The DNA notes that when Parliament reconvenes on Wednesday, 22nd 2017, members are expected to debate the Commercial Enterprises Bill (CEB). The DNA supports government initiatives aimed at improving the ease of doing business in The Bahamas and making The Bahamas’ business environment more investor friendly. However, we find it curious that this legislation is being pushed ahead of other pressing matters confronting the Bahamian masses.
The CEB seeks to fast track work permit approvals and empowers the Minister (defined as the Minister of Financial Services) to usurp the powers of the Director of Immigration by granting blanket certificates for work permits to investors after meeting certain criteria. The fundamental question is whether the name of the Bill is a misnomer as it appears to focus more on amendments to our immigration laws and policies. Further, it is unclear why the Minister responsible is the Minister of Financial Services when the industries in this legislation covers more than financial services.
The CEB grants the Minister unilateral authority to determine which industries can be granted fast track work permits. The Minister also has the unilateral authority to designate specified commercial enterprise zones and in consultation with the Minister of Finance, economic incentives for foreign businesses.
It is noteworthy that this administration has prioritized the tabling of a Bill which seems to place more emphasis on the creation of commercial zones for foreign direct investors over Bahamians even though the Minnis administration campaigned on providing economic zones and tax relief for the over-the-hill areas.
Under the CEB, the functions of the Department of Immigration are usurped by the Investment Board which will be able to grant a certificate - initially valid for one year to foreign direct investors to enter the country without a work permit and set up their business. The CEB is silent as to whether there will be collaboration with the departments of labour and immigration or whether there will be any regard for current immigration policies in the granting of the certificate.
Upon entry into The Bahamas by the investor, work permits applied for and not granted by the Director of Immigration within 14 days are deemed granted. The timeline is unrealistic and unreasonable in the absence of reforms at the Department of Immigration.
Rather than focus on reforming the Department of Immigration to be more efficient and effective, the current administration has chosen to take a shortcut by concentrating significant powers in a Super Minister without checks and balances. The DNA would like to know what is in this Bill for Bahamian business. The Prime Minister had announced the establishment of an Ease of Doing Business Committee (EDBC) which would make recommendations aimed at making it easier for local and foreign enterprises to do business in The Bahamas. The Bahamian people deserve to know whether the EDBC has produced a report and whether this report will be released to the public. Are we putting the proverbial cart before the horse? How can we implement the CEB without first addressing the inherent inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, duplications across government agencies, lack of automation and red tape which plague businesses in The Bahamas?
We encourage Members of Parliament to consider these matters in their deliberations.
The Bahamian people should not be left to wonder whose time it is. When it is said that it’s the people’s time, we should have no doubt it is the Bahamian people’s time.
Arinthia S. Komolafe