Budget Communication by Minister Elsworth Johnson

MINISTRY OF FINANCIAL SERVICES, TRADE & INDUSTRY AND IMMIGRATION
2020/2021 BUDGET CONTRIBUTION
BY

THE HON. ELSWORTH N. JOHNSON,
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
FOR
YAMACRAW
AND
MINISTER OF FINANCIAL SERVICES, TRADE & INDUSTRY AND IMMIGRATION
 

 
INTRODUCTION:

MR. SPEAKER:

I RISE TODAY, ON THE STRENGTH, MERCY AND GRACE OF ALMIGHTY GOD AND HUMBLED BY THE LOVE AND SUPPORT OF THE GOOD PEOPLE OF YAMACRAW, WHO HAVE MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO REPRESENT THEIR INTERESTS IN THIS HONOURABLE HOUSE.

THEY CONTINUE TO ALLOW ME INTO THEIR HOMES. THEY CONTINUE TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR COMMUNITY EVENTS AND TO SUPPORT OUR CONSTITUENCY INITIATIVES.

IT IS ON BEHALF OF THE PEOPLE OF YAMACRAW AND THE WIDER BAHAMIAN COMMUNITY THAT I RISE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS BUDGET.

THE BAHAMAS AND ITS PEOPLE FACE CHALLENGES THAT WE HAVE NEVER FACED BEFORE. BUT, OVERCOMING CHALLENGES IS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC OF THE BAHAMIAN PEOPLE. OUR HISTORY ILLUSTRATES THIS.

I STAND HERE, EVER MINDFUL OF WHERE I HAVE COME FROM-- A YOUNG BOY IN DOUDS, CAT ISLAND, WHERE I SPENT MY FORMATIVE YEARS.

EACH OF US WHO HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF REPRESENTING OUR PEOPLE IN THIS HOUSE ARE A TESTAMENT TO THE RESILIENCE OF THE BAHAMIAN SPIRIT. 

TODAY, I CHANNEL THAT UNIQUELY BAHAMIAN RESILIENCE AS A HUMBLE SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS.

MR. SPEAKER:

I ALSO WISH TO EXPRESS MY APPRECIATION TO THE MOST HONOURABLE PRIME MINISTER WHO DEMONSTRATED CONFIDENCE IN ME WHEN HE APPOINTED ME IN JULY 2019 AS THE SUBSTANTIVE MINISTER OF FINANCIAL SERVICES, TRADE AND INDUSTRY AND IMMIGRATION.

MR. SPEAKER:

FOR MANY ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, THE MINISTRY OF FINANCIAL SERVICES, TRADE & INDUSTRY AND IMMIGRATION’S PORTFOLIO MIGHT SOUND LIKE MISMATCHED GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THROWN TOGETHER WITHOUT ANY RATIONALE.

BUT AFTER A YEAR OF LEARNING AND GROWING WITH THE HELP OF THE DEDICATED TECHNICAL EXPERTS AND STAFF AT THE MINISTRY, I UNDERSTAND ITS ROLE ALL THE BETTER.

THE MINISTRY OF FINANCIAL SERVICES, TRADE & INDUSTRY AND IMMIGRATION IS THE ENTITY RESPONSIBLE FOR PROVIDING VISION, STRATEGIC DIRECTION, POLICY, AND INFORMATION RELATED TO THE MOVEMENT OF FINANCIAL RESOURCES, GOODS AND PEOPLE.

OUR PRIORITIES ARE TO PROTECT, PROMOTE AND GROW THE BAHAMIAN FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR, TO EXPAND OPPORTUNITIES FOR BAHAMIANS TO ENGAGE IN INTERNATIONAL TRADE, AND TO FACILITATE THE AUTHORISED MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE BAHAMAS.

IN MY ROLE AS THE MINISTER, IT IS MY INTENTION TO BRING GREATER SYNERGY AND CONNECTIVITY TO THE PORTFOLIO.

THIS SYNERGY WILL LEVERAGE CLOSER COOPERATION BETWEEN THE DIRECTOR OF FINANCIAL SERVICES, THE DIRECTOR OF TRADE & INDUSTRY AND THE DIRECTOR OF IMMIGRATION……WITH THE COLLABORATION OF STAKEHOLDERS AND EXPERT CONSULTATION, AND SHARED RESOURCES IN EACH OF THESE SECTORS, LOCALLY AND THROUGHOUT OUR GLOBAL NETWORKS.

ECONOMIC REALITIES

MR. SPEAKER:

BEFORE I BEGIN TO REPORT ON THE MINISTRY’S PAST EFFORTS AND FUTURE INITIATIVES, I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO GROUND THIS PRESENTATION IN OUR ECONOMIC REALITY.

IN EARLY SEPTEMBER 2019, HURRICANE DORIAN, THE SECOND STRONGEST STORM IN RECORDED HISTORY CROSSED THE ATLANTIC AND MADE LANDFALL ON OUR SHORES.

THE STORM IMPACTED GRAND BAHAMA AND ABACO CAUSING ECONOMIC LOSSES ESTIMATED AT THREE-POINT-FOUR BILLION DOLLARS ($3.4 BILLION) AND CUTTING PROJECTED GOVERNMENT REVENUE BY TWO-HUNDRED AND THIRTY EIGHT MILLION DOLLAR ($238 MILLION)

AS IF THAT WAS NOT ENOUGH, IN MARCH 2020 WE WERE ONCE AGAIN DEALT A MASSIVE BLOW.

THE COVID-19 GLOBAL PANDEMIC HAS TAKEN THE LIVES OF BAHAMIANS AND NEARLY HALF A MILLION OTHERS AROUND THE GLOBE.

MR. SPEAKER:

THE TRAGEDY THAT COVID-19 HAS LEFT IN ITS WAKE HAS HIT CLOSE TO HOME FOR ME. I UNDERSTAND, LIKE SO MANY OTHERS, THE SERIOUSNESS OF THIS VIRUS IN THE MOST PERSONAL WAY.

THIS PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS HAS BECOME AN ECONOMIC CRISIS FOR NATIONS AROUND THE WORLD, DUE TO THE NECESSARY BORDER CLOSURES, DOMESTIC LOCKDOWNS AND PHYSICAL DISTANCING PROTOCOLS.

THE MEMBER FOR EAST GRAND BAHAMA, THE MINISTER OF FINANCE, HAS REPORTED TO THIS HONORABLE HOUSE THAT THE GOVERNMENT EXPECTS TO SEE A NINE-HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SEVEN MILLION DOLLAR ($977 MILLION) REVENUE SHORTFALL.

THIS SHORTFALL WILL RESULT IN A ONE-POINT-THREE BILLION DOLLAR ($1.3 BILLION) DEFICIT...THE LARGEST IN BAHAMIAN HISTORY.

WHILE THESE NUMBERS MAY BE STAGGERING, THEY SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISING. SUCH A HISTORIC DEFICIT IS THE RIGHT RESPONSE TO SUCH HISTORIC CRISES.

FORTUNATELY, MR. SPEAKER, THE MINNIS-LED ADMINISTRATION HAS A PLAN TO PROTECT OUR COMMUNITIES AND TO STABILIZE THE ECONOMY.

THE RESILIENT BAHAMAS PLAN, CLEARLY ARTICULATED BY THE MEMBER FOR EAST GRAND BAHAMA BEGINS THE WORK OF RESTORING OUR NATION AFTER THESE DEVASTATING EVENTS.

THE PLAN IS PEOPLE-FOCUSED-- WITH SPECIAL CARE TAKEN FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE AND CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC HEALTH EFFORTS. IT IS DESIGNED TO BRIDGE THE GAP IN THE IMMEDIATE-TERM BY SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES AND MAINTAINING EMPLOYMENT LEVELS. AND, AS THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY COMMITTEE CONTINUES ITS STRATEGIZING EFFORTS, THE RESILIENT BAHAMAS PLAN PLANTS THE SEEDS FOR OUR FUTURE ECONOMIC RECOVERY THROUGH TARGET REFORM AND DIGITIZATION EFFORTS.

IT IS WITHIN THIS CONTEXT, I WILL NOW TURN PRINCIPALLY TO MY PORTFOLIO RESPONSIBILITIES: 
 

  1.     FINANCIAL SERVICES
  2.     TRADE AND INDUSTRY
  3.     IMMIGRATION

FINANCIAL SERVICES: OPPORTUNITY IN CRISIS

MR. SPEAKER:

WHEN FACED WITH CRISES, WE CAN CHOOSE TO RESPOND WITH FEAR AND TREPIDATION OR WE CAN LEAN-IN AND FIND THE OPPORTUNITY AMIDST THE CHALLENGES.

AS IT RELATES TO FINANCIALS SERVICES, WE HAVE DECIDED TO LEAN-IN AND FIND THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF OUR SECOND MOST IMPORTANT INDUSTRY.

THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES ADVANCEMENT

MR. SPEAKER:

FIRST, I WANT TO COMMEND OUR FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY AND ITS STAKEHOLDERS FOR THE RESILIENCE THEY HAVE SHOWN. WHILE ACTIVITY IN OTHER SECTORS CAME TO A HALT, THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY ADJUSTED QUICKLY TO THE “NEW NORMAL” BECAUSE OF ITS INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGICAL FOCUS. OUR FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS HAVE TRANSITIONED WELL TO REMOTE DELIVERY SERVICES DUE TO THE PANDEMIC.

NONE OF THE CURRENT CHALLENGES HAVE IMPEDED THE COUNTRY’S FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY FROM CONDUCTING BUSINESS AND DELIVERING BESPOKE SOLUTIONS TO MEET CHANGING DIVERSE CLIENT NEEDS. THE ROBUST BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLANS THAT ARE IN PLACE WITH ALL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS HAVE ALLOWED BUSINESSES TO CONTINUE DURING HURRICANE DORIAN’S LANDFALL AND DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS.

THOUGH WE CONTINUE TO GALLANTLY DEFEND AGAINST THE SPREAD OF COVID-19, WE HAVE A LASER-LIKE FOCUS ON WHAT THE MINISTRY NEEDS TO ACCOMPLISH TO SUPPORT OUR STAKEHOLDERS IN THE INDUSTRY.

THROUGH IMPROVED ENGAGEMENT, CONTINUED COMPLIANCE, COLLABORATION ACROSS GOVERNMENT AND WITH INDUSTRY, AN AGGRESSIVE LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY AGENDA AND STRATEGIC PLANNING TO SET THE STAGE FOR THE INDUSTRY’S FUTURE, WE ARE TAKING A FIRM HOLD ON THE OPPORTUNITIES OF THIS MOMENT.

SUPPORTING THE INDUSTRY THROUGH ENGAGEMENT

MR. SPEAKER:

WE HAVE MADE PUBLIC AND STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT A KEY COMPONENT OF THE MINISTRY’S WORK OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS.

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT DOES NOT REQUIRE PHYSICAL INTERACTION, BREAKFAST EVENTS OR FANCY HOTEL CONFERENCE ROOMS. AND, GIVEN THE PUBLIC HEALTH CLIMATE, THESE KINDS ACTIVITIES MIGHT NOT BE SAFE.

GIVEN THIS REALITY, WE HAVE HAD TO LEAD THE MINISTRY INTO THE 21ST CENTURY.

THIS WEEK OUR MINISTRY WILL LAUNCHED A NEW AND COMPREHENSIVE WEBSITE FOR THE THREE DEPARTMENTS UNDER MY PORTFOLIOS OF FINANCIAL SERVICES, TRADE & INDUSTRY AND IMMIGRATION. 

I WILL TALK ABOUT KEY FEATURES OF THIS NEW WEBSITE LATER ON.

ADDITIONALLY, MR. SPEAKER, THE MINISTRY IS IN THE PROCESS OF ROLLING OUT ITS REVAMPED SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE VIA TWITTER AND FACEBOOK, WITH A MONTHLY NEWSLETTER TO KEEP STAKEHOLDERS ENGAGED AND UPDATED.

AND, IN KEEPING WITH OUR COMMITMENT TO BE A RESILIENT JURISDICTION, OVER THE PAST MONTH WE HAVE CONTINUED TO EXECUTE ON OUR MARKETING PLAN WITH PLACEMENTS IN KEY INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATIONS.

MR. SPEAKER:

LAST MONTH, OUR MINISTRY HELD ITS FIRST EVER VIRTUAL SYMPOSIUM UNDER THE THEME “FINANCIAL SERVICES: AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ADVANCEMENT, INNOVATION & CREATIVITY.”

IT WAS THE FIRST EVENT OF ITS KIND FOR THE GOVERNMENT, DRAWING TOGETHER LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRY STAKEHOLDERS, AND HIGH-LEVEL GOVERNMENT LEADERS SUCH AS THE MOST HONORABLE PRIME MINISTER, THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER & MINISTER OF FINANCE, AND THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND MINISTER OF LEGAL AFFAIRS.

EVENT ATTENDEES WERE ABLE TO SUBMIT QUESTIONS BEFORE THE EVENT.

THIS VIRTUAL EVENT WAS ATTENDED BY OVER 350 PARTICIPANTS, REACHING FINANCIAL SERVICES LEADERS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD.

TO FURTHER AMPLIFY THIS ENGAGEMENT WE SENT OUT A POST-EVENT SURVEY. WE WANTED TO LEARN HOW WE CAN BE BETTER AT THESE KINDS OF EVENTS FOR OUR STAKEHOLDERS.

MR. SPEAKER:

I AM PROUD TO REPORT THAT IN OUR POST-EVENT SURVEY, WE FOUND THAT 93% OF RESPONDENTS RATED THE SYMPOSIUM AS EITHER “EXCELLENT,” “VERY GOOD,” OR “GOOD” WITH 53% RATING THE EVENT “VERY GOOD.” WE HAVE SOME IMPROVEMENTS TO MAKE BUT THE EFFORTS OF THE TEAM AT THE MINISTRY WERE WELL-RECEIVED AND OUR COLLABORATION WITH INDUSTRY LEADERS ON THIS EVENT ADDED FURTHER VALUE.

IT IS VERY LIKELY THAT WE WILL CONTINUE THESE DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT EVENTS AS PART OF OUR BROADER EFFORTS AND AS A WAY TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OF OUR STAFF AND STAKEHOLDERS.

DUE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC MY MINISTRY HAS HAD TO REDUCE ITS FINANCIAL BUDGETARY REQUIREMENTS, MINDFUL THAT WE ARE CURRENTLY IN A CHANGING LANDSCAPE.  THESE VIRTUAL SYMPOSIUMS ARE ONE WAY WE CAN REDUCE THE COST THESE INDUSTRY EVENTS HAS HAD ON THE MINISTRY’S BUDGET IN THE PAST.

WHEN RESTRICTIONS ARE EASED, WE ALONG WITH OUR STRATEGIC PARTNERS WILL RETURN TO THE INTERNATIONAL PROMOTION OF THE BAHAMAS, BUT IN THE MEANTIME WE KNOW THAT STAKEHOLDERS ARE ONLY A CLICK AWAY.

SIMILARLY, MR. SPEAKER, WHEREAS IN THE PAST THE MINISTRY, ALONG WITH OUR STRATEGIC PARTNERS - BFSB, AIBT, STEP, WOULD PARTNER IN SIGNATURE LANDFALL EVENTS THAT WERE TYPICALLY DESIGNED TO GLOBALLY MARKET THE BAHAMAS FINANCIAL INDUSTRY THROUGH OVERSEAS SEMINARS AND CONFERENCES… WE HAVE NO IMMEDIATE PLANS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL AND IN-PERSON MARKETING TRIPS.

WE ARE MINDFUL OF THE NECESSARY COVID-19 PROTOCOLS AND WE ARE TIGHTENING OUR BELTS TO KEEP IN LINE WITH BUDGETARY CONSTRAINTS DURING THIS FINANCIALLY CHALLENGING TIME.

MR. SPEAKER:

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THE EFFORTS OF THE BAHAMAS FINANCIAL SERVICES BOARD HERE AS WELL.

THE BOARD WAS LAUNCHED IN APRIL 1998, AND REPRESENTS AN INNOVATIVE COMMITMENT BY THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY AND THE GOVERNMENT OF THE BAHAMAS TO PROMOTE A GREATER AWARENESS OF THE BAHAMAS’ STRENGTHS AS AN INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL CENTRE THROUGH PUBLIC-PRIVATE COLLABORATION.

MEMBER ENGAGEMENT HAS BEEN A PRIORITY FOR THE BFSB, TO ENSURE THAT FIRMS ARE ABLE TO MEET THEIR CLIENT NEEDS. LAST MONTH, BFSB ISSUED A SURVEY TO OBTAIN RECOMMENDATIONS FROM INDUSTRY WITH RESPECT TO STRATEGIES FOR THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE SECTOR.

BFSB IN COLLABORATION WITH AIBT ALSO WORKED TO OBTAIN CLARIFICATIONS AS TO THE IMPACT OF THE EMERGENCY ORDERS ON THE OPERATIONS OF MEMBER FIRMS AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES TO ENSURE MINIMAL DISRUPTION TO THE DELIVERY OF SERVICES TO CLIENTS ...to continue see attached