Q: What’s your economic outlook for the short to medium term?
A: We are very optimistic about our future. We have recently had a challenge from Standard & Poor’s, the international rating agency, that downgraded us to ‘stable’. Moody’s, at the same time, did not downgrade us – it took into consideration the government’s optimism and the government’s commitment to bringing on stream the completion of [the delayed Baha Mar resort project, which was the reason for the downgrade] as early as possible.
Both the rating agencies indicated that they were very impressed with the government’s fiscal policy and the way in which we were meeting our targets, and they thought the future augured well for us.
Q: Do you feel that such a ratings downgrade harms your ability to attract foreign investment? Does it do any damage to the Bahamas?
A: I don’t think so, because it was limited really. The emphasis was on Baha Mar, this development that was 97% complete, and I think the fact is that people watching have seen the government make this commitment, an uncompromising commitment to bring that development to completion as soon as reasonably practicable, and we’re going through that process now. But we have this commitment because of its importance, to be able to complete the construction, have management take over, and have it really integrated into the tourism mix.
But in the meantime, we have dynamic developments taking place all over the Bahamas. We have a $600m investment by Genting in the island of Bimini, we have investments on the Abaco islands, major investments benefiting the islands. We have new investments coming on stream in Grand Bahama, new Four Seasons investments in Eleuthera, new investments at Exuma. So you can see that the optimism that the government is reflecting is backed up by the fact that... we have dynamic developments already in place and coming on stream beginning later this year and early next year.
Q: The Latin America and Caribbean region is suffering some slowdown in growth across the board. How do you counteract that?
A: By and large, all of our governments are faced with [an unemployment problem], especially among young people, and all of us, I think, are committed to training our young people. However, we have to have activity for them to have work, and that has been a challenge for us, because when you do not find things for your young people to do, there’s the potential for them to stray into criminality, and that is what we want to avoid at all costs. We need to be able to give our young people an opportunity to have a future that they can look forward to, and a dignified existence as they move into the future.
And so that is why I think we have approached economic development with a sense of urgency, and that is why we’re very pragmatic in terms of our policies – being able to ensure that we do as much as we reasonably can to promote, to have [investors] come in, to settle them, to be able to have them incentivised in the things they do, the concessions we give, all with a view to being able to foster a stable environment economically, one that gives our people an opportunity for employment.