Few countries enjoy such an enviable reputation as the Bahamas. Its very mention summons up images of sun, sand, a vibrant culture and holiday fun. Members of its government, though, have little time for relaxing on one of its many beaches. With economic growth, poverty, skills gaps and crime rates all to the fore, policymakers there are focused on development and delivery – with Nicola Virgill-Rolle leading the charge.
“We have a very clear understanding of the key priorities going forward,” she says. “And our institutions, agencies, the private sector and civil society also have a great sense of certainty about what needs to be done, because we have sought to coordinate our ideas and proposals – and this will lead to a speedier achievement of our targets.” Underpinning Virgill-Rolle’s confidence is her country’s recently launched National Development Plan project, which will create a strategic roadmap for development and implementation. Setting out the country’s direction of travel for the next 25 years, the plan – “the first of its kind here,” explains Virgill-Rolle – covers the economy, governance, social policy and the environment.
As director of national development and planning, she is responsible for its success. Quite a burden, then, but it is clear that there is a solid groundswell of support behind her. “There is strong political will and strong public support,” she says. “It enjoys a wonderful coalition of public and private sector backing that also includes the opposition parties.”
Although the early signs are positive, now comes the hard part: how is she going about her task of turning a set of ideas into positive impact?
Planning to succeed
Virgill-Rolle is no stranger to this type of work. Prior to her current role – which is based in the Office of the Prime Minister – she served as director of financial services at the Ministry of Financial Services. She has also had a stint in Washington, DC as economic attaché at The Bahamas Embassy and also as a member of The Bahamas’ Permanent Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS).
“As a central banker and supervisor of banks, you spend a lot of time looking at the governance arrangements of institutions,” she explains. “Similarly, with government you make sure that the critical structures are in place to monitor governance and performance. And when I was at the OAS, for example, I was also working on governance and management issues. I had to make sure that the proper structures were in place – with accountability, transparency and so on.”
Despite the value of these personal experiences, the scale of the National Development Plan is such that Virgill-Rolle is grateful for the support of a team of project managers and analysts. “We have a strong team of project and programme managers here along with an active and engaged minister of state,” she says. “We’re also working with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to develop an IT solution to monitor and keep track of the outcomes. This will help ensure that the key priorities are being implemented and help us identify roadblocks or other impediments – like organisations not speaking to each other. This will enable us to help unblock the process and make sure things move forward smoothly.”
The plan itself encompasses four main stages, she explains. “It covers diagnostics – identifying the key challenges facing the economy and society – through to consultations with the public throughout the islands,” she says. “Phase three is the actual drafting of the plan – it will have clear strategies, actions and goals. It will also include indicators of success – and this is critical – so that we have something measurable and transparent, and there will also be timelines for implementation. We’re also working with The College of The Bahamas to ensure we have good monitoring and evaluation. From day one we will be monitoring our progress.”
The road to 2040
Virgill-Rolle says that the plan directly reflects the policy priorities of the government led by the prime minister, Perry Christie, as well as broader stakeholders. Key aims, she says, are human development and universal healthcare. “Human development is critical and covers all aspects from education to labour markets to employability to ensure that people can enjoy a decent way of life. Universal healthcare and universal access in order to achieve a healthier population are very much wellness focused – not just treating the illness but also looking at it from a preventative standpoint as well.”
The economy, as is the case for all governments, also looms large and it transpires that competitiveness has risen up the agenda. “We pay close attention to the various rankings that exist and if we were to fall short when compared to similar jurisdictions we know that we have to improve,” she admits.
And better governance also forms part of the overall strategy for the future. To this end, the government is working with the IDB to implement a delivery unit that can help monitor all priority projects. “We need to get the right hardware into our ministries to ensure that we have mechanisms for officials to speak to one another on a regular basis,” adds Virgill-Rolle. “There are always multi-sectoral projects requiring their attention and we need to make sure the Cabinet is properly supported. All of this work under way will combine to be really transformative.”
Such reforms, when combined with the lofty yet attainable ambitions of the National Development Plan, suggest that the best days of the Bahamas lie not in the past but directly ahead. Virgill-Rolle – confident, yet not complacent – is poised for a busy few years…
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