Carlyle Bethel
Author: Carlyle W. F. Bethel.

I recently saw a broadcast by one of our news stations reporting on a dire situation in North Eleuthera. Essentially, the residents on mainland North Eleuthera have traditionally relied on going to Briland and Spanish Wells or driving down to Governor’s Harbor for banking and a few other essential services. There are no banks on mainland North Eleuthera. In normal times, this has been a workable solution. But, due to COVID19 and Emergency orders, North Eleuthera residents on the mainland are left without banking services and have become strapped for cash needed to buy goods and services. In fact, many residents on the mainland can’t even access the stimulus benefits from the government because it is distributed via bank accounts, which, as stated above, they cannot access. On the other hand, there is a legitimate concern about the spread of COVID19 through family island settlements that has caused the government to shut down inter-island travel and reduce movement between settlements. So, unfortunately, while it may have been workable, it is far from efficient. It is easy to point fingers and cast blame for this particular situation but it does not get to the root of the matter. The underlying issue here and on many other family island settlements is the lack of efficient access to essential services. The question is, how do we fix this problem?

One thing that COVID19 has taught us is the importance of technology. Winston Chuchill once said “never let a good crisis go to waste” when speaking about the dire situation after WW2. Churchill knew that out of crisis, comes the opportunity to build something new, better and more efficient. We ought to take the advice of the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and build a new efficient solution for family islands with technology.

When we look at Financial Services, the serious implementation of telebanking to address the various needs in regards to non-cash transactions over the phone and internet is a solution. We can also mandate that banks (which is listed as an essential service) place and maintain ATMs in key locations to provide access to cash for all Bahamians. In the meantime though, there are some good developments in regards to Project Sand Dollar being implemented in Exuma that will begin the transition to a less cash dependent society.

In regards to food and energy security, this administration under the Leadership of Dr. Hubert A. Minnis has made tremendous progress and taken the much needed steps to implement green and renewable energy on family islands. The solar power plant being established on Ragged Island is an example of what I hope and believe is to come for all family islands and then New Providence. This will directly alleviate the issue of having to pay in some instances $7 or $8 for a gallon of gas in many settlements. This reduction in the cost of energy will directly allow them to produce and sell more while freeing up resources to consume more.

Deon D Gibson, also known as ‘Gibby Da Farma’ is a farmer in Eleuthera and he told me, that this digital and technological revolution would allow our farmers to efficiently sell crops and complete transactions over the internet. He went on to explain that it would also assist farmers in monitoring and producing a more precise types and quantities of crops to meet demand.

Many years ago, the Prime Minister also championed the cause for telemedicine. In January 2011, Then Minister of Health, Dr. Hubert Minnis said “There is no doubt that small-island states such as The Bahamas face challenges in constructing full-scale, specialist medical facilities on every island and every cay because of our archipelagic make-up. Tele-medicine, will allow us to overcome those challenges as once the infrastructure is put in place, Bahamians and visitors alike in far-flung islands such as Inagua and Mayaguana, will be able to receive the same kind of specialist care and attention as those in New Providence and Grand Bahama,” I am confident that we will continue to develop this program so that we can continue to provide quality health and emergency care for family islands without making them travel to New Providence or Grand Bahama.

Currently, there is a great need for improved access to pharmaceutical supplies on many islands. Luckily, this problem can also be solved with technology. We can put in place the infrastructure for residents to log on to an online portal and order their supplies, pay online and have it delivered directly to them from one of the main pharmacies or clinics on the island. In fact, many places around the world are even using drones to do just this. This delivery service is an industry that the Prime Minister recently applauded and encouraged as a budding opportunity for new entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, the challenges that we face as a country and a people during this pandemic are indeed difficult. They will test our brotherhood and love for one another. They will continue to test our infrastructures and institutions. We as a people have options though. We can point fingers, cast blame and ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters. Or, we can come together as one people and pool our minds and resources to tackle and solve these problems. I believe that we, as one people, one Bahamas, will choose the latter.

BY: Carlyle W. F. Bethel

Questions or comments: Contact the author at email –  Carlyle Bethel is an Investment Associate who works in wealth management.