By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government yesterday pledged to bring the long-awaited Small and Medium-Sized Business Development Bill to Parliament by January 2013 at latest, as a sector consultant said the Bahamas needed to create 700 net new jobs a month for the next three years to “dent” the unemployment rate.
Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments in the Prime Minister’s Office, told Tribune Business that the Government was effectively picking up what had been left in place by the former Ingraham administration, and had already liaised with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on the issue.
The IDB had been working with the former government on designing the legislation, and mechanisms to implement it, and Mr Rolle said: “We had a conference call with the IDB recently, and agreed to a consultant who is going to do the lead work for us and manage the consultation side of the legislation.
“Then we will have the final draft prepared by the Attorney General’s Office before we put it to Parliament.”
Mr Rolle explained that they had identified the consultant, and were now trying to finalise their contract. As soon as that was finished, the consultant would start “his side of the process based on that work plan agreed with IDB”.
When asked by Tribune Business when the Government hoped to bring the Bill to Parliament, Mr Rolle replied: “It’ll either be close to the end of the year, or January, but we’re working diligently on it. We want to do it right. We want to make sure it’s done properly.”
Mark A Turnquest, of Mark A Turnquest Consulting, a well-known adviser to many Bahamian small businesses, said yesterday it was vital that the Government move ahead with the Small and Medium-Sized Business Development Bill “because right now the sector is in ruins”.
Arguing that the former government’s policies had “strangled the economy so badly there’s no innovation and everybody is just trying to get back to a heading”, Mr Turnquest said: “Right now, there is nothing happening in the Bahamas.
“It’s very difficult to get progress if there’s no strategic plan for small business development. That will be a huge incentive for the small businessman. Right now, there are no new opportunities for businessmen in the Bahamas. There is no direction, nothing to look forward to. You can feel the climate is not progressing.”
Mr Turnquest said that over the past two months, the small business owners and entrepreneurs he had spoken to did not even want to do much marketing and advertising.
Emphasising just how vital the growth of existing small businesses, and creation of new ones, was to growing the Bahamian economy and providing jobs, Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business: “Right now, we need about a net 700 jobs created every month if we want to put a dent in this unemployment rate over the next three years.”
Passing, then implementing, the Small and Medium-Sized Business Development Bill would boost the sector’s confidence, Mr Turnquest added, and help to create synergies and efficiencies in how incentives were provided to the sector.
“The most important thing now is to have that small business development agency, SMEDA, to fine tune all the government organisations - the venture fund, Bahamas Development Bank, Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation - under one roof,” Mr Turnquest said.
“It will give direction to each agency to determine what their focus will be with small business development. With the Act in place, SMEDA will be its execution arm.”
Describing SMEDA and its set-up as “just as important” as the Act itself, Mr Turnquest said that together the two would be “the most important thing that has happened for the last five years”.