The Bahamas’ Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest has cautioned his countrymen that the upcoming national budget will be severely impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has infected more 100 people and killed 11 others here.
“Given the ongoing COVID-19 emergency and the state of the global economy, this is going to be an understandably unprecedented budget, and the Ministry of Finance will once again engage in public education around the annual budget to ensure the Bahamian people and all of our stakeholders are properly informed about the budget plan and all of its key elements,” Turnquest said.
He added that the Hubert Minnis Administration was “not going to sugar-coat the realities we face, as they have factored heavily on our decisions.
“We are going to be clear about our priorities, and what I can say about that, at this time, is that we will make proper provisions to protect the health and safety of Bahamians and residents, and to provide sufficient social support. We will do what we must to stabilise the domestic economy, to maximise employment, and to transform this crisis into opportunity for our future recovery.”
As part of its public education plan, the Ministry of Finance will publish several supporting documents and visual tools to simplify the budget and improve public access to non-technical budget information, Turnquest pointed out.
“Governments have an important role to play and a responsibility to fulfil in times of crisis like these, and we are clear on what needs to be done to restore our people and rebuild the nation. We do not want communication to be a barrier to the public accessing the essential programmes that will be available in the new fiscal year,” the deputy prime minister stated.
He continued: “Just as we have committed to provide ongoing economic support for Hurricane Dorian victims, we are committed to providing ongoing economic support for the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The minister of finance said the demand for these programmes has been clear over the past three months and, based on the Government’s assessment, the ongoing need to protect the health, safety and social welfare of Bahamians, and to further stabilise the economy is clear.
Turnquest said to support the COVID-19 response for a three-month period, the Government allocated just over BS$120 million for compassionate initiatives in March. The programmes provided support for the public health system, food assistance and other social services to vulnerable Bahamians, and included grants and subsidised loans for small businesses, direct cash assistance for unemployment to Bahamians to provide partial income replacement, and payroll support for large employers in the form of tax credits and deferrals to prevent further lay-offs.
“Governments have an important role to play and a responsibility to fulfil in times of crisis like these, and we are clear on what needs to be done to restore our people and rebuild the nation. ”— Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister — The Bahamas K Peter Turnquest
“We know the demand is still there for these programmes, and I can assure Bahamians that in the new budget we are making adequate provisions to ensure no Bahamian goes hungry. We are prioritising the needs of vulnerable Bahamians who are depending on our support and protection,” he added.
In a statement, the Ministry of Finance said that as of mid-May, the National Insurance Board paid out an estimated US$28.7 million in unemployment benefits to approximately 26,000 claimants. Additionally, NIB issued US$6.2 million in payments to approximately 6,100 recipients of the Government’s unemployment assistance initiative for self-employed individuals impacted by COVID-19.
The Government also approved US$5.7 million in tax relief that went directly to support payroll expenses for non-executive employees at 76 large employers. These companies represent over 6,500 non-executive employees who may have otherwise been laid off, with the assistance of the Governments Tax Credit and Deferral Program.
The ministry also said that as of mid-May, the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) and its financing partners had approved US$19.4 million in funding to 283 small businesses taking advantage of the Government subsidised business continuity programme.
It said approximately US$3.7 million of this total has already been disbursed to approved businesses, which have been able to use the funds to cover operational expenses including payroll. The SBDC is working quickly to disburse the remaining approved funds, which will take place in due course, the statement noted.
Turnquest had presented a US$3.4-billion budget to Parliament on May 29, last year.