Pantry Praises Education, Social Services Initiatives
Small Business Accelerator Partner Simplified Lending CEO Calls Budget ‘Creative, Bold, Inclusive, Collaborative’
Minutes after Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest wrapped up a two-hour presentation of the 2020-2021 budget, its contents drew strong praise from a financial services provider who listened intently and deemed it a “very bold, creative, inclusive and collaborative budget.”
Robert Pantry, CEO of Simplified Lending and a 20-plus year veteran in financial services, lauded government’s decision to hold the line on taxes despite pressure from an economic shutdown leading to unprecedented unemployment nearing 50% and growing need for a mushrooming social services safety net.
“I think not increasing taxes at this time is a very good move which helps both individuals and business.” Pantry said. “No public layoffs was also a good move and the fact that the government is leading by example relative to finding creative ways and areas to cut expenses including suspension of non-essential travel is also good.”
Pantry, whose company Simplified Lending was one of government’s partners in the Small Business Accelerator Program providing low-interest loans and grants to keep small to mid-size businesses afloat, also praised government’s education initiatives including a VAT holiday on school supplies and scholarship funding increases for University of The Bahamas and BTVI. “Those measures demonstrate the focus on education which will be a key driver on the country’s long- term growth. The government could have easily gone a different direction and pulled back on that to save money, but instead chose to focus on the future and I give them high marks for that.” He also praised attention to the most vulnerable population, noting that among the social services improvements was a $50 monthly increase in pension benefits.
Mr. Turnquest had described the budget as unlike any The Bahamas has ever seen before, adding “fittingly so, because the past 12-months have been unlike anything the country has ever experienced.” He listed five goals – protection of health and safety of citizens, providing adequate social support to vulnerable members of the community; economic stabilization, sustaining employment and accelerating government reforms.
Mr. Pantry also noted what Mr. Turnquest called creative revenue enhancement that included customized license plates that will sell for $200 per set. “While it is small, it speaks to the government thinking outside of the box,” Mr. Pantry said.
“On the expense side, I think working with the unions to pause salary increases is an excellent move. The trade-off between not laying off and pausing salary increase is good and I like the fact that the government is engaging the unions who would be pleased about this,” Mr Pantry said.
“The DPM should be congratulated for his stance on not going back to business as usual and the fact that the government showed this by pausing the fiscal deficit strategy to focus on stabilizing the economy,” he continued. “Ordinarily, I am a big proponent of government deficit reduction but these are once in century events and require a once in a century response.”
Mr. Pantry also commended the government for its focus on micro, small and medium size enterprises (MSMEs) which, he said, “when the larger businesses could not respond to changes quickly, small and medium businesses quickly adjusted and were innovative enough to go after opportunities which by the way help to keep the unemployment numbers down and less pressure on NIB and Social Services. Everybody knew how important supporting MSMEs were before but now we know it is critical that they are supported and prioritized. We are now looking to ramp our own efforts to support MSMEs.”
Opened a little more than a year ago drawing on the expertise of professionals with lending and commercial banking experience, Simplified Lending Ltd. has expanded with more than 20 on staff and recently moved to larger space in the Caves professional office complex, West Bay Street.
“Overall, I must commend the government for such a bold budget and I think the focus is in the right place which is economic stabilization and people,” Mr. Pantry said.