Bahamians need to prepare for rising food prices, according to Super Value President and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Debra Symonette.
In another blow to Bahamians struggling with food security amid the ongoing global pandemic, Symonette warns, “I cannot offer you any hope that there will be relief in the near future because everything is just crazy right now. And I do believe this is gonna continue for a while.”
What Happened: Food prices continue to rise in the country, with inflation and international shipping costs blamed for the increases. Symonette confirmed that suppliers are increasing their prices, forcing food stores to do the same. The CFO also named a 10% Value Added Tax (VAT) increase on breadbasket items as another reason food prices are skyrocketing.
Why It Matters: There is good reason to worry about more Bahamians going hungry. Breadbasket items are no longer zero-rated, making it harder for lower-income families to afford even basic staples like milk, grits, bread, cheese, and canned goods. In defending the government’s decision to raise VAT to 10% on breadbasket items, Minister of Economic Affairs Senator Michael Halkitis pointed to social assistance.
“If we try to give relief to lower-income households by making an item VAT free, you are giving that same relief to high-income households and businesses that do not need it, and in some cases, they come right out and tell you they do not want the relief. Our belief is the best policy is to keep a flat low rate and provide direct assistance,” said Halkitis.
The Response: There is renewed scrutiny on the government’s handling of the food cost crises, particularly in light of Halkitis’ suggestion that the government’s policy is to “provide direct assistance.” Rising costs of food will likely add thousands more Bahamians to the breadline.
Torchbearers Youth Association (TYA) President Carlyle Bethel issued a statement calling for the government to intervene.
“The government urgently needs to do more,” said Bethel. “Bahamians are being crushed under the heavy weight of high prices that continue to climb, and the government seems set on taking a hands-off, wait and see approach to the matter.”
While in office, the Minnis administration spent over $54 million on its National Food Distribution Program to feed Bahamians hardest hit during the ongoing pandemic.
In the House of Assembly last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Public Service Fred Mitchell claimed, “Poverty has increased dramatically…dramatically over the past years. [It’s] to the point I’m told something like 47% of the people in the country may now be living under the poverty line. This is just extreme.”