were selected via a competitive bidding process, we partnered with Shell because they already had specific assets we needed in-country and could convert them with minimal effort and cost. 

This would be much faster and far more affordable than partnering with a new company that had to start from scratch. 

We partnered with Island Grid because of their capacity, reputation, and  experience, as well as their ability to source equipment in the shortest possible time and begin work quickly with a full understanding of the local context. 

As a result of these partnerships, we did not have to sell any assets, privatise BPL, break the company up, terminate any employees or violate any union agreements. We leveraged these partnerships to make BPL stronger.

Most importantly, Bahamian families struggling with the high cost of living don’t have to wait years for relief while they struggle to keep the lights on each month. 

Ask hard-working Bahamians if they want to wait years to see savings on their light bill or if they want to see savings rolled out as quickly as possible. 

Ask them if they think we should keep moving at a snail’s pace, while the rest of the world embraces cleaner transitional fuels and renewable energy. 

I think we all know what the answer will be.
Local small businesses that pay thousands in electrical costs each month may not be able to keep their doors open waiting for a long and slow solution that will only bring about noticeable results years from now.

In every conversation I have with Bahamian entrepreneurs of every size – from the small corner stores to large corporate enterprises – the consensus is clear: the high cost of electricity is a barrier to starting a business and makes it difficult to generate profits and keep their doors open.

We talk a lot about the need to improve the ease of doing business. 

Well, the cost of electricity and the reliability of the power supply are two of the main inputs considered when countries want to make doing business easier.

When we lower the cost and improve the reliability of our power supply, we give Bahamian business owners a better chance at thriving. These businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. 

It is in our best interest to give them every chance at success possible as our policies bring about unprecedented growth within a new Bahamian economy.

This new reality will be powered by energy reform, because we can’t build a 21st century economy with 20th century infrastructure.

And we can’t expect to attract investments and grow the economy when even the power company can’t keep the power on.

That is why energy reform is now a top priority as we launch the first-ever major energy reform in our nation’s history.

I applaud the Minister responsible for energy, the Member for Elizabeth, for her leadership on this revolutionary reform.

At the end of this process, we will have updated transmission and distribution capabilities in New Providence. 

Our power grid will be more efficient, helping us to improve reliability and lower costs. 

And it will be more resilient, allowing us to keep the power on, even during hurricanes.

For the first time ever, large, utility scale solar power will be used in New Providence with over 70 megawatts of power to be integrated into the grid. 

Our Family Islands will benefit from multiple hybrid microgrids that will use solar and natural gas to significantly lower the cost of electricity on our Family Islands.

Liquified Natural Gas, or LNG, will be fully phased into our national fuel mix to provide cheaper, cleaner energy while dirtier fuels like oil and diesel will be phased out.

Energy efficient upgrades will be implemented in all government buildings, and rooftop solar panels will be introduced to our schools. All streetlights will soon use more energy efficient LEDs as the government leads by example on energy efficiency and clean energy.

These projects will be implemented in phases, and with each phase, Bahamian households will notice even more of an impact on their light bills.

Of course, the full savings from our infrastructural work and large-scale introduction of solar and LNG won’t be realised overnight, but over the next 24 months Bahamian families and businesses can look forward to seeing steady and consistent savings on their electricity bills, starting next month.

On July 1st, BPL will introduce an Equity Rate Adjustment, which will adjust rates based on the amount of power consumed.

This adjustment will benefit all households, as the first 200 kilowatt hours consumed will have a base rate cost of zero dollars for everyone.

However, the biggest savings will be experienced by those who consume the least electricity. We will simultaneously roll out a decrease in the tariff rate for fuel costs on electricity bills that will deliver savings for all homes that consume less than 800 kilowatt hours per month. This includes a majority of households.

The average home consumes 655 kWh, which is well below 800 kWh. These changes will produce significant savings for these households, particularly for smaller homes and homes where incomes are below average.

This reduction will provide much-needed relief so families can have more money for groceries, school supplies, and other necessities. 

The money saved will be spent at local businesses, further stimulating the economy.

I invite all Bahamians to check your bills at the end of July and see for yourself. 

Your first 200 kWh will have a cost of zero dollars and your fuel surcharge will go down compared to the month before. Add up the savings yourself. And know that as LNG and solar are incorporated, your bills will go down even more.

The introduction of lower rates reinforces our intentions when we brought the Electricity Act (2024) to this House. 

Contrary to the idle chatter by the side opposite, the changes to the law will allow rates to be lowered quickly without delays.

While I’m on the topic of legislative reform, I’d like to directly address Grand Bahama.

A lot of times when we talk about energy reform, Grand Bahamians feel excluded. But I want Grand Bahamians to know that they won’t be left out this time. 

Through the legislative changes we made this year, we have ensured that Grand Bahamians can also benefit from the reforms by allowing the Grand Bahama Power Company to participate in these reforms.  Our energy reform agenda is truly country-wide.

Madam Speaker:

In life, there are people who get things done. And there are people who get attention by attacking the people who get things done.

I caution the Bahamian people to not be distracted by the attacks of those who would rather see the status quo remain in place than for energy reform to succeed under the PLP.

Now, I know energy reform is a complex topic. There are still a lot of questions that members of the public have, and we want to answer every question. 

We will host more press conferences, we will put out more videos and explainers, we have a major public education campaign in the works, and we will come to the people as many times as neccessary to explain the decisions we have made and how they will benefit Bahamian families. 

Rest assured, that we will not be like our predecessors who left Bahamians in the dark.

 Madam Speaker:

We have achieved major progress on all fronts while also making significant headway on our fiscal goals. 

We met deficits at record highs and they are now trending down. Debt-to-GDP was over 100% and it has now fallen below 80%. 

We’ve seen consecutive years of revenue growth and we are still making progress toward a balanced budget. 

Adjustments have been made along the way as we climbed out from under the burden of the past administration’s blunders, but the government’s finances are clearly headed in the right direction.

I caution members opposite to end their reckless attacks on the integrity of the work of our top institutions. We see these attacks on the numbers the Ministry of Finance puts out and we even saw attacks last year with the unemployment numbers put out by the National Statistical Institute.

To question the results of financial and statistical exercises carried out by our most trusted institutions just to score a few petty political points reeks of desperation.

It is shameful. These are the same financial and statistical experts they relied on when they were in government.

We are talking about trusted experts with many years of financial experience having their work criticised by political leaders who are more familiar with lines of poetry than line items in a budget. 

Even when they attack, they repeatedly demonstrate their inability to understand basic fiscal and budgetary matters. 

They are clearly out of their depth. Yet, they constantly attack the work done by our experts.

If the side opposite is so willing to throw our best and brightest under the bus, imagine what they would do to the rest of the Bahamian people. 

This is why they can never be trusted to manage our nation’s affairs. 

We can never allow a group who thinks so little of Bahamians to represent our nation’s interests.

Madam Speaker:

When all is said and done, what matters most is how we’ve changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in this country for the better.

That is the outcome that truly matters.

Our goal since day one has been to empower Bahamians to live a life of dignity and personal fulfilment in a society that gives everyone a fair shot at pursuing their dreams.

Unlike our predecessors, we’re not promising to prioritise the people next time. During this term, we’ve lowered duties, raised the minimum wage, re-targeted and increased social services spending in key areas, and launched the Catastrophic Healthcare Fund and National School Breakfast Programme. We will soon lower light bills so that we can help the most vulnerable people in our society even more. 

Not next time, Madam Speaker, but right now.

When we took office, it wasn’t under the best of circumstances but we never let that limit our ambitions or prevent us from taking on big challenges.

The thousands of Bahamians who overcome the odds each day deserve a government that is willing to stack the odds in their favour.

Of course, the changes we are fighting for won’t all happen overnight. But they move closer and closer within our reach with every passing day.

We have come a long way.

And we still have a lot more to do.

Our guiding principle as an administration is to always put people first.

That is our moral compass.

And our destination is a more prosperous, fair, and just society for every Bahamian.

The 2024/2025 Budget WILL change the status quo AND change lives, representing yet another major step forward in our journey to a better Bahamas.

Thank You, Madam Speaker.
May God bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.