By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
DEMOCRATIC National Alliance (DNA) leader, Branville McCartney, yesterday urged the Government to expand services on its e-government portal and offer incentives to investors who used it, stating: “We are operating in a 19th century environment competing in a 21st century world.”
Mr McCartney, who was a guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Nassau Sunrise, said the process of doing business in the Bahamas had to be simplified, and outlined five steps to making the process easier and more efficient.
Calling for the Government to move on facilitating renewable energy and computerising all its departments, the DNA leader said the Bahamas continued to woo foreign investors only to “hold up a stop sign” and place “1,000 obstacles” in their path when they arrived.
And he also called on Bahamians to realise that it was the private sector that allowed government to operate, not the other way around.
“The difficulty of doing business is not merely anecdotal. It is quantifiable and measurable,” Mr McCartney said.
“For the past 10 years the World Bank has produced a very thorough report called Ease of Doing Business, which compares how hard or easy it is for small to medium-sized businesses to do business in 185 countries or jurisdictions around the world.
“They measure a series of factors: Starting a business, construction permits, getting electricity, getting credit, registering property, right down to resolving insolvency. Instead of improving, we are falling farther behind the competition. In the study released less than six months ago, the Bahamas slipped six points to 77th.”
The DNA leader and attorney added: “We must do better. We need to look at ways of creating economic activity. What we must do, as we ease the process of doing business, is to apply change across the board - to Bahamians, to residents and to foreign investors.
“We have entire divisions of government with top notch people dedicated to luring foreign investment and reviewing proposals, and once they show real interest and get down to doing business, we throw 1,000 obstacles in their path.
“As a nation, we have not yet come to grips with the fact that we need foreign investment. We cannot do it alone. No country can, especially no small island nation, no matter how good it is. We must stop fooling ourselves, luring with one hand and holding up a stop sign with the other.”
Mr McCartney said all government offices should be computerised.”At Immigration, we did so with applications, but there are still stacks of paper folders all through the offices, overflowing filing cabinets, and there is only one reason,” he said.
“We are operating in a 19th century environment competing in a 21st century world. Every year you renew your business license. Now, in the past year, that has become more of an interesting challenge than ever.
“I will give credit to the e-government portal, where you can now renew a driver’s license, pay a court fine, pay real property tax. For those personal advances I congratulate the Government of The Bahamas and applaud those who keep the portal running. It is time to expand its services.”
Mr McCartney said the services made available via the e-government portal should be expanded, with incentives offered for doing business on-line instead of in line.
“On-line renewals ofbuilding permit applications, or Immigration work permit renewal applications, could cost less than those applied for in person or could be processed quicker, whichever proves to be the stronger or more feasible solution,” said Mr McCartney.
“Streamline the process of incorporation of Bahamian companies, renewal of business licenses, other records, with all filings to pour into a single department instead of sending the applicant from one office to another and to another.
“Allow the generation of electricity through renewable resources to be used individually, with all excess availability to be added to the grid.”
Mr McCartney also suggested that a public relations campaign be launched to promote the idea that the Bahamas is better for business.
“This is a paradigm shift in thinking, but it is one that is absolutely essential,” he added.
“The only way we can get from where we are to where we want to go is to realise that it is business that allows government to operate, not government that allows business to operate.
“Government is not doing business a favour. It is the businesses that provide the money that funds teachers and hospitals and clinics and law enforcement.”