COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS
Dr. the Hon. Hubert Alexander Minnis
Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation Conclave
“Ease of Doing Business in The Bahamas”
Hyatt Baha Mar Convention Centre
New Providence, The Bahamas
Wednesday, 14th June 2017
Mr. Gowon Bowe, Chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation;
Mr. Edison Sumner, Chief Operating Officer;
Presidents of Family Island Chambers of Commerce,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
A pleasant good morning.
The leading priority of my administration is economic growth, job-creation, and wealth-creation. In this vein, I am pleased to be here to address the government’s ideas for improving the ease of doing business for Bahamians, residents and foreign investors.
These ideas are not exhaustive. I welcome your ideas and proposals in this area.
In the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business Report, The Bahamas received an overall ranking of 121 out of 190 countries in the world for its ease of doing business. This is a decline from its ranking of 120 in the 2016 Report and a ranking of 97 in the 2015 Report. This puts The Bahamas well behind many in region.
For example: Jamaica ranked 67; St. Lucia ranked 86; Trinidad and Tobago ranked 96 and the Dominican Republic ranked 103.
Much of our decline in the ease of doing business is due to inertia. Countries around us are rapidly instituting changes and simplifying processes to make it easier for businesses to operate.
But The Bahamas has been slow to modernize; slow to adapt to change; slow to introduce certain innovations and slow to embrace various technologies. And we have been slow to adopt new mindsets.
Three of the priority areas to be targeted for reform are: the business license process, the investor proposal process and various immigration processes, including work permits.
We urgently need to simplify and streamline government processes, including the simplification of forms. Applicants are often asked to provide repetitive or unnecessary information.
Many investors complain about how long it takes to get a response from government. Some business people have waited years to hear back on an investment proposal.
One young Bahamian entrepreneur approached the last administration for Crown Land to develop a project that would put more money into the economy and employ a good number of Bahamians.
After the last government ran him around for years he had to end up buying property. His foreign partner told him, that he, the partner, believed more in him than his own government.
Some foreign investors have left the country, fed up at the time it took various cabinet ministers or government offices to respond.
Because “time is money”, the amount of time it has taken The Bahamas to respond to various investors, has likely cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars at minimum.
Easing the cost and time of doing business will help to boost economic growth!
Under the previous government, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Tourism were notorious for running investors around and not responding in a timely manner.
Sadly, both of these ministries often looked more favorably on foreigner investors than they did on Bahamian investors.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Getting a response from the Immigration Department is often a nightmare. There has historically been a problem of public officers in Immigration wanting something for doing their job. We will have to continue to root out any graft in the immigration process.
I have advised the Minister of Immigration as a matter of urgency to reduce the time it takes for an application or renewal to be processed.
We are also undertaking other measures in Immigration that will be revealed at another time. Those who may not be acting in an appropriate manner should take note. It will not be business as usual.
Government must ensure that rules are clear and transparent. Everyone must understand the rules, which must be equally applied to all businesses. The service standards and rules must be published.
We need clear guidelines established for government processes in terms of requirements and processing times.
In the age of advanced computer algorithms and Smart technology, waiting weeks or even months for the processing of certain documents or approvals must be a thing of the past.
For example, the business license process takes too long and must be shortened. The inertia in the process must be removed.
To address the long wait times for various applications and proposals, my administration will introduce a Decision Timeline, which informs applicants and investors when they should receive a response on a given matter.
An advanced tracking system will be put in place to identify the bottlenecks and roadblocks. The relevant agencies will be monitored to see how well or poorly they are meeting or missing their deadlines.
The Bahamas Investment Authority must be modernized and become more transparent. We will work with the private sector and experts for advice on transforming this Authority to make it more accountable and open, and less cumbersome in its decision-making process.
Under the previous administration there were constant complaints about having to see certain people in order to get a proposal reviewed or approved.
Transparency International and other agencies have documented the degree to which corrupt practices stymie economic growth and development. Corruption has cost the Bahamas untold hundreds of millions or more over the decades.
I have previously noted the measures we will take to respond to corrupt practices in government. Investors should not have the cost of doing business increased by certain officials looking for something.
Good governance enhances credibility, stability and reliability, all of which are important to business, economic growth and investor confidence. My administration is committed to transparency, openness and accountability.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
My Government believes that establishing a “One stop shop” for doing business with the government is a practical solution. We will be developing a “one window to government services” strategy going forward.
This will require government departments working across silos and utilizing appropriate technology within government departments to integrate systems and databases.
We should remove unnecessary double approval regimes. After the Securities Commission approves certain licenses by a foreign entity or individual, why must BIA have to give another approval? We will review this process.
With respect to investment incentives, we will ensure that our investment incentives regime is transparent and more easily accessible to Bahamian entrepreneurs.
We will introduce investment incentives for new and existing Bahamian businesses offering products and services related to key sectors for the Bahamian economy such as: renewable energy, the cultural industries, export sectors, agricultural and fisheries sectors, and the manufacturing of authentic Bahamian souvenirs.
My Government believes that providing incentives, particularly to private companies offering products and services in the renewable energy sector will reduce the cost of energy in the country. This will reduce the cost of doing business in the Bahamas.
These incentives coupled with promoting energy conservation and ensuring that Bahamas Power and Light has the infrastructure needed to function is critical for business development.
We must also address the ease by which businesses can access banking facilities in the country. We should encourage financial institutions to help the small business sector with financial products aimed at Bahamian businesses.
We must ensure that frameworks exist so that Bahamians firms have greater access to capital through new and innovative financial products and markets.
A signature programme of the government will be the introduction of an ambitious initiative to develop a new generation of young entrepreneurs. I will call on a number of you in launching a programme dear to my heart.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
There is a direct relationship between savings and investments. Countries which save have more funds to invest. This is one factor in the economic growth success of many countries in Asia.
The Bahamas has traditionally had low levels of savings. We have relied on foreign savings in the form of Foreign Direct Investment to fund large projects.
Strong growth in national savings is will help facilitate an increase in locally financed investments.
It is therefore crucial that we take steps to improve our national savings performance through increasing household savings, and increasing public savings in order to promote sustainable economic growth.
Of course, Foreign Direct Investment remains essential for The Bahamas. My Government will therefore ensure that we attract high quality FDI which is aligned to our national development priorities and creates beneficial linkages with the local economy.
As an open country, we must also ensure that we have good trade and industrial policy in place. We have distinguished ourselves as an international services based economy. Access to international markets on favourable terms is important.
We must ensure that we effectively utilize existing trade agreements such as the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreement.
Our trade promotion agencies must be aggressive in promoting existing and new trading opportunities in the country, so that the world understands what we have here and that the Bahamas is open for business: fair business and honest business.
You will note that Immigration, Financial Services and Trade and Industry are in one ministry. This should help with the ease of doing business for potential investors.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
There is much work to be done. My Government is instituting a reform and modernization agenda for The Bahamas.
Having been in business for many years, I understand your challenges. Let us work together to address these challenges as we embrace the many opportunities for economic growth and development.
Thank you for your invitation. Good morning.