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Attorney Poll On Investments Board

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas Bar Association is set to survey its members on their experiences in dealing with the Investments Board, in a bid to develop a more “consistent” process that approves completed applications within 30-45 days.

Adrian White, head of the Bar’s real estate committee, yesterday confirmed it was set to start polling members on their Investments Board experiences next month, with results expected to be available in the New Year.

Emphasising that the results would be shared with the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA), and other government agencies, Mr White emphasised that the Bar was taking a co-operative, non-confrontational approach that was designed to produce a “stronger real estate industry”.

Agreeing that the BIA had yet to meet its stated goal of a 30-day ‘turnaround’ for properly completed applications, Mr White said that while it was heading in the right direction, attorney feedback suggested the process lacked “consistency”.

“The biggest concern from practitioners, and also realtors, would be the response time, the return time,” Mr White told Tribune Business.

“Outside 30-45 days can become burdensome on the transaction. We hope for a 30-45 day process, with 30 days being the preferred.

“I understand that some industry practitioners have had applications outstanding for period longer than they had hoped or expected, but I believe the BIA is aware of the issues and doing what they can to address them with a view to having a regular turnaround for completed applications.”

Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments, previously told Tribune Business that both the BIA and the Investments Board (Cabinet, or a Cabinet committee), were targeting a 30-day response/turnaround time when it came to properly completed applications.

The Investments Board deals primarily with foreigners seeking approval to purchase Bahamian real estate, but Mr White said of the 30-day target: “I don’t think they’re quite there yet.

“But as long as they’re going in the right direction, and not going backwards, that is commendable.

“But it’s still at a level where the consistency isn’t as strong as we would hope, and there are differences in turnaround time. That’s hopefully something that can be eliminated or explained after feedback from our poll, and people that are willing to participate.”

Concerns about Investments Board delays have been raised at various intervals since the Christie administration took office in May 2012.

Mr Rolle recently disputed as “not true” assertions by Chad Roberts, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, and others, that it was once again taking several months to obtain permits/approvals from the Investments Board, and that the Board was not meeting regularly.

Mr Roberts had described the situation as “the worst I’ve ever seen in my 15 years of practice”, and added: “There is major frustration among people who have applications in or are actually waiting.

“I’ve had a good number [of applications] up there for two months, and it may end up being three-four months.

“Certificates of Registration and permits for land purchases by non-Bahamians, are averaging in excess of two months or more. I’ve had some up there waiting, and the information I keep getting is that they’re waiting for the Board to meet, so call back.

“It’s frustrating us and the clients, because we don’t what to tell them. We tell them three weeks, and two months goes by.”

It appears that the Bar Association’s survey will attempt to get to the bottom of this.

Mr White, though, said Bahamian attorneys had to be “mindful” that while they may expect a client’s application to be approved within 30-45 days, based on their knowledge of both the person and the circumstances, the BIA and Investments Board had different responsibilities.

These bodies, Mr White said had to carry out due diligence on both the application and person(s) involved before granting the necessary permits and approvals.

Attorneys did not know the factors debated at Investments Board meetings, and he also reminded the sector to ensure all applications were properly completed, with all necessary supporting documents also submitted.

One attorney, speaking to Tribune Business on condition of anonymity, said: “The real estate section of the Bahamas Bar Association is considering taking a poll of several law firms in the Bahamas to determine the experiences they are encountering with Investments Board and making the same public.

“It may shed some light on what firms/clients are being delayed, which may also prove quite interesting.”

Mr White said survey forms would be sent to attorneys in December, with the results compiled in the New Year.

He added that the aim of the Investments Board survey was to get “an overall feel” from a cross-section of attorneys - large firms, sole practitioners and small/medium-sized boutiques - on both their perceptions, and the reality, of how their applications were being dealt with.

Mr White said the results would be shared with the BIA, which acts as the Investments Board’s secretariat, and other government bodies dealing with the real estate industry, “so they are aware of what practitioners are experiencing - adequate or inadequate.

“The results will be shared with the BIA for consideration and feedback, and if there’s a shortfall in one or two areas, which is not the fault of practitioners, as it may be from time to time, those shortfalls are acted upon so we have a stronger real estate industry,” Mr White told Tribune Business.

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