December 17, 2020
Senator J. Kwasi Thompson, Minister of State for Finance explained that the Government will continue to reduce the economic effects of COVID-19, by providing initiatives targeted at public health and safety, job protection and social and economic support for households and businesses.
“The levels of direct support required by the government to save lives and support commercial and economic activity to the end of October has been unprecedented. The Government has kept its promise that this unprecedented crisis would be met with an unprecedented response,” Sen. Thompson said as he presented the Fiscal Strategy Report (FSR) in the Senate, Wednesday, December 16, 2020.
“In the aggregate, the Government has spent over $177 million to the end of October 2020. This value does not include the additional commitment of direct funding in excess of $60 million to support our essential unemployment programs, food assistance programs and other efforts from November into the New Year.”
He stated that for the nine-month period from March to October 2020, the government provided the following forms of support:
• $22.8 million in public health, sanitation and other related expenditures
• $17.2 million to fund essential food support programs aiding approximately 140,000 families with the assistance of NGO partners UNPRECEDENTED
• $45.5 million in the government's unemployment assistance and the extension to the NIB unemployment benefit program which aided approximately 7,000 businesses, many of which are sole proprietorships. Nearly 37,000 persons benefited to the tune of over $63 million through end-September. UNPRECEDENTED
• $44.4 million was provided in tax credit/tax deferral as part of the government’s payroll support programme to assist companies in meeting their payroll expenses. To date, more than 60 businesses have availed themselves of this programme, protecting nearly 7,000 jobs. UNPRECEDENTED
• $47.3 million was allocated in small business continuity loans and grants, supporting approximately 1,000 beneficiaries and nearly 4,500 employees thus far. UNPRECEDENTED
Sen. Thompson noted that in addition to the $177 million of COVID spend, the Government committed to extend the food assistance program to end-March 2021; it committed $45 million to extend the Government’s unemployment assistance program to the end of December, and more recently the Prime Minister announced the Cabinet’s commitment to continue the program through end-January.
He explained that in short, the Government has met an unprecedented economic calamity with an unprecedented set of policy responses that has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to affected citizens and businesses.
“I hasten to add as well that the government’s announced and deliberate strategy to maintain healthy foreign currencies reserves to ensure the viability of the Bahamian dollar, has been an unqualified success.”
Sen. Thompson said, “Senators would recall that during the budget exercise, the then Minister of Finance stated that the government would shift to foreign sources of borrowing to support the Central Bank’s reserve holdings. Even with that strategy, the projection back in April was that by end of December, our reserves would fall to a level of $1 billion, much lower than at the start of the pandemic, but still sufficient for the country to meet its regular ongoing import bills.
“Today, I am pleased to advise that as of yesterday, December 15, 2020, the foreign reserve levels remain near historic highs of some $2.39 billion, or more than 37 weeks of import cover. He added, “Thus, I am pleased to cast aside any concern regarding the threat of devaluation of the Bahamian dollar. Despite the economic trauma of the last nine or so months, the prudent management by this administration has ensured that the Bahamian dollar remains as strong and as secure today as it was before the onset of this most devastating economic setback.”